Volunteers of the Month single view | PAWS Chicago

Diana Zapata Kotowski

We all work together, with the ultimate goal being to find a forever home for our pets. I am filled with gratitude in doing this important work, knowing that PAWS Chicago has become my forever home.

What originally drew you to PAWS Chicago?  How long have you been a volunteering?

I started volunteering at PAWS about six years ago. At the time, I was a consultant on the road and had taken a one year contract here in Chicago. I was missing my pups who were back home in Santa Barbara, California. Since that time, it has become so much more in my life than just a fill-in for my own pets. 

Do you have a primary focus when you volunteer? 

Although I work in many areas of PAWS (intake of pups from high kill shelters-also known as puppy parties, PAWS for Life, New Volunteer Orientation and Dog Town Level One Training), one of my favorite venues is at the Rescue and Recovery Center at 26th Street. There is great need for volunteers there. Recently, with the help of some staff members, I helped start a program for our pets in medical isolation, providing socialization for our pets who may need to be isolated for a period of time. Socialization is imperative, as it keeps the isolated pets connected to humans, and contributes to their emotional growth and development during this critical stage of care. I recently trained six additional volunteers, who now gown up and go into the rooms to spend time with these special needs pets. We've named the program the TLC Team (Tender Loving Care), and along with the medical attention our pets receive, it has become an important part of the care we offer our ISO babies.

Is there one favorite experience or fondest memory/animal story that has stood out or touched your heart during your time as a volunteer at PAWS Chicago?

Although I have many favorite stories about my time here, I am consistently impressed with the number of pets I've seen rescued by PAWS Chicago who wouldn't be saved elsewhere. Pets who are sick and need hospice care, those who are missing a limb or two, pets who are blind or deaf, those have been rescued from terrible living conditions (hoarding, abuse +). PAWS gives them another chance at living a full and robust life, filled with love and kindness for the rest of their lives. It doesn't get any better than that!

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

I am Organizational Development Consultant for Airoom, in Lincolnwood and Naperville. My professional work includes public speaking, training and development, and I've enjoyed many public speaking and media opportunities on behalf of PAWS. 

Why do you volunteer for PAWS Chicago?  What do you enjoy the most about your experiences a volunteer?

Volunteering for PAWS has brought great meaning and purpose to my life. Paula Fasseas, our beloved founder, has manifested this vision into a reality, and has consistently worked not just to grow PAWS as an organization, but also to partner with many other agencies in the community to make Chicago a No Kill city. This dream of Paula's will soon be a reality. It is because of her passion and diligence that we are able to do this work on behalf of the homeless pets of Chicago. PAWS has now become an organizational model that is being used by many other shelters nationally. I am so proud to be a part of this effort!

Do you have any PAWS Chicago alumni pets - or any other pets - at home?

I fostered then adopted from PAWS a rescued puppy mill dog, who is a cherished member of our family.

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

My favorite event is the annual Fur Ball, coming up November 13 at the Drake Hotel. Pets are welcome at all of our events, and this one is no exception. I enjoy seeing the dogs in tuxes, tails and bow ties, out for an enjoyable evening with their human friends. The generosity of the attendees is heartfelt and touching. Chicago's philanthropic community comes together to fund this important work, and allows us to rescue even more pets. This moves us forever closer to our goal of creating a No Kill Chicago.

What value has volunteering at PAWS Chicago brought you?  Anything else you'd like to share regarding your experiences as a PAWS Chicago volunteer?  

I've met many kind people who are passionate about their commitment to caring for animals and are willing to do whatever it takes to provide care for Chicago's homeless pets. There are many critical parts of this work, including the important foster and adoptive families who open their homes and hearts to our pets, allowing us to rescue even more animals. We all work together, with the ultimate goal being to find a forever home for our pets. I am filled with gratitude in doing this important work, knowing that PAWS has become my forever home. Lucky me!