by Wendy Hunter
Wendy Hunter is a volunteer with the Animal Rescue of Fresno. ARF will be sharing their animal rescue adventures with us now every month.
“Volunteers do not necessarily have the time; they just have the heart.”
A million years ago, before the thought of volunteering at Animal Rescue of Fresno was even a glimmer in my brain, my roommate and I adopted two dogs from their facility. “Chopper” (given name, Jasper) was a medium-sized stocky dog, brindle in color, with a permanent grin plastered on his gaping, cavernous face. He was a happy, crazy, jolly mutt, of no particular breed, looking like a cross between a Boxer and Pit Bull, and who knows what else. But when we chased him around the house, he looked very much like a greased pig, skidding around corners, whisking by furniture, and leaving us gasping for air. A wonderful guard dog, Chopper protected us from all the bad guys, and the occasional squirrel that ran across the telephone wires in our backyard.
And then there was the “Taco” dog (adopted on Cinco de Mayo, no joke), a lovely copper-colored Corgi mix with ears so darn gigantic, I swear they picked up cable. His bark was big and commanding, and if you didn’t see him with your own eyes, you’d think we had a large German Shepherd in the living room, instead of a small Corgi mix who liked to bunny-hop down the hall at dinnertime. I loved both of those dogs like you cannot believe. And when I had to put them down, within a year of each of other, my heart broke into pieces so small, I thought they would fit into a thimble.
I do not own any dogs right now, so I get my critter fix at ARF, where I spend Saturdays with my fellow volunteers. We enjoy our time together, whether it’s spent folding laundry, cleaning up the yards, or just having some playtime with the pups. Fetch, anyone? A few weeks ago, as I was mulling over ideas for this article, I realized I didn’t really know what got my dog-loving compadres motivated to become volunteers. What was the impetus? And why did they choose ARF over the many other rescues? So I jotted down these questions, and a few others, to see if I could get down to the bottom of the how and the when and the honest-to-goodness reason why volunteers do what they do, and what we can learn from their answers. They will surprise you, enlighten you, and hopefully inspire you to get involved; the opportunities are endless. A special thanks to my patient subjects, who took the time to participate in this here project: Erika, Julie, and the mom and daughter wonder team of Diann and Melissa. You gals are the best.
The Obvious Question: What made you want to volunteer at a dog rescue? It should come as no shock that pretty much everyone signed up because of their love for dogs. Julie had a couple of rescue dogs, and says that she “wanted to make a change.” Melissa actually adopted a dog from ARF, and was happy to see that all the animals were in yards during the day. For Erika, she has Mom to thank for getting her started volunteering, as her mother came across ARF’s website, and noticed they were offering orientation. It was just before Melissa’s 16th birthday, and eight years later, Erika states that she’s “even more involved in this place I like to call my second home.”
The Tricky Question: Why did you choose ARF over other rescues? Let’s face it, there are a LOT of rescues and shelters out there. It can be confusing trying to decide where to hang your hat. Diann’s reason was simple; she had adopted a dog from ARF, and really liked the environment. Melissa echoes that feeling, and also likes the fact that “the volunteers act like one big family.” Julie explains that she didn’t understand the world of rescue before becoming involved with ARF. “The depth and breadth of what is involved, and how many people work in rescue.” She goes on further to say that she started volunteering with her son when he was younger. “I wanted to show him how to get involved with his community.” Erika was originally drawn to the SPCA, but once she found ARF, there was no turning back; “I couldn’t imagine myself happy anywhere else.”
The Hard-to-Choose Question: What’s the most gratifying aspect of volunteering at ARF? I always find one of the most delightful things about our rescue, is the dogs themselves. There’s nothing that will put a smile on your face faster than seeing how excited the mutts get when a human shows up. Seriously, nothing better than that. Diann and Melissa mirror each other’s comments, saying they love knowing they’ve helped a dog find its “Fur-ever” home, and find the adopters a new member of the family. Erika truly enjoys watching dogs we’ve just rescued, experience life at our facility. “It’s that moment when they realize they aren’t locked in a kennel anymore, as if they’ve just realized they can use their legs to run.”
As Erika continues, try to picture this blissful scene in your mind, “And run they do, in circles, tails wagging so much, it looks like they may wag off their little furry butts. The pure joy, and yes, you can see it’s joy, on their little faces, makes it all worth it.” When I posed this question to Julie, she had a different take on the subject, “It’s hard to say if there really is anything gratifying.” She then explained, “I say that only because it’s difficult to balance the good and the bad, with the dog overpopulation in California.” But like the rest of our volunteers, Julie finds the silver lining and says, “I’m excited when we do save a dog, and we get pictures of them in their new home, all happy, fluffy and smiling. Yes, dogs DO smile!” Hey, I’ve seen it.
The Inevitable Question: What’s the most disheartening thing about rescue work? This was a difficult one, and I went back and forth on even keeping it on the list. I have no desire to discourage people from volunteer work, but I don’t believe it should be sugarcoated either. It’s not all rainbows and sunshine, sometimes it’s a little cloudy out there; we just have to keep our heads above water.
For Erika, some things never get easier. What disheartens her the most is, “Having to witness pain and suffering people can bring upon these animals. From broken bones, to burns and wounds inflicted out of anger, to undernourishment and disease caused by neglect and ignorance.” Diann and her daughter, Melissa, say the toughest thing to bear is “When we lose one of our beloved dogs.” Julie’s response to this question is simple, “Truthfully, people.” Elaborating on this statement, she says, “A large percentage of our community doesn’t get it. They don’t understand how to care for their pets; they don’t care about spaying/neutering or vaccinations. They don’t see dogs as living, breathing, feeling entities.” Thus, the problem.
The In-My-Opinion Question: What do you think is the biggest misconception people have about volunteering, and/or why do you think people are hesitant to volunteer? I know in my case, I was just being a bit of a ‘fraidy cat. I was nervous about meeting new people, not knowing what I was doing, and feeling like a square peg in a round hole. I needn’t have worried. I’m still meeting new people, I sort of know what I’m doing, and even though I’m a square peg, I somehow fit in.
Diann believes that people may be reluctant to sign up, because, “They think that volunteering is all fun, and no work. They don’t want to put out the effort.” Melissa agrees with this comment, adding, “People think it’s all about playing with the dogs, when there is work that actually needs to be done.” But in Erika’s view, that isn’t necessarily true. “I’ve heard quite a few people say they think volunteering is all about work and no play, which isn’t true, at least not with us. We encourage people to play and socialize with our animals when working.”Julie’s thoughts are mixed, though she acknowledges that it isn’t just about playing with the dogs, “Nope, it is cleaning, laundry, transport, medical/social issues, and dealing with ignorance.” She also brought up another interesting point, and that is people not being able to separate their emotions. “One of the hardest things to deal with is coming to the realization that you cannot save them all. She goes on to say, “I’ve cried hundreds of times, but you push yourself to save that one out of 100, because to that one dog, you are everything. And that just has to be enough for now.” Well said.
We are continually seeking new volunteers at ARF. If you are interested, and we hope you are, please email volunteer@arf-fresno[dot]com.
Check out more animal rescue stories in our Pet Perspective section. Advertise in KRL and 10% of your advertising fees can go to a local animal rescue.