Volunteers of the Month single view | PAWS Chicago

Stephanie Wurtzel

What originally drew you to PAWS Chicago?  
I've been volunteering at PAWS Chicago for two and a half years. I love animals and knew I wanted to volunteer at a shelter. The PAWS volunteer program is so flexible, with a multitude of ways to get involved, so I knew there would always be something interesting to do. Plus, I wholeheartedly support PAWS's fundamental mission of making Chicago a No Kill community.

Do you have a primary focus when you volunteer?
I'm a Level 3 volunteer in Dog Town, a dog Adoption Counselor, and I help teach the Level 1 training classes for Dog Town. I'm a Level 1 volunteer in Kitty City and enjoy an occasional cuddle with the cats, but most of the time you'll find me in Dog Town. I also enjoy helping out with administrative tasks at the Adoption Center now and then.

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

One of the first dogs I started working with when I became a Level 3 volunteer was named Cinema. Cinema was the sweetest little cuddle bug in the world. We'd run around on the roof together, then snuggle up on a bench in the sun. I just adored her. Unfortunately for Cinema, her first adoption didn't work out very well, and the adopters returned her to the Adoption Center with two bites on her record. Despite Cinema's loving personality, the bites scared away a lot of potential adopters who wouldn't even meet her, and she spent a long time at the Adoption Center waiting for a new family. Finally, a couple came in who understood her situation, met her, saw how amazing she was, and decided to take her home. I was so excited for her; I asked to do her adoption counseling personally so I could get to know the special family who wanted to give her a home. When I followed up with the family after they took Cinema home, they told me, "She may have had a rough time of it in the past, but to us, she's perfect." Cinema really touched my heart, and because of her success, I gained faith that, with hope and patience, we can find a loving home for every companion animal that needs one. 

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

I'm about to become a full-time mom, but in past lives I've been a labor and employment attorney and director of admissions and an academic counselor at a local law school. In all of these positions, I've counseled people as they make important life decisions. That counseling experience comes in very handy in Dog Town. Many adopters know they want to open their homes and hearts to a dog, but they haven't necessarily figured out the logistics, or they don't know how to find a dog whose energy level and temperament are a match with their lifestyle. I try to use my counseling experience to help adopters understand their own goals and limitations, so they can make a realistic and appropriate choice about the dog they take home. Hopefully these conversations increase the likelihood that the match will be a happy, permanent one.

Why do you volunteer for PAWS Chicago? 

I volunteer at the Adoption Center because it's fun! I feel so privileged to witness that moment when someone falls in love with a dog. Their face just lights up, and you know their life, and the dog's life, has changed forever. The potential to witness that moment every time I volunteer is what keeps drawing me back. 

Do you have any pets at home?

I adopted my darling dog, Abby, from Chicago Animal Care and Control nine years ago. Abby makes me smile and laugh every day. I love the happy whines she gives me when I come home!

Have you participated in any PAWS Chicago special events?

Helping out at special events has been a great way to promote PAWS beyond the Adoption Center. I've volunteered at Fur Ball, at the Angels with Tails events, at an adoption event at PetSmart, and at the Chicago Marathon, Half Marathon, and Soldier Field Ten Mile. My husband and I did the 4K walk together during Run for Their Lives one year, too.

What value has volunteering at PAWS Chicago brought you?

Volunteering at PAWS Chicago has helped me become a more hopeful and optimistic person. It's also taught me the value of focusing on finding a path to a better future, rather than lamenting the disappointments of the past. The animals we care for have been through so much. Some of them have been abandoned by the only home they've ever known, transported from one state to another, been forced to fend for themselves on the street, or, in some cases, have suffered horrible abuse no living creature should have to endure. Yet, despite all that, each and every animal is ready to put their past behind them and offer unconditional love to a new family. The adopters who are willing to look past the scars and rough edges that these experiences sometimes leave on the animals are also inspirational to me. They're a reminder of the rewards that come from making an emotional investment in a worthy cause.