Volunteers of the Month single view | PAWS Chicago

Maggie Zalewski

What originally drew you to PAWS Chicago?

In the autumn of 2009, my daughter started volunteering in Kitty City and asked me to come along as a "bonding" activity for us.  Before that, I had no feelings one way or another about cats.  Never having had pets, my experience with animals was limited.  As I sat in one of the rooms, cats came up to me, cuddled in my lap and purred.  I was hooked.  I realized what I had missed all my life.  After I heard stories about what these dear creatures had been through, I was determined to make a difference in their lives.  That's how it started.

Do you have a primary focus when you volunteer?

As an Adoption Counselor, I try to ensure that the cats and kittens are going into homes where they will lead happy lives and get the love and care they deserve.  Other than that, I love sitting with the cats when time allows.  You know they're fun!


Is there a favorite experience that has stood out or touched during your time as a volunteer at PAWS Chicago?

A couple of years ago, an FIV+ cat named Rocky was brought in after getting stuck in the fan belt of a car.  He was pitiful to look at, all bandaged up and shell-shocked.  One thing he really loved was getting brushed.  When he saw the brush, he'd put his face up to it and almost brush himself.  Such a simple thing, yet so touching to watch.  Kitty City is full of such stories of animals who have been saved and are slowly but surely healing.  After a few months, Rocky walked normally and even had a playmate he rolled around with.  Whenever he saw me with a brush, however, he stopped whatever he was doing and came over to be brushed.  When I found out he'd been adopted, I once again realized how many kind and generous people are out there, willing to care for special needs cats.


Now, there are Tom and Jerry, two kittens with cerebellar hypoplasia.  I didn't know how to handle them at first, since their motor skills are impaired.  Then I discovered that by laying next to them, they love to nestle next to you and reach out with their paws and cuddle.  These little love bugs are so graceful when they're laying down, they're like no other cats.  Each cat at PAWS has a story, whether they've been on the streets or in a home.  They all deserve a chance, don't they?

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

My work experience has primarily been in the corporate world.  I was laid off five years ago and I was a bit lost because that world had changed and I wasn't sure I wanted to return to it.  I'm fortunate in the sense that I now have the luxury of doing what I never had time to do before, volunteer.   No going back now.

Why do you volunteer for PAWS Chicago? 

Why do I volunteer?  It sounds trite, but my time at PAWS has enriched my life.  The more you give, the more you receive.  I never knew the meaning of that phrase before.  Also, the staff works so hard and I want to help them out where I can.


What do I enjoy most?  I won't lie:  Watching the antics of kittens, having a cat snuggle up and "exfoliate" my face, having a breakthrough moment with a shy animal who finally makes a move toward you or lets you approach and pet them.  I also enjoy working with all the kind and dedicated people I've met at PAWS:  Volunteers, caregivers, staff, all selflessly providing care to animals.  They sacrifice their time doing heavy lifting, working long hours, doing tiring chores (hello litter box cleaning duty!), and they keep coming back.  They inspire me to do more, to be better.

Have you participated in any PAWS Chicago special events that supports animals?
I participated in the Kriser's event in Wilmette, where PAWS showcases a few kittens and dogs.  In addition to serving as an Adoption Counselor, this is an excellent opportunity to educate pet owners past, present and future, about the PAWS mission.

What value has volunteering at PAWS Chicago brought you?


I've learned that no task is too menial, that no animal is more or less significant than any other, that beauty and love come in all shapes, sizes, ages and colors, and that compassion is sometimes painful, but when you open the door to your heart, there's always a furry creature ready to step in!