Friday, December 19, 2014


I will remember each moment. (Thad Horton, volunteer)
Lessons I’ve learned volunteering for an animal rescue

Posted on July 29, 2014 at 12:24 p.m.

Saying goodbye to someone or something you love is never easy, and this is certainly the case for me. Due to family health issues, I am leaving Heartland Small Animal Rescue to focus on my children. This decision was incredibly difficult for me. Other very capable and loving volunteers will fill my shoes, and one will continue to write Tails from the Heart. I am grateful to these and all of the rescue’s volunteers. I wanted to leave my blog duties with one last entry about the things I have learned being a rescue volunteer.

There is a perfect home for every animal

My family has fostered all types of animals from those that come to the rescue – near perfect pets, as well as those that are very behaviorally challenged. There have been a few that have come into our house I thought would never leave. They seemed to lack too many manners, were too rough, too old or too sick. A couple stayed for months. However, each and every time these animals found their homes, and they are much loved by their new families, even with their imperfections and quirks.

Kari Horton is a volunteer with Heartland Small Animal Rescue – a nonprofit that rescues animals scheduled for euthanasia in local shelters. To read more from Heartland, check out the rescue’s community blog for The Elkhart Truth, Tails from the Heart.

Athena the black pit bull was one such case. She first stayed in our puppy house as a pregnant mother and then in our paid boarding facility when a foster home wasn’t available. She came to our home next. She was rough around the edges. She disliked going to events and would sit in her cage and pout the entire time. She was incredibly strong, with a tough build. She was also black. In rescues there is a common perception that black animals take longer to find homes because some people find their color to be intimidating or a sign of bad luck. Add that to the other common, though incorrect, assumption that pit bulls are aggressive, and she had a tough road to travel. She stayed with us for a long time, and we have countless pictures of her sleeping and cuddling with our young sons. She was as sweet as could be.

Finally, I saw an ad for a young couple looking for a pit bull to add to their family after their puppy (also named Athena) died. I emailed them, and they came to meet Athena. She was known to take some time to get used to and become friendly with other dogs. They were willing to work with her and their current dog. They put in a lot of effort, and after about two weeks, the dogs were best friends. I just received an update last month on how well she is still doing. There is a perfect home for every animal.

Social media saves lives

I was not a fan of Facebook before starting with the rescue. I was not impressed with receiving updates on exactly where everyone was and what color shoes they were wearing every single day. As an “old person” (my children have called me that), I lacked an understanding of Tumblr, Instagram, Twitter, etc.

Then I started working with the rescue’s social media outlets, and I saw amazing things happen.

Lives were literally being saved because of the quick timing of Facebook posts and shares. Our volunteers could commit to taking in an animal faced with euthanasia immediately upon seeing him or her. I could post a picture of a dog heading to an adoption event, then see the dog adopted that day by someone who saw the post. I could share pertinent information about summer safety and other dog-related concerns and receive instant feedback that the post helped a pet parent.

I encourage everyone using the Internet to use the power it gives us to help animals in need. Each post shared about a dog at a shelter or rescue could make a difference and literally save that animal’s life. Social media does save lives.

There is never enough

There are never enough volunteers, funds, homes, etc., when it comes to a rescue trying to save animals in need. I mattered, and so do you. I greatly encourage you to participate in a cause that is close to your heart. My guess is that if you are reading this blog, you love animals too. It doesn’t matter if you bake for one of Heartland’s bake sales or if you take in five foster dogs – every volunteer counts. The rescue needs dog walkers at events, people who can write blogs or manage a website, those who can nurse sick animals and those who can transport dogs to the vet.

Every type of volunteer is needed, and there is a place for you here at Heartland. We are a community of people, from young to old, with many different personalities, occupations and positions in life. Some of us simply donate money, some open our homes to animals and some are the ones you see every weekend at adoption events. Consider giving of yourself in some way, because there is never enough.

The change will be seen in you

Being part of a rescue has changed me in so many ways. I have opened my heart to more people and animals than I ever imagined I would. I have met so many interesting people and made lifelong friends. I have saved lives, and that is something I will always be proud of. I have learned patience and being kind, even when I felt I didn’t have an ounce left in me.

When you volunteer for a cause you enjoy, it doesn’t seem like work at all. It transforms into this wonderful gift. You feel good, it makes you happy and it gives you a great sense of worth. I am a better person because of rescuing. My children have also learned a great deal about compassion and empathy. They are amazingly giving and caring children. Sure, I could have tried to teach them this, but my teaching wouldn’t have compared to the feeling of helping a living creature that can’t ever repay you. Being part of the rescue has literally shaped the adults they will become. I have no doubt they will look upon the less fortunate (animal and humans alike) with love and will do what they can to make the world a better place. I have changed and my family has changed – all for the better. The change will be seen in you too.

Rescuers love humans, too.

Animal rescuers are often depicted as people who would walk over a sick human to help the sick dog next to them. This simply is not the case. Yes, we love animals, but that doesn’t take the place of loving humans as well. We have families – mothers, fathers, children – too. We have friends we would do anything for.

In fact, rescuers likely help more strangers than most other people ever will. Every animal we place in a new home impacts that family for years to come. The animals become children’s best friends, elderly people’s companions, the ones who stand next to their people when others leave and more often than not, irreplaceable members of families.

I rejoiced each time I saw a child pick his or her new pet out at an adoption event – sometimes the instant connection was so clear and amazing that it made me cry. I have seen the difference a dog can make in a sick child’s life. I have seen a senior person’s quality of life soar when he or she took a new pet home. I have been heartbroken when a dog is brought to us after its owner’s death. Helping these families in their times of need and easing a little of their pain is important to us. We love animals, but that doesn’t mean we don’t love humans too.

 

Those are just a few of the most meaningful lessons I have learned being a part of Heartland Small Animal Rescue. With a heavy heart, I have to leave them now. So I look to all of you and ask, could this be your time to find the perfect home for that not-so-perfect dog, to save lives, to give when there isn’t enough, to change and to love animals and humans alike?

If you are interested in learning about volunteer opportunities with Heartland, please visit the rescue’s website at www.heartlandsmallanimalrescue.org.

Would you like to become a community blogger for The Elkhart Truth? Get in touch with community manager Ann Elise Taylor at ataylor@elkharttruth.com.