By Marja

Volunteering at an animal protection organization, like an animal shelter or a rescue team, is a viable option if you love animals but cannot adopt a pet of your own. There are many ways to help in different roles, ranging from direct care (e.g. feeding, cleaning cages, walking dogs or socializing kittens) to fostering, fundraising and donations. A handy person may sew pads, quilts or blankets to be used as cage comforters. Your contribution can give an abused, abandoned animal a chance for a better, happier life!

This article summarizes some of the available volunteering opportunities based on the websites of non-profit animal protection organizations in Southeast Michigan. After this review, I will tell you my private story of a rescue cat who moved to my home.

Volunteer hands

Local Animal Protection Organizations

Humane Society of Huron Valley is the biggest and the best-known animal welfare organization dedicated to saving and improving the lives of homeless, injured and abused animals in Ann Arbor. However, there are also other corresponding associations with similar functions. Some of them are concentrating exclusively on a single species, just as cats, dogs or rabbits. I list their names below. Please click the links to read further about them.

Humane Society of Huron Valley’s (HSHV’s) mission is to support the loving, responsible care of all animal’s in our community by: *Ensuring proper, nurturing care for the animals in our shelter *Placing all adoptable animals in loving homes; *Reducing pet over-population; *Caring for the physical well-being of animals in our community; *Providing education and outreach to the community; and *Stopping animal cruelty. HSHV offers a variety of services including pet adoption, low-cost spay/neuter clinic, emergency rescue, cruelty investigation and community education.

Please note: the list above is not exhaustive and all-inclusive. I tried to make it as comprehensive as possible but my expertise may fail to embrace all the players.

Ways to Help as a Volunteer

Local shelters and societies usually have a contact person assigned as a volunteer coordinator who can help you get involved at their facility. Visit a pertinent organization’s website, and check for any information that is listed for volunteers.

Volunteers support every facet of animal rescue work from in-shelter support to at-home foster care. Shelters need volunteers for office and carpentry work, housekeeping, cleaning food bowls, adoption and special off-site events (such as demonstrations or fundraisers), fostering animals, and many more important responsibilities. If you have any special skills that relate to shelter work: tell the shelter! Volunteers can contribute to marketing and website maintenance, offer legal aid, donate medical services, photograph adoptable animals for the adoption websites, or even create original art for sale to benefit the shelter. In other words, volunteering is not all about cleaning up poop but the possible tasks are diverse. Although the “vacancies” are likely to vary to some extent, depending on the character of a given organization and its current needs, the volunteer description published by the HSHV provides general guidelines to give you a rough idea of typical volunteering.

Animal Sheltering/Direct Care: Provide care to animals in temporary shelters, including cleaning cages and enclosures, feeding, watering, restocking supplies, washing dishes, walking dogs, or socializing animals as directed.

Veterinary Assistance: Apply licensed, certified/registered veterinary technician skills to provide direct medical care to the animals in temporary shelters by supporting on-site veterinarians with animal restraint for examinations, record keeping and administering medications as prescribed.

Get crafty: Combine fabric, recyclables and imagination to bring much needed fun into the lives of local shelter and rescue pets. You can fashion cage curtains to help shelter cats get some privacy (and stay healthy) or play matchmaker by creating attention-grabbing “Adopt-Me” vests to spotlight available pets at adoption events held by shelters and rescues. Do you have experience as a carpenter or electrician? All of these skills are valuable!

Become a foster: Fosterers are lifesavers for pets who cannot adapt to shelter life, those who need to be nursed back to health and orphaned kittens who need someone to step in for their mom, or whose needs are beyond what busy shelter staff can provide. Foster homes are the backbone of many rescue groups — without a strong network of foster providers, rescue groups simply could not take in as many animals. Foster homes can also become adoption ambassadors to friends