Volunteers of the Month single view | PAWS Chicago

Daniel Speller

What originally drew you to PAWS Chicago? 

Two years ago, after recently moving to the area, I realized that I hadn’t been regularly giving back to the community as much as I should’ve been. Around the same time, a friend asked me to donate to a cause that was very dear to her heart. The cause - dedicated to saving the lives of homeless little guys (pets) and finding homes for them - sounded wonderful, and a few months after donating what I could at the time, I stopped by the Lincoln Park Adoption Center in response to an open house invitation I received in the mail.

The little guys were amazing, the volunteers and staff were wonderful, and before I knew it, I was signed up for a New Volunteer Orientation; I’ve been serving with PAWS Chicago since May of 2013. 

Do you have a primary focus when you volunteer?

Off-site events and transport opportunities are definite favorites. As the weather begins to drop and there aren’t quite as many events, I try to spend more time helping at the Lincoln Park Adoption Center as a Family Services Host and in Kitty City (the latter “balances” working almost exclusively with dogs and puppies during the off-site events). I’ve also fostered for PAWS and helped out at the Medical Center and the North Shore Adoption Center.

Is there one favorite experience that has stood out during your time as a volunteer?

About a year ago, Roger, a then four-year-old tuxedo cat with a Charlie Chaplin-like “mustache” was my roommate for four weeks through the PAWS foster program. Knowing beforehand that I wouldn’t be able to keep him, we made the most of that November, which included a bit of exciting Auburn football-watching and running relays in my apartment.

The sad, “What! You’re sending me back!” look on his face when I brought out the carrier to return him to the Adoption Center would break the heart of the manliest of men. Even sadder, Roger wasn’t adopted at the Winter Adopt-a-thon the following weekend, or over the next few months, and he eventually became a little under the weather.

About two months ago, another Kitty City volunteer who’d taken an interest in Roger months before was finally able to take him, and I almost cried (in a very manly way, of course).

Four years a stray, and after a few months of charming countless lady kitties in the Adoption Center with his rugged good looks (his words, not mine), Roger has found his forever home.

How does what do you do for a career apply to what you do as a volunteer?

Having been with Crate and Barrel for nearly seven years (half of this time as a store associate and the other half in procurement), experience in retail and purchasing helps tremendously with approaching potential adopters, determining and understanding their needs, and finding the right little guy for them.

Crate’s sales associates are encouraged to really engage with customers to learn about their needs and recommend the right merchandise based on this, while not attempting to “sell” them on anything that they aren’t truly interested in just to make “a quick buck.”

I think there’s a similar philosophy when working with potential adopters. The adoption Centers and off-site adoption events can, at times, feel very much like a retail environment, but it’s sometimes important to remind adopters that our volunteers aren’t in sales and that our goal truly is to find the best pet for their home and the best home for our little guys - even if that means encouraging someone to revisit PAWS in the future when we may have a more appropriate match available for them.

Having also previously worked for a non-profit organization, there’s a definite understanding and appreciation for having to work with limited resources as well as the importance of fundraising and utilizing those funds responsibly.

Why do you volunteer for PAWS Chicago? 

Nearly any volunteer at PAWS who has worked with me can tell you that I’m far from the most knowledgeable when it comes to the little guys.

Our family adopted an orange tabby, Boo Chat, when I was in the first grade; our neighbors lured him away with better tasting food and kidnapped him when they moved away. We also picked up a Dalmatian, Jade, a few years later. I’ve always liked cats and dogs, but prior to last summer, these two were about the extent of what I knew about them.

In addition to the rewarding feeling of giving back to the community and helping find homes for previously homeless little guys, volunteering with PAWS has been extraordinarily educational for someone who once knew so little about pets. After a year and a half, there’s absolutely still plenty to learn, but there isn’t a better way and a better organization to learn with.

In the meantime, go ahead and ask me about the differences between Malamutes and Siberian Huskies! 

Do you have any pets at home?

As much as I’d love to have a little guy (or two) at home, it’s very difficult at this time to provide the commitment that they’d deserve. 

With this in mind, it’s incredibly gratifying to find a loving home and family for a pet and see them off to the ideal living environment that I can’t offer.

I suppose a similar analogy is that if I knew I were a terrible cook but still really liked cooking, I’d rather take a friend to an amazing Italian restaurant rather than have them suffer through my atrocious lasagna.

Have you participated in any PAWS Chicago special events that supports animals?

With special events being a favorite way to help out, I’ve volunteered with the Fur Ball’s of this year and last, this year’s Animal Magnetism, most of this year and last’s Angels with Tails events, and several other off-site adoption events with Petco and Subaru. 

A handful of friends, co-workers at Crate, little guys, and I also attended the Run for Their Lives event this past summer.

What value has volunteering at PAWS Chicago brought you? 

To anyone on the fence about volunteering, fostering, or adopting, I couldn’t encourage you enough to take a moment and stop into either of the Adoption Center’s to get a glimpse of what PAWS is all about.

There are almost countless ways to help, many volunteer shifts are flexible, and the staff and volunteers really are great people.

There also really isn’t a more gratifying feeling than heading home knowing that you’ve helped saved lives.