Helping cats and dogs come out of their shells, giving extra love to those overlooked due to health problems, resisting the temptation to adopt every pet, watching favorite furry friends find forever homes—volunteering at the Williamson County Regional Animal Shelter is both rewarding and bittersweet.
Sofia “Sage” Sanchez has experienced all of these things as one of several student volunteers who enjoyed much of their summer vacation, and the new school year so far, at the shelter. She and her mom Anne began lending a hand once a week after an unsuccessful attempt to add another dog to their family. “This was a way to be able to love on other dogs as well as get her volunteer hours for school,” Anne says.
At 16 years old, Sage can volunteer on her own but enjoys the quality time with her mom. The two do “anything that needs to be done—dog walks, laundry, or dishes. The shelter is really short on not just staff but volunteers as well, and there are a lot of animals to take care of,” Sage says. “I really like getting to know all the dogs and knowing I helped in some way.”
Madi Clark, 13, and her mom Nicole Immer also enjoy donating their time as often as they can, feeding and cuddling cats and cleaning kennels. “I really enjoy working with the cats that are more anxious—helping them socialize and learn to be comfortable around people,” Madi says. Both love being able to watch pets’ journeys from the nervous moment when they arrive to when they leave excited about their new families. “It’s sad to see them go, but I have to remind myself it’s a good thing,” Nicole says.
Jessica Rodriguez (pictured) appreciates the chance to follow the animals’ adventures. “I love when a cat is adopted and months down the line, the adopter sends us a picture and shows us how well they’re doing. That means everything to me,” the 11th grader says. Something of a cat whisperer, she uses her abilities to read feline body language and handle more difficult cats at off-site adoption events at PetSmart and Tomlinson’s Feed.
Volunteering off site also allows her to get to know them better since she usually has just one or two cats. One in particular, Geri, recently stole her heart. “I would never have guessed she was a lap cat. She was really standoffish and now she’s one of the sweetest cats I’ve ever known. It’s amazing to see them transform when given the chance.”
HAVE A HEART FOR HELPING?
Volunteer opportunities abound at the shelter and one of them is bound to be in your wheelhouse:
- walk dogs
- socialize dogs and cats
- foster, cleaning, laundry, administrative tasks
- work at off-site events
- help with photography and videos of shelter animals
- assisting with special projects; e.g., assembling shelves and research data entry
The shelter’s flexible volunteer program allows students to help out on their own schedules, either after school or on weekends. Students interested in going into veterinary careers can gain experience by shadowing the shelter’s medical team. Community Programs Coordinator April Peiffer says, “Volunteering in any capacity is a rewarding experience. It takes you out of your own world for a brief period and places you into a situation in which you can give back. This can be a cathartic experience for anyone.” She adds, “School can be stressful, and what better way to reduce that stress than playing with some puppies and kitties?”
Click to learn more about the program and sign up to volunteer.