Every day is a new adventure in the world of animal rescue. Terri Vega, the Lead Adoption & Foster Coordinator for Paws4You, has seen her share of canine characters. “I had a meet & greet with a pup that was very food motivated and the approved applicant had brought treats in her purse,” she says. “She put it down, forgetting the treats inside…not even a minute passed by and the pup had her head totally in the applicant’s purse and was digging deep. The dogs get so excited when meeting new people, totally fall in love, and at times you can even see their thoughts of I’m going home with you.”
Susie Ashbel first discovered Paws4You more than 10 years ago at a Petsmart where she and her daughter adopted a white boxer they had that looked exactly like their dog who that had recently passed away. She’s now the Petsmart Adoption Event Coordinator for the group. “My daughter was too young to volunteer on her own at that time but desperately wanted to be involved so we volunteered together,” she says. “If I’m having a bad day, I forget about everything when I’m with the dogs and I find myself smiling and laughing again.”
Over at Wonder Paws Rescue, Rachel Davis says her passion has always been in helping senior or special-needs dogs. Some of her fosters have been blind, deaf, have had amputations, undergone cancer treatment, suffer from neurological issues, or have battled heart conditions. “Right now, I currently have two special-needs medical cases, Sandy and Danny,” she says. “Sandy is currently undergoing chemo treatment; and Danny has a high-grade heart murmur. They are also both visually impaired, so we are always running around to the vet or to the eye specialist. Wonder Paws has been so amazing and supportive of taking in medical cases.”
Not all rescue groups focus on domesticated animals. Flamingo Gardens is not only a Botanical Garden, but also an Everglades Wildlife Sanctuary where injured animals are rehabilitated and remain if they can’t be released back into the wild. “One of our residents was the late Pandora, a Great Horned Owl that came to Flamingo Gardens as non-releasable due to two broken wings that had healed without being set,” says Maggie Fallon, who works as an Animal Care Volunteer. “There used to be a popular event at Flamingo Gardens called Walk In The Wild where keepers and volunteers handled different animals for guests to interact visit with. On one particular day, something spooked Pandora and she bated (started beating her wings and came off the glove). She flew directly into my face, hitting the bone above my eyebrow. Instantly, there was a bump on my forehead that grew into a shiner that encompassed my entire eye, cheek and forehead. My eye doctor was perplexed. “It was an owl,” I told him. Later that week, our car was broken into and when the police officer showed up to take my statement, he asked me very discreetly if I was safe at home and I just shook my head…. “It was an OWL.” I still don’t know if either of them believed me!”
Being a volunteer can be life-changing. Kaisha Chaves Solomon decided to become a veterinary technician after her work at Pelican Harbor Seabird Station. In addition to helping with general animal care, she works in the clinic a couple of days a week. “I shadow staff and learn new things surrounding animal care at every opportunity,” she says. “I’ve also gotten training on how to safely release patients that have made a full recovery.” The Pelican Harbor Seabird Station takes in a variety of wildlife throughout the year, including an opossum that Kaisha rescued on her birthday.
It’s hard not to fall in love every time. “When I began to help with the Paws4You Buddy Program, I met Fresco,” says Mimi Walker. “He’d been at the rescue for years because he was very fearful of strangers and could become aggressive if someone tried to touch him. My heart broke for this dog and I knew I had to do something. One day I calmly walked into his kennel, put on his leash and went for a walk. He was in heaven! I loved seeing him smile. If he trusted you, he loved to be touched and craved attention. Unfortunately, I was unable to adopt him and prayed his savior would walk into the door. When a young woman came by looking for a dog and said she wanted to help the dog that needed it the most, we knew that dog was Fresco!”
Volunteering is the perfect retirement plan for Bill Lollis. “My main task is to photograph the Paws4You dogs for the website and social media,” he says. “I line up a kennel tech to help me, find a suitable location and take a number of pictures of each dog in various poses, process the photos and send them in.” He also provides transportation services, picking up dogs from kill shelters and reuniting lost pups with their owners. “I wouldn’t have missed my volunteer experiences for anything in the world,” he says. “It’s like being part of a big family.”