Volunteers of the Month single view | PAWS Chicago

Jennifer Nevis

Fostering has taught me how to help these animals in a different way than just adopting them outright.

What originally drew you to PAWS Chicago?  How long have you been a volunteer?
I started volunteering August 2015. PAWS Chief Veterinarian, Dr. Von Waldau, is a good friend of mine and after much encouragement from her, I decided to try fostering -- just to get a toe back in the water after losing my dog. She told me about all the support for the foster parents PAWS provides; that if I couldn't handle the foster, they could always go back to PAWS.  Dr. Von Waldau was completely right -- I've experienced only patient, kind support and understanding from the PAWS foster crew. I have only fostered 3 dogs so far but they have all been wonderful dogs; the foster team always picked the perfect match. My fosters rehabbed me at least as much as I have rehabbed them. I love dogs again, the complicated pain from losing my dog has subsided and has been replaced with very happy experiences in the past few months -- so much so that I am proudly foster failing on my latest dog, Perl (pictured above) , whom I can't imagine not being there when I come home every day. 
Do you have a primary focus when you volunteer?
So far, my focus is on the medical fosters at 26th street. I feel pretty confident in handling the medical side of things. My current foster, Perl, I had the pleasure of fostering through her pregnancy and the whole puppy-raising experience. That was such a blast! I'm definitely in the market for more pregnant fosters after Perl settles in a bit more. 
Is there one favorite experience or fondest memory that has stood out during your time as a volunteer at PAWS Chicago? 
Having puppies born in my clothes closet cannot be beat! As a vet I did C-sections and a lot of puppy wellness visits but never got to watch the whole growing-up process one day at a time. Perl was such an amazing mother (I was a nervous wreck).  The puppies were so much fun to watch, growing and learning new things every day. Witnessing the whole process was a real privilege and a blessing.
How does what do you do for a career apply to what you do as a volunteer? 
I have been a vet for 18 years in a variety of private practices (farms, pets, city, etc.) but 8 years ago I started a full time job at Willowbrook Wildlife Center rehabilitating injured wildlife. I found that non-profit work is my favorite and watching animals recover from the worst situations to be free again is just the best.  Last year I bought my first home and realized I have a great lay-out for fostering. All my other pets are rescues so just seemed a natural progression. Additionally, everybody I work with at WWC is animal-crazy so I knew I'd have a ton of people to call on for socializing the foster animals I brought home. The staff and volunteers at WWC played a huge role in socializing Perl's puppies this winter. Finally, I oversee volunteers in my job and I think I should walk-the-walk, not just talk-the-talk so putting myself out there as a volunteer is really important. 
Why do you volunteer for PAWS Chicago?  What do you enjoy the most about your experiences a volunteer? 
I don't live too close to PAWS but they have the best foster program I've ever seen. I feel very safe and supported in this program. I love watching shy, tired, frightened animals get stronger and braver and happier every day they are with me. I like watching them realize the world can be a pretty nice place after all. 
Do you have any PAWS Chicago alumni pets - or any other pets - at home? 
So far, just Perl-Perl-the Country-Girl-Eatin'-Squirrels-Until-She-Hurls for PAWS alumni. Other pets are: 1 old cat, 1 milk snake, 2 spotted turtles, 1 blind starling, 1 ring-neck dove, 55 gallon fish tank.
Have you participated in any PAWS Chicago special events that supports animals? 
A good friend was very generous and invited me to the Beach Party last summer -- what a blast! Also, though I didn't attend the FurBall, I bid remotely on an auction item and won an awesome paddleboat trip I'm really looking forward to. 
What value has volunteering at PAWS Chicago brought you?  Anything else you'd like to share regarding your experiences as a PAWS Chicago volunteer?  
When I tell people I'm fostering dogs, everybody says the same thing, "Isn't that really hard? I could never do that. I'd want to keep them all. Aren't your worried about not knowing what happens to them?"  Yup. But fostering has taught me how to help these animals in a different way than just adopting them outright. I constantly think about what behaviors and skills they need to have to be kept forever in another home. If I focus on making them the best behaved, most appealing companion in the world, I don't feel the pressure to keep them for myself out of fear they won't find another home.  I know there are good people with loving homes to offer out there. Fostering helps polish up these "diamonds in the rough" so their new family will recognize them when they see them.