Working for a nonprofit animal shelter (as well as other nonprofits throughout my career) has given me such a rich appreciation for volunteers. Having been on both sides, being a volunteer, and being a nonprofit employee, I’ve come to realize that it takes a certain type of person to volunteer. Volunteers are especially selfless. I am moved on daily basis when I see people, aged 4 to 104, come in and volunteer their time and love, or donate homemade toys and treats, to the animals.
Being able to help animals gives me great pleasure, but seeing the compassion and sincerity in the people who volunteer at our shelter gives me chills. This afternoon, I worked with a group of 4th grade Student Council members, who’d structured a semester long project to collect donations (monetary and material), constructed toys, and baked treats. When I asked one of them why they’d chosen animals as part of their school project, they looked at me in complete seriousness and said ‘we want to help them because they can’t ask for help. We want to be that support for them’. To hear that type of maturity and benevolence in his voice was heart melting.
And this is something that happens on a daily basis for me. There are volunteers at our shelter who have come every single day, for years, to walk each dog in our kennel. They keep journals about the dogs and their behavior, they e-mail me updates with pictures & videos, and they celebrate a dog going to their forever family as if it was their very own. Because in a way, it is.
I get to see firsthand how much the volunteers help and positively affect the animals. Whether it’s walking the dogs or socializing the cats, donating the toys and treats, or even putting on presentations at their local schools, it all helps. These animals come from a variety of backgrounds (most times unknown) and have the cards stacked against them from the start. They are picked over, abused, abandoned, or left for dead, and then they end up in our shelter where they are thrust into a foreign environment, with new smells and sounds, and forced to fend for themselves. They can be lonely or afraid, and these volunteers provide comfort to them. Volunteers help them learn that they can trust again; they aid in our rehabilitation. These animals are nursed back to health, medically but sometimes also emotionally, and then go off to loving homes to live the lives they always deserved. This would not be possible without our volunteers.
I am so immensely appreciative and in awe at the amazing people who walk into our shelter to give their hearts and time to our animals. I greatly encourage you to look for a potential volunteer opportunity in your local community. Volunteering has indescribable benefits that will stay with you for a lifetime.
I leave you with this quote, something that I use as a model for my role at our shelter:
There are two ways of spreading light - to be the candle or the mirror that reflects it. ~Edith Wharton, Vesalius in Zante