Thursday, September 03, 2009

"I Could Never Do Your Job"

Well, no, you probably couldn't.

But why are you telling me that, and what do you mean, exactly?

I do a lot of gross things for my job: I spend a good chunk of my day scooping and generally dealing with cat and dog shit. I often have poop on my shoes and pants. I pick up dead animals (aka roadkill). This in itself is fairly disgusting, but it often involves juices that I don't even know what they are, and bloated animals, and squished animals, very bad smells, and maggots. Various parts of my job stress animals out (more later) and this often causes the release of anal glands. For me, this is the grossest part. I absolutely cannot stand that smell, and have yet to figure out a way to get the smell off of my clothes or uniform. If a dog expresses his glands on me when I lift him into the truck to go to the vet first thing in the morning, I'm basically toast for the day. It's gross.

I do a lot of physical things for my job. I scrub kennels. I lift heavy animals, live and dead (see above). I restrain animals, large and small. I lift a lot of other things- bags of food, boxes, dog traps, etc.

I do a lot of things with angry people that require some kind of social work, which is not something I have a degree in. And although some days I'm a kind of people-person, some days I'm not a people person at all. I write tickets, which I hate doing, and most people hate being on the receiving end of. I deal with people swearing at me in multiple languages, some of which I understand, some of which I can only guess at. I deal with crazy people, people on drugs, people I believe to be armed. I do not have any type of weapons, not even pepper spray or mace, and I do not routinely wear a bullet proof vest. I can and do use the police as backup, and then people usually cooperate, but at that point, I am again in a situation that requires all kind of people skills that I may or may not have/want to have.

I do lots of things with animals that are unsavory, unpleasant, difficult, and/or downright depressing. Every day I vaccinate anywhere from 1 to 50 animals. I microchip animals that are as small as a two pound kitten or three pound rabbit, and animals that need muzzles just to be touched, and that needle is huge. I pull blood from cats, and those veins are tiny. Sometimes I use a control pole on a dog or have to catch a feral cat with a net. I hate doing these things, because they mean that the animal is fractious, angry, stressed out, or down right aggressive, and they don't want to be handled. I try to be as humane as possible, but handling an animal who doesn't want to be touched is really not so humane, no matter how you roll it. I euthanize animals almost every day. I see animals that range from healthy and happy to severely neglected and unable to stand, and miserable. I have been present when officers taze and shoot a dog.

These are general things. I have specific stories, some of which I've told here, some of which I've told friends, some of which I've never told anyone and will never told anyone. I can't tell all of them- every day is a story which is one of the reasons I love my job- it's different every day. I've been a shelter worker my whole post-college life (except for one boutique pet store year) and I love it. I relate these tasks NOT to flatter myself, not to tell anyone how difficult my job is, not to toot my own horn. I share parts of my work, because probably once a day, someone says to me something along the lines of "I could never do your job." Sometimes they say this when they walk into the shelter. If they're in the shelter, this is usually followed by "I would take them all home" or "how do you not take them all home" or "how many animals do you have." I have one- how do I answer that? If I'm out and about, sometimes people tell me they couldn't do my job when I'm picking up a dead animal in the street. Sometimes they see me pick up a stray in particularly bad shape, and when I tell them honestly that it's most likely going to be euthanized, they repeat "I could never do your job."

What does this mean? Does it mean that I am hard hearted? How could someone pick up a dog in bad shape and not weep? Does it mean I'm a garbage man, picking up dead animals, and how could anyone do such a disgusting thing? Does it mean that I should adopt or foster more animals, to prove that I'm an animal lover? (This is another comment we get at the shelter: "You must not love animals." People say this when they don't want to pay their fees. Somehow, if we loved animals, we wouldn't charge fees.) Does it mean I'm a cold blooded killer because I kill the animals that I care for? I do this, but I don't feel cold-blooded, or like a killer, at least most days. Does it mean they couldn't do my job because the shelter stinks (it does- animals shit there) and I must be some kind of dirty person to work there and not hold my nose? Are they telling me that my job is dangerous, and they wouldn't put themselves, unarmed, in Oakland, in the situations that I put myself in? Are they saying they think Oakland sucks, or that I'm stupid for doing what I do when I'm in dangerous situations?

People don't explain when they say they couldn't do my job. They just tell me. Do they tell me to alleviate some kind of internal feeling they are having when they see me do my tasks or hear about them or imagine them? Do they imagine they are somehow thanking me for tasks they imagine are thankless? Are they scorning me- they couldn't do my job, because it's a stupid, awful, meaningless, or somehow otherwise disdain-able job? Are they admiring my fearlessness? What is it? And why do they have to share?

