When a new Facebook friend asked me what an ordinary animal lover could do to help animals in need, I have to admit I laughed a little. Not out loud….you know, LOL. But just the old fashion way. I first thought maybe she was suggesting I was a bit abnormal and she didn’t know me well enough to be aware of how true that is. I knew exactly what she meant though as it is probably the way I look at my friends who I’ve met that travel the world rescuing animals from disasters or busting puppy mills every day for a living. I think they are so extraordinary.
It’s all a matter of perspective.
Based on the quantity and variety of questions I’m asked, some people must think I have some special experience or training that makes me different from “ordinary” animal lovers. Other than two dog obedience classes in 52 years, I’ve had no formal training. But certainly the last ten years volunteering, rescuing and fostering animals has provided ample experience. Yes, about ten years ago I walked into the Humane Society of Parkersburg and said to the lady behind the counter “I want to walk dogs”. And she handed me a leash and so began my career as a volunteer. Before long helping needy animals was as much a part of my life as my “real” job. It’s a real job because I get paid real money but its no more real than my real purpose of helping animals.
I’m no different than any other ordinary animal lover except that I put myself in place where the exposure to animals is vast and varied. I see where I can help and make it a priority to do so. And there are many others that do the same.
One Sunday afternoon, less than a year ago I stood in front of a group of new volunteers as I’ve done hundreds of times and gave my new volunteer spiel. (I did decide that we needed a more formal training program for volunteers than just handing them a leash.) In this group were a mother and her 7 year old daughter. The mother admitted to me that it was her daughter that had drug her to this orientation class and pushed her to volunteer. That certainly wasn’t the first time I’d heard that. As I spoke, I noticed tears in the eyes of the mother when I talked about my experiences volunteering and how much it had changed my life. I love when that happens! As self-serving as it may sound, it’s rewarding to know you’re reaching people because in doing so I know that those people are most likely to come back and get involved.
And sure enough both she and her daughter would soon be regular fixtures in our shelter. Before long she’d be fostering for us too….small litters of kittens and single dogs to begin with until we could get her husband eased into the program (we often have to wean the husbands into the program slowly). Summer would come and she’d be helping me organize our kid’s camp and served as a Counselor too. She’d willingly join our Board when asked and soon after, she was seen as a natural to take over as our Volunteer Coordinator. She had jumped in with both feet!
And like her, we have lots of ordinary animal lovers committed to our cause in so many different wonderful ways, like….
Al who comes like clockwork two days a week and walks dogs all day long and who loves helping new volunteers find their way around the shelter and introducing them to the dogs…especially the big dogs!
Of course a staff that spends each day caring for animals in our shelter…who do so not for the meager pay but out of love and deep compassion for each animal.
Debbie who recently retired from running the United States public debt accounting office permitting her to manage our rescue and foster program full time. She’d been overseeing these programs for years before she retired too!
Vickie who all summer long mowed and trimmed the grass and kept our grounds looking beautiful.
The group of very committed volunteers who come every Thursday night to walk dogs and are now like a family celebrating birthdays, weddings, and any holiday they can make into a dog walking party.
Joan who fosters small dogs, one at a time please, but is wonderfully diligent and attentive to each and every one who is lucky enough to find themselves in her home.
Robin who is not only a volunteer but very crafty and shares her talents through her craftiness. Whether it’s with helping with Camp craft projects or creating leash sleeves to advertise our shelter dogs at events.
Our SPOT Committee who came together and created one of the greatest fundraising events ever….our Tailgate party that last summer that raised over $65,000 for the SPOT clinic and more than $150,000 over the past few years for that same project!
Cindy who also fosters dogs and has a special place in her heart for those with special needs. She’d be the first to tell you that just a year or two ago the thought of dealing with sick animals overwhelmed her. Now she is the queen of skin issues and allergies. Bottle babies are next on her agenda and she’s now our Volunteer Coordinator!
Cathy and Sarah who have become a terrific tag team in planning and managing our off site adoption events at the local pet store.
Melony who has been a dedicated volunteer along with her son Tyler for many years, fosters too and recently became one of our trained Rescue Waggin’ dog behavioral evaluators.
Dwight, Jim, Randy and Penny who rotate as drivers of our transport van to carry our animals eastward to rescues that help us help them find forever homes!
Lee, who working full time each day, spends at least an hour or two every evening walking dogs at our shelter after closing so the dogs don’t have to hold it all night without a potty break. He also creates the opportunity for other volunteers that work full time who otherwise wouldn’t be able to make it into the shelter during the business day. Every single night this ordinary animal lover does something extraordinary.
There’s Mary Ellen who writes grants, Tricia who organizes our bingo events twice a year, Jill who writes our newsletter and Teresa who takes extraordinarily beautiful pictures of our animals to draw attention to our beautiful animals.
I could go on and on and it’s sure is fun to do so, but I think you get my point.
Whether you jump in with both feet or just wade in slowly up to your ankles, it doesn’t matter. We’re all just ordinary animal lovers who have chosen to do what we can to help homeless animals using whatever talents and energy we’re willing to share. And you won’t know all the extraordinary things you can do until you try. Honestly, you might amaze yourself.
If you don’t believe me, just ask that woman who tearfully sat through my orientation last January. Her name is Michelle Earl and on November 1 of this year she became the Executive Director of the Humane Society of Parkersburg. And while she’s obviously jumped in madly with her knees pulled up into her arms cannon ball style, I think if you asked her she’d say she’s never been happier!