Volunteers of the Month single view | PAWS Chicago

Tom Hehir

"My motivation to continue is probably the same as every volunteer - the feeling of unconditional love these dogs seem to radiate."

How long have you been volunteering with PAWS Chicago? What originally drew you to the organization?

I started volunteering at PAWS Chicago in May of 2013.  I had moved into the city a year earlier. I've been a dog owner most of my life and have worked/volunteered for non-profits for over 30 years, but I had never been part of an animal rescue organization. I had heard of PAWS' reputation in the community and thought it would be a great organization to get involved with. I felt it would be a fun way to spend a few hours each week, as well as a great way to meet new people in the city. 

Which PAWS Chicago programs do you volunteer in and why?

I'm approaching 600 total hours of service with the dog adoption program.  For the past 3+ years I've been a Level 2 volunteer and have been a Dog Town Mentor most of that time. I believe I was one of the original mentors when the program was initiated. The majority of my shifts are mentor shifts and I've probably mentored about 250 - 300 new volunteers over the years.  I am also a Dog Town Lead Volunteer and have participated in many off-site events such as Angels With Tails, the Chicago Pride Parade and the TEAM PAWS Chicago Fan Club. A few times I have also been a media spokesperson for PAWS.

Do you have a favorite experience or memory from your time as a volunteer?

My favorite PAWS experience was the first year that I volunteered for the Team PAWS Fan Club at the Chicago Marathon in 2013. We had brought a puppy named Booker from the Adoption Center to the PAWS Tent. I was assigned to handle him as the "Congratulations Dog." As each runner completed the race and came to the tent, they were given their medal and greeted by Booker with cuddles and kisses for a photo op. Completing the marathon was emotional enough for these runners, but no matter how exhausted they were, every runner became overjoyed to be welcomed by a puppy. Sharing the emotions of each runner as they posed with Booker for pictures was by far the best assignment any volunteer could have been given that day. 

What motivates you to continue volunteering with PAWS Chicago?

My motivation to continue is probably the same as every volunteer - the feeling of unconditional love these dogs seem to radiate.  I think we all sense it.  Rescue dogs can feel they have been given that extra chance. I don't really know how else to describe that feeling of being part of the process of giving a dog the opportunity for a new and better life. 

Do you have any advice for someone who is considering becoming a volunteer?

The advice I have is what I explain to all new volunteers during mentoring sessions. I encourage them to learn as much as they can about all the facets of the PAWS organization.  While it's always fun to spend a few hours a week at the Adoption Center with the dogs, I'm proud to tell my family and friends my "PAWS stories" and explain all the work that this organization does.  So many people are unaware of the variety of services PAWS offers. It's great to be able to share the success stories of the Medical Center, the spay/neuter program, the Pet Food Pantry, etc. Getting a new (or potential) volunteer to understand that sense of pride, and making them feel a part of "the big picture," can be just as important as finding homes for a dog or cat.