Volunteers of the Month single view | PAWS Chicago

Pam Cipkowski

What originally drew you to PAWS Chicago?
When I moved to the Chicago area about seven years ago, I looked for a shelter that had some sort of humane education component, because I feel it is important not only to shelter and adopt out animals, but also to educate people on proper pet care and why pets should be spayed and neutered. PAWS Chicago, with its Community Outreach and Humane Education program, was exactly the kind of place I was looking for.  I live near the Wisconsin border, and it would be so much easier to volunteer with a shelter or organization closer to me, but PAWS has a unique approach to fighting the issue of pet overpopulation.  It's worth the extra drive time to me to be able to volunteer with a program like PAWS that really makes a difference not only to the animals, but also to the people in the community.


Do you have a primary focus when you volunteer?
My volunteer focus primarily has been with the Community Outreach and Humane Education program. I have given presentations at schools, libraries and day camps about proper pet care, kindness to animals, spay/neuter, and combating dogfighting. I also table at events in areas of the city where there are a high number of feral and stray dogs and cats to spread the word about PAWS Chicago's free and low-cost spay/neuter services. I've been really excited about volunteering at the new GusMobile, PAWS Chicago's new state-of-the-art spay/neuter van, during its first few weeks in action. The GusMobile brings our services to pets and people who would otherwise have a hard time getting to our clinic. It's wonderful to see how much excitement it generates when people drive by our big mobile van and stop for information!


Is there a favorite experience or fondest memory/animal story that has stood out or touched your heart during your time as a volunteer at PAWS Chicago?
Community outreach is always such a gratifying experience. When somebody picks up a flyer about our free/low-cost spay/neuter services from our information table at an event and says, "I need to get this done!" or "I need to tell my mother/sister/girlfriend about this!" I know that I am making an immediate difference in the lives of these people and their pets. And it is simply heartwarming to walk into the Lurie Spay/Neuter Clinic and seeing the lobby filled with people and their pets waiting for their spay/neuter appointments. People from all income groups and areas of town love their pets and want to give them the best care possible, and PAWS Chicago is able to help many of these people do just that.


How does what you do in your career apply to what you do as a volunteer?
I am a librarian at the Loyola University Chicago School of Law Library. My job involves making information accessible and getting it in the hands of people who need it...which, in a way, is what I do though PAWS Chicago's Community Outreach and Humane Education program!


Why do you volunteer for PAWS Chicago?
Early on, my mom instilled in me a love for animals. There was often a lost dog or injured bird being cared for in the house. Spiders were never squashed because, as my mother explained, "They might have a family." This led me to understand that animals have feelings and emotions just as people do, and that it is our responsibility to care for these creatures who share the Earth with us. Volunteering with PAWS allows me to share that message with others. Community outreach and humane education can be challenging: I sometimes describe it as working in the trenches. We often visit some of the city's most poverty-stricken neighborhoods to let people know about the free and low-cost services that are available to them. But that is what makes it so gratifying.


Do you have any PAWS Chicago alumni pets - or any other pets - at home?
Right now I have four cats. I found Milo and Perry living in my backyard shed as kittens. Prince was my aunt's cat and joined the household after she passed away. Maddy is my most recent acquisition: she was living under a porch with her kittens. The kittens were fostered and found homes, but Maddy stayed with me. She was spayed at PAWS Chicago's Lurie Spay/Neuter Clinic.


Have you participated in any PAWS Chicago special events?

I have helped out for several years at the Run for Their Lives Run/Walk and at the Angels With Tails adoption events. The best events, though, are the not-so-fancy ones: the health fairs, day camps, parades, and street fairs that the Community Outreach and Humane Education volunteers attend week-after-week to share info with Chicago residents about spay/neuter and proper care for their pets. These are the events that really matter and make a difference!


What value has volunteering at PAWS Chicago brought you?
Volunteering with the Community Outreach and Humane Education program has allowed me to see a world different from my own. It's not necessarily a world of poverty, bleakness, and despair, but one of hope, kindness, and unconditional love for animals. People from all walks of life love their pets and want to do what's best for them. PAWS Chicago is able to make that happen, and I am proud to be part of the mission.