What originally drew you to PAWS Chicago?
I first became aware of PAWS through the storefront on Clark Street, often stopping in to visit the animals. I even fell for a little shepherd mix named Webster, but already had my own rescue Callie at home and could only have one dog. I tried volunteering shortly after the Adoption Center opened, but my schedule was too crazy. After Cal passed in 2012, I began volunteering in earnest. While I do believe whole heartedly in the PAWS mission, volunteering helped me through the grieving process. Okay, truth be told I was also scouting for our next pup!
Do you have a primary focus when you volunteer?
I am a Gold Star volunteer in Dog Town, mentor new volunteers, participate in weekly training session, and do adoption counseling for dogs. I did train in Kitty City thinking I could learn more about cats, but with so much to do in Dog Town… I am usually at the Adoption Center during the second shift on three weekdays which affords more concentrated time with the animals as well as potential adopters.
Is there a favorite experience that has stood out during your time as a volunteer?
I have had so many touching moments volunteering—watching a frightened animal literally become a dog again with a little patience and TLC, bittersweet goodbyes to favorites going off to their forever homes, and especially news, pictures, videos and even regular sittings of happy alumni. Yet, one story stands out. PAWS acquired an abandoned pit bull and one of her puppies who is blind. The sweet Tiger Lily was quickly adopted by a young couple. They were looking for their first dog as adults and initially overlooked her. But they soon fell in love with the snuffly dog they renamed Piglet. When her blind puppy became available, they came in to meet him. The woman admitted they never really intended to have two dogs much less a blind puppy, but Piglet had changed their lives so dramatically in such a short time. So mum and pup were reunited!
How does what do you do for a career apply to what you do as a volunteer?
I am not sure my field of art history and particularly contemporary art and criticism is terribly relevant to my volunteer activities other than the fact that I can identify the William Wegman hanging in the hall. However, my careers teaching at the college level and running a not-for-profit art magazine are helpful in educating new volunteers and potential adopters as well as juggling hectic and often competing tasks and duties at the shelter. My time in the nonprofit world also gives me an appreciation for the PAWS organization as a whole. On the one hand what Paula Fasseas and all the PAWS supporters have built is truly amazing. Creating something new and this big from scratch is almost impossible. And on the other hand what staff and volunteers do on a day-to-day basis is simply exciting. (Oh, and log those hours! Volunteer and community support are crucial leverage points for fundraising.)
Why do you volunteer for PAWS Chicago?
I love that PAWS offers so many different ways to get involved as a volunteer—literally from mucking the suites to working more intensely with dogs on behavior modification. For me working with the dogs is the most rewarding experience. It is humbling to see how little it takes to make a difference in these animals’ lives. I am also constantly learning from staff as well as fellow volunteers. My apologies to all those I have questioned/bothered/generally glommed on to. And, of course there is nothing quite like a pile of puppies to just make the world seem right.
Do you have any PAWS Chicago pets at home?
I adopted my Hannah (PAWS name Inu) a little over two years ago. I think she is a Shepherd/Shiba Inu mix. I didn’t really know anything about Shibas when we adopted her, but she was owner relinquished so the name would fit and several people have stopped to ask if she is part Shiba. I can see it now in her Mickey Mouse size feet and slightly curved tail and certainly in her split personality of pushy herder and bird of prey. But as anyone with shelter dog experience knows a DNA test might turn up poodle. My previous dog Callie was adopted from the Oak Park Animal Care League. We think she was a Shepherd/Collie mix. By conservative estimates of her age Cal lived to be almost 18, which is a pretty good run for a little girl found starving to death in a boarded up building. Before Cal I had a Shepherd/pit mix that a friend found bleeding in a gutter one night. Given the sheer amount of joy that all these animals have given me, how could I not try to give some back?
Have you participated in any PAWS Chicago special events that supports animals?
I volunteered as a dog handler at the Gold Coast Angels with Tails last year and a water girl at the Shamrock Shuffle. I do love all the outreach activities that bring more exposure to the animals as well as to the No Kill mission and would like to do more in the future, but my main focus is on the adoption center.
What value has volunteering at PAWS Chicago brought you?
First and foremost PAWS has brought me Hannah, one of the loves of my life. I think that PAWS offers truly rewarding volunteer experiences at every level. Having volunteered with some organization or for some cause most of my adult life, I can say that PAWS is one of the few places that actually works to harness and further a feeling of partnership with volunteers. Whether its deep cleaning rooms in the morning, running a Marathon, doing a couple loads of laundry, working on fundraising and development/community outreach, or even hanging and talking baby talk with a baby, there is always something to do in which you feel you are actually contributing and making a difference in animals’ lives. Ultimately, for me, volunteering at PAWS is a selfish choice.