When you find your people: A Volunteer Tale
It wasn’t until we adopted Hailey that I thought about volunteering. We adopted her from what was Capital Area Humane Society at the time. It was honestly probably the first time I had been inside an animal shelter. Growing up I lived out in the country so all of our animals came to us as strays. I didn’t realize then that people were probably literally just letting their unwanted pets go in the woods in front of our house. Thinking about it now, I am really glad we kept them and gave them a forever home, I mean one of the top reasons we get animals in the shelter is because they are found as a stray, so I love that my parents just knew we needed to keep the animals that wandered up to our front door.
Having Hailey in our lives opened my heart more than I ever knew was possible and it was at that time that I knew I wanted to help all of the animals I could. Finding a place to volunteer in 2006 was a little different than today, I feel like the rescue world is so much bigger now, the options are pretty endless and unfortunately the need to help homeless animals is growing. Luckily Google existed and I didn’t have to comb the White Pages! So I did some research to see what shelters were close to me. At first I thought I wanted to volunteer where we adopted Hailey from and I went to a volunteer class and helped at an event. It just didn’t click for me, and that was ok. It was the largest shelter in the area at the time and I realized that a shelter that big just wasn’t a good fit for me. I mean it makes sense, I was the same way when I was deciding on where I wanted to go to college, I knew that smaller was a better fit for me, so finding a shelter to volunteer at was the same thing.
As fate would have it, I stumbled across Citizens for Humane Action (CHA) as the next place to check out. Now I will preface this next part by saying I am directionally challenged so it was no surprise that when I was making my way to a volunteer orientation class I got lost. I don’t think our technology had evolved yet to actually talk to me and tell me where I needed to go. So I was already nervous going to a new place, it was starting to get dark, and I got so turned around. I have no idea why I didn’t just go home and say I just couldn’t find it, but I didn’t and I eventually found my way to a little shelter that would have the biggest impact on my life.
I consider myself an introvert who gets extremely anxious going to new places, but when I walked into that building I could not have felt more at home. Everyone was genuinely nice and happy to have new volunteers. I don’t know how many volunteers there were when I started but I know it wasn’t the 400+ strong we have now. I think that is just a testament to what an amazing place CHA is and it is a place that draws people in and keeps them, you just don’t feel the need to go anywhere else.
I still remember who led my orientation class, and I ended up on his dog walking shift as one of my first shifts. I love the way CHA structures the volunteer shifts, logistically it makes sense but it also allows volunteers to build some of the strongest bonds with each other and really form friendships. At least that has been my experience. I think every shift will tell you that they are the best shift, and you know what, none of them are wrong. I know that at one point I was going in four shifts per week because I loved it so much. I mean who wouldn’t? But every shift was the best and I not only looked forward to walking and taking care of the dogs, but I looked forward to seeing the people.
A little more about me, I don’t make friends easily. As I said I am an introvert and I think I am just generally awkward. I didn’t make a lot of friends in high school or college, I am part of a big family so I had my parents, siblings, and my husband as my friends. But the people at CHA, these were my people. I knew it the minute I walked in on that first day that I was where I was supposed to be. I had no idea how being around like-minded people, people who had a common passion of taking care of homeless animals would break down all of the barriers within this introverted and awkward person. And I honestly think that CHA attracts some of the nicest and most passionate people I have ever met.
First and foremost we are all there together to take care of these homeless cats and dogs; we clean up poop, we get bleach on our clothes, we have to medicate cats, which I don’t even know how our volunteers do that. We also get to snuggle with the dog who lost his sight and is scared, we get to play with puppies and relax with some of the cats or drag a string for a bouncy group of kittens to chase!
One of the most special things we get to do is say farewell to a dog or cat we have cleaned up, comforted, and medicated because they have found their forever home. We are the ones who get to help people find their new forever companion and watch as they stroll down the cement path to their happily ever after. As a volunteer, the amount of amazing things you get to do is endless and will be some of the most fun and rewarding days you will have in your life.
Over my 15 years at CHA I think I have made some of the most important and valuable friendships. We have bonded over our love of a special senior dog or the tiny kitten with three legs and the friendships have just grown. When CHA has a need, the outpouring of support would leave you speechless. I remember when we had a gas leak and had to turn the heat off over a cold winter weekend. We needed to get the animals adopted or into foster homes; I was there as an adoption counselor on a Friday night that weekend and with two other adoption counselors, we had a lobby full of people and were processing adoptions until well after 10pm, maybe even later. And that is just the norm when it comes to the CHA community, volunteers, adopters, and staff just come together and we get stuff done!
We have celebrated wonderful adoptions and cried and comforted each other when there was an animal we had to let go. And it doesn’t end there, outside of the shelter we grieve with each other, we celebrate together, and we support each other. I think every volunteer could tell you about a friendship that stemmed from the shelter, I know that I have too many to even begin naming. Even though I have cut my time back to my adoption counselor shift every other week, I know that if I met up with anyone from an old shift we could pick right up where we left off. I know I wouldn’t pass up the chance to get together with my old Wednesday night dog walking crew! Hint Hint guys!
When I made the decision to volunteer to help homeless animals, never in a million years did I think I would meet people and develop friendships that would have such an impact on my life. It is so important to find a place to volunteer where you feel that spark and where you walk in and just know that you have found your people; I am really lucky that I did.