Written by Denilson Saavedra

For some time, I had been searching for a volunteering opportunity that would be fulfilling and relaxing at the same time, and I finally found one in PAWS.

I read about their shelter a bit online before signing up for a two-hour orientation after work. I wasn’t expecting much from the orientation; I was expecting to meet some of the staff, learn about the organization, and learn ways I could help the shelter when I volunteer my time. I walked into the shelter and followed the bright yellow signs with the words “Volunteers” on them to guide myself to the orientation room. The orientation lead met me with such enthusiasm and appreciation. I learned about the organization and how I can help, but I also got something else from the event: a realization that change happens when regular people come together to serve a noble cause. I definitely did not expect to be filled with so much gratitude toward the work the people at PAWS are doing from attending the orientation, but it happened.

Here is how I got inspired at the PAWS animal shelter orientation:

Every Problem Has a Solution

One of the first things the orientation lead talked about was the origins of the organization. In the 90s in Chicago, people would take their unwanted pets to animal shelters in hopes of giving their dog or cat a second chance; however, most animal shelters at the time did not have the resources or space to keep receiving these animals. So many of the animals would be euthanized merely days after coming into the “safe” space. About 42,000 pets a year were euthanized in the city in 1997.

Paula Fasseas was one of the people who saw a solution to the issue and began trailblazing a path for the city and other cities around the country by founding PAWS, Pets Are Worth Saving, to build no-kill communities. With the network of education and resources that PAWS has created, euthanasia rates are now down a staggering 87 percent.

Many Drops Can Fill a Bucket

One of the facts I found remarkable at the orientation was that in 2017, people volunteered about 130,000 hours at PAWS, equaling the number of hours 65 full-time employees would serve. I’m assuming that the number of volunteers was a lot bigger than 65 because most volunteers average 32 volunteer hours a year. So, that means that about 4,000 volunteers contributed a total of 130,000 volunteer hours in 2017, and this saved the PAWS organization a ton of money! The money that they saved went toward pet food, surgeries, and other expenses crucial to the organization. I found it amazing that so many people understood the need to help pets without a home that are sometimes physically sick and dealing with a lot of stress. I was glad to finally find this great community.

Amazing Learning Opportunities

When the orientation lead mentioned dog training, I was hooked. I’ve never had pets, but I’ve always enjoyed being around dogs and have thought about having my own pet, too. At the orientation, I learned that with enough volunteer hours, I can learn how to train a dog with a clicker; that’s a great incentive for me! And along the way, I will learn how to properly handle dogs and cats, how to properly walk dogs, and how to make the animals happy. I learned a little bit about pet body language at the orientation (that’s another thing I did not expect to learn). With my little-to-no experience with pets, I will have lots to learn, but PAWS offers lots of guidance and training for volunteers. So hopefully, I will learn how to take care of dogs and cats. And when the time comes to adopt a pet, I will be ready.

I am now waiting to hear back from PAWS so that I can start volunteering my time with them. I hope to have fun with the animals, learn the best ways to care for them, and be around people who like to give back.

Denilson Saavedra is a Project Associate at Urban Equities and a contributing editor for the Bulletin Board. In his off time, Denilson enjoys listening to music, watching videos on YouTube, doing anything involving basketball, and making art.

Connect with Denilson Saavedra.

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