SNIFF NOTES: One “Teachable Moment” at a Time


Perception is a funny thing. One person’s experiences are not another’s and it’s an important part of the human condition to remember that.

When you work in a job for a number of years, it’s easy to fall into the belief that certain aspects must be commonplace and understood by everyone. We run into this a lot at the animal shelter.

Certainly everyone must know the importance of spaying and neutering, right?

It only makes sense that you shouldn’t feed your dog an entire turkey carcass, bones and all, right?

A while ago, I was speaking with a woman who takes care of horses for a living. She explained to me that if horses get sick, they can’t throw up and if they eat something that makes them sick, it could literally kill them. Yet in her job, she’s had to stop the public on more than one occasion from feeding her horses candy bars. Can you imagine? What would possess someone to think a Milky Way was good for a horse?

I told her we’ve had similar experiences at the shelter.

A woman who dropped off a stray cat told one of our Animal Care Technicians a few years ago, “You’ll have to see what you can do. I couldn’t get her tail to shed.” To this day I have no idea what that meant.

A while ago, another lady noticed one of our dogs in our adoption kennels had been nursing pups and asked if the dog’s nipples would disappear eventually. We had to explain that they’re actually permanently attached.

Yep. If there’s one thing I’ve learned working here it’s that you can’t expect people to know what we do.

I don’t think this is specific to the shelter, though. I would imagine there are mechanics out there who, when they hear what people do to their cars, are shocked and appalled. I bet a number of doctors think, don’t people know you’re not supposed to consume that much grease in a day?

I’m betting you can come up with examples in your job where aspects that seem obvious to you are not as straightforward to others.

I used to work in the tourist industry in Gettysburg when I was in college and had to sell tours of the battlefield to visitors. The spiel for explaining the route was exactly the same for every person who came through the door. It became incredibly rote and relatively easy to get into a rut.

But, I had to remind myself that just because I was frustrated having to repeat the same thing over and over, each and every person who came through the door was new and didn’t know or have an understanding about what I was telling him or her.

It was my job to explain it to them and make sure they knew what they were doing.

It’s very similar at CVAS – and in some respects, even more critical, because we’re dealing with the lives of animals.

All of us have moments where we think, how can someone not know that? How can they not understand?

Maybe instead of throwing up our hands and giving up on the person, maybe we should see those instants as what are called “teachable moments.” Maybe instead of judging what someone doesn’t know, maybe it’s an opportunity to educate and provide information.

The scouts have a motto: leave the world better than you found it.

I think “the world” in that statement includes people and animals, too. I know at CVAS we work hard to help the animals who come through our doors to have better lives, but maybe we should remember the people, as well.

It’s easy in a job related to four-legged friends to get incredibly discouraged and disheartened with the people we see – like I said, one person’s perception and way of thinking can be another’s obstacle.

But I truly believe if we want to make this world a little better for our four-legged friends, we have to work to overcome those obstacles – one lesson, or “teachable moment,” at a time.


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 a thrift store in Chambersburg. Help support the animals at the shelter by donating to or shopping at the store.

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