SNIFF NOTES: Animal Confidence


I talk a lot in these columns about lessons we can learn from animals and in the almost 22 years I’ve been with the Cumberland Valley Animal Shelter, I can honestly say I have learned a lot from our four-legged friends.

They teach resilience, they teach love and they teach forgiveness – all of which are amazing lessons to learn.

But something I realized just recently is they can also teach us to recognize our own awesomeness.

Go with me on this one.

We’ve had dogs and cats that come into the shelter scared to death when they first arrive. Some don’t know whether a person is going to pet them or hit them and it’s heartbreaking. Truly heartbreaking.

Those are the guys and gals we give a little extra time and room and space to get their footing and feel confident again.

Then there are the ones who walk in the door with a John Travolta type swagger, ala Saturday Night Fever. And it’s not a cocky thing, oh no. Don’t be picturing a “too cool for school” Rottweiler stomping through the doors, sauntering in like he owns the joint because he knows he can take you down (although we have had that type come through the doors, too).

Huh uh. This could be a medium-sized Shepherd mix who just, I don’t know, seems to know himself. There’s a courage there that you can see. It may have been hard won, but it’s clearly going to stick with him for a while.

He walks through the doors almost as though to say, “Alright, this may be a little different from what I’m used to, but I’ll roll with it. See what happens.”

These are the pups – and a lot of cats – who don’t need anyone’s permission to be awesome. They don’t need a human to tell them they’re an amazing pet and stroke their fur and coo at them. I mean, hey, it’s cool if us humans want to do that, but do they need it? Heck no.

They already get the fact that they’re flipping cool all on their very own.

I know you know cats and dogs like this.

And it’s not like they’re aloof or anything, quite the contrary. They want to hang out and be friends and spend time walking around the grounds or chilling out in a bonding room playing with toys. They’re very social animals, but they also have this walk that says, “I’m kind of magical and if you recognize it, that’s great, but if you don’t, that won’t make me any less awesome.”

Think about that one for a minute. What if people could do that? What if we could recognize that quality in ourselves? Not in a conceited, egotistical way, but with a quiet, confident certainty?

I’m me. Take it or leave it. No approval necessary.

I imagine for a lot of people (myself included on my bad days), it would be incredibly freeing.

See the thing about that kind of poise, be it in human or animals, is there’s a real beauty there – a strength and style and attractiveness that makes people and animals gravitate toward that energy.

You better believe that animals in the shelter who are that put together get adopted pretty quickly.

And, somewhat sadly, they are also kind of few and far between. Most of the four-legged babies who come through our doors have been through some rough times and are a little shy about trusting people. They need patience and a whole lot of love to learn how awesome they truly are. They’re the ones from whom we learn the lessons of resilience and forgiveness.

But animals can teach us other lessons as well – ones of confidence and assurance. They can remind us to be who we are and be true to ourselves in a steady, secure, respectful manner.

Remember that the next time your cat or dog comes sauntering into the room like they made the last mortgage payment on the house.

They know they’re pretty doggone (pun very much intended) awesome and when they move into the room to put their head in your lap, that means you’re just as awesome, too.


Jennifer Vanderau is the Publications and Promotions Consultant for the Cumberland Valley Animal Shelter and can be reached at [email protected]. The shelter accepts both monetary and pet supply donations. For more information, call the shelter at 263-5791 or visit the website CVAS also operates thrift stores in Chambersburg and Shippensburg. Help support the animals at the shelter by donating to or shopping at the stores.

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