Saturday, 5:20 am. The alarm buzzes and I bash at it in irritation. At this early hour I’m rethinking my enthusiasm for volunteering for the American Veterinary Medical Foundation Oath in Action Project. I have to be dressed and downtown by 7 am for registration, then it’s off to either the Chula Vista Animal Shelter for a cleanup or the Horses of Tir Na Nog for a day of fence painting.
“I could have slept in another hour,” I mutter to no one in particular as they are all sleeping. “I could have spent the day in an air conditioned convention hall getting continuing education hours. But NoooOOOO, I had to sign up for manual labor.” I shake my head at my poor decision making skills.
I drive downtown on an empty road, and join the crowd yawning and rubbing their eyes. I have a Starbucks in hand. I feel better. Half the group is assigned to the animal shelter, and I find myself in the second group, off to the horse sanctuary. I’ve never heard of the place, so I was actually kind of excited to see it.
On the bus ride over as the caffeine kicks in, people start to talk and share a little bit about themselves. Most everyone is from out of town except me. I’m sitting in front of a family, a veterinarian mom and her two extremely polite and sweet boys who have been volunteering with mom on similar trips for several years. We’re chugging up a hill out in my neck of the woods, heading into the boonies, and we’re so busy chatting few of us notice the slow slog of the bus up the rather steep mountain.
Busses go slowly up hills anyway, right? Well, they do, but this one was going with more of an emyphysematic gasp than a slow and determined chug, which is how we found ourselves on the side of the freeway in the desert waiting for a spare bus.
But alas, despite my visions of us going into Lord of the Flies mode and taking out the weakest one for their spare Aquafina, we actually had a second bus not too far behind so our dramatic “I Shouldn’t Be Alive” moment was more of a temporary photo opp.
Anyway, we got to the horse sanctuary not disastrously behind schedule and had a tour of the Horses of Tir Na Nog. They house 38 horses at the moment, plus sheep and goats. Most are deemed ‘unadoptable’ due to age, behavior, or medical conditions, so once they come here, this is where they retire. They are the lucky ones. This sanctuary is amazing and beautiful and well managed and given the state of neglect many of them arrived in, it must feel to them like nirvana. To see all the pics, check out the Flickr Oath in Action set.
They also have burros there. This is Milton Burro. Some of you will get that.
And alpacas. There were several serene, demure alpacas and then this one who looked like the Lorax with his crazy coat. Guess who was a stinker during shearing.
And then we put on hats and sunscreen, picked up supplies, and painted. Being a group of veterinarians, we painted the heck out of the fence. No splinter was left unsanded. No missed spot was left unretouched. This is what happens when Type A people are given sanding blocks and paintbrushes.
It was quiet and contemplative, actually, in the midday sun, brushing back and forth. I thought of my colleagues downtown trying to stay awake in their lectures about leptospirosis and epidemiological models of disease and smiled. Brush brush brush. It looked fantastic when we were done if I do say so myself.
Dr. Floyd, who organized this event on behalf of AVMF, agrees.
This is the part where I’m supposed to say that after we finished, we sat down at a dusty picnic table and had Subway sandwiches. I could say that but I’d be lying. Much to everyone’s utter delight, Tir Na Nog had arranged for us to go to the stunning private ranch next door for a little fiesta. We sat by the pond with our enchiladas, watching the geese eye us up and down trying to determine whether we were worth chasing, wandered through the peacock aviary and the orchard, and tried to reconcile the fact that we were being treated to this beautiful afternoon with the idea that this was supposed to be work.
Oh, my aching shoulders. Buying it? No?
Don’t ever let em tell you volunteer work doesn’t pay, people. These unexpected moments of sheer joy that come at you out of nowhere are what life is all about. I’m pretty sure no matter how good the lectures are at the conference, the AVMF Oath in Action trip will be my AVMA convention highlight.