Volunteers of the Month single view | PAWS Chicago

Julie Howard

What originally drew you to PAWS Chicago?  
In the spring of 2005, I was about to leave a longstanding job and begin a new chapter in life. I realized I’d have more free time and decided I’d like to become involved as a volunteer with a No Kill animal welfare organization. When I attended the orientation at PAWS Chicago in the Little Village neighborhood, I knew this was where I wanted to be. However, I didn’t suspect that I’d still be with PAWS six years later.  During that time, I’ve seen the addition of new initiatives and staff to implement them, the formalization of volunteer training and protocols, the construction of the Adoption Center on Clybourn, the advent of the GusMobile, many thousands of adoptions, and much more. When I look back, I’m reminded of how amazing it all has been.


Do you have a primary focus when you volunteer?

I like cats, have been trained as a cat volunteer, and can pitch in in Kitty City when needed, but most of my activities focus on the dogs. I’m a dog Adoption Counselor, Level 2 dog handler, Level 2 lead volunteer, and trainer of new Dog Town volunteers. During my years at PAWS, I’ve also had the opportunity to serve in on-the-spot capacities, such as dog and cat chauffeur, dog bather, packet stuffer, towel folder, donation sorter, tour leader, people greeter, and reasonably fluent Spanish language interpreter. I love to perform a variety of tasks and to respond to the needs of the moment, and PAWS has given me the chance to do that.  


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

New volunteers and visitors often ask how long it takes for an animal to be adopted and what happens if an animal is not adopted. I like to tell them about Magoo, age 13, a pony-sized Old English Sheep Dog, blind and deaf since birth, who came to PAWS several years ago when his person died unexpectedly.  I wondered who would be capable of giving him the type of care and attention he required and if anyone would be willing to take on such a daunting project. However, he wasn’t with us too long before a wonderful family adopted him and learned the unique touch system used to communicate with him in his previous home.  This is just one example of many, and I tell others that all the animals are adoptable -- it’s just a matter of the perfect people finding them. There truly is someone for everyone.


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

I was a tenured professor at a university for 25 years and I’m still working part-time in higher and adult education. At PAWS, I’ve found my teaching and communication skills useful in a variety of contexts, especially in working with new volunteers and with less experienced adopters.  


Why do you volunteer for PAWS Chicago? 

Even though I have dogs at home, it seems I need still more canine contact and I can honestly say that I have never met a dog I didn’t like, regardless of genetic makeup, size, appearance, or behavioral quirks. Whenever I arrive at the Adoption Center, no matter what the plan for the day, I go immediately to Dog Town to see what animals are still there, what animals have been adopted, and what animals have recently arrived. If I have a break from other duties, I wander into Dog Town to hang out with and get to know the residents. I believe I am a better Adoption Counselor and all-around volunteer when I have some personal knowledge of the individual animals.


Another joy that cannot be overestimated is meeting and working with people -- volunteers, visitors, and incredibly dedicated PAWS Chicago staff members -- who are equally crazy about animals.

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

I have a five-year-old rescued Rat Terrier, Renzo, who was in danger of being put down at another shelter. I lost a beloved terrier to advanced age last summer and would like to adopt another dog, but Renzo has a very challenging personality and it may take a long while to find a dog match for him.  To those who comment on his shyness and anxiety, I say, “That’s why I adopted him!”


What value has volunteering at PAWS Chicago brought you?

I’ve been a volunteer in many nonprofit contexts throughout my life, most notably in professional associations. All of my volunteer experiences have been satisfying, but none so rewarding as my work at PAWS, where I lend my time and effort to saving lives. What could be more meaningful?