I admit it, I'm often insulted when they say this, because of all the reasons I've written. My job is not glamorous. I hate the "Animal Cops" comparisons. My life is not TV. I've done this my whole adulthood, as I said, and not because I wanted to be like some TV show- I don't own a TV and I don't think that show was a show when I first fell into shelter work as a shelter volunteer. My job is not done for admiration, or really, for anybody's opinion.

I'm venting- I don't NEED to be admired. I just don't want to be insulted.


Mick O said...

Well, since I'm not in your encrusted shoes, I can't be sure -- but my guess is that in most cases they mean the comment as some sort of empathy. When faced with situations like the ones you described, people feel the need to fill the air with some comment, but most people don't know what they're saying. "I could never do your job" --- Yes it is to alleviate the feeling of helplessness inside themselves. Optimistically, I'd say that it's their way of telling you that they know it's a hard job and that it requires a singular combination of bravery and intestinal fortitude. But, I'm sure they don't think very hard about what it means - very few people think about what they say.

john-b-cannon said...

Apologies if some version of this comment shows up twice. I think what Mick says is right - a lot of people probably admire you for being willing to do a job that is emotionally draining, sometimes risky, and has a significant gross-out factor. I also imagine that a lot of people don't think about animal populations and animal control very often - they're used to thinking about their cat, or their dog, and that's it. So it's like a reality check around something about which they'd really rather not think.

Laura said...

Just came across this. I have been guilty of this type of comment -- not necessarily in this context, but this type of comment. And I've always meant it as a type of admiration for the work done and the challenges faced. I say it in the same way that I tell my runner friend that I couldn't do what he does.

I usually try to explain what I mean by this rather than leaving the comment hanging ominously out there, but now I will be even more specific. I do appreciate the difficult work that is done in shelters.

Sarah said...

Thanks for putting into words some of the reasons why that comment annoys me. I do understand that it usually comes from a place of admiration and gratitude, but I still feel like the people who say it don't really understand how shelters work, and don't want to find out. I wish that instead people would say, "I choose not to do your job, but I'm glad somebody does."

What annoys me more is "Don't you want to take them all home?" As though that would solve anything. As though that's the root of the pet overpopulation problem: not enough hoarders.

thb said...

Hey, it turns out there are people for every job (not near enough jobs for every person, nowadaze, tho). And many people are in a job because that's the one they can/will/find first/enjoy. Sometimes a mix of of these, with the hopeful outlook being that enjoy is part of the job. What's unusual is you have parsed your job in an analytic fashion, puts you way ahead of most!

vianaturae said...

I could never do your job, and you could never do mine.

From my perspective, the statement comes from a place of acknowledging and in some respects, marveling over our differences.

There are many reasons, and in many ways that I identify with you. That I feel you and I are very similar.

That is how a bond forms, in our case how it formed.

But those differences, they make it interesting. They spark debates and challenge thought patterns and expose to new ways and new worlds. The fair trade and exchange of bra adjustments for clicker adjustments.

I could never do your job, and you could never do mine.

When I said "I could never do your job" it didn't occur to me that the words could be interpreted in any other way than "I am so impressed by you. I wish I had what it takes to do your job. Isn't it amazing that we are so similar in some ways and so different in others? Aren't humans complex and layered and surprisingly complicated?"

Your job counts. What you do matters to the degree that is is vital to our society. My job is not.

"I could never do your job, and you could never do mine" is the vocalization of an internal revelation. The declaration of the realization of all those aforementioned things.

Marie said...

Just catching up on my blog reading and this great post.

I also think many people that say that are doing so from an admiration viewpoint. "Your job is hard and I lack the nerve/talent/brains to apply myself like that". Or they may think they are weak. The comment about taking them all home for some is about knowing they are to soft to say no because they think all animals are sweet and cuddly. (and coming from a place of illogic since taking them all home would indeed make them a hoarder and overwhelm them)

Sure some might becoming from a place of "your job is to gross and beneath me" but I don't think the majority are.

I had a job dispatching for fire/ems/and police for a year and hated it. So I can say I couldn't do that job (cuz I don't WANT to) but I am DAMN happy there are people who not only do it but love the work. So perhaps some are just trying to show their gratitude.

Who knows. People are so individual and all have their own particular baggage after all.

I am grateful you do the job you have. Just imagine where we would be without those jobs in our society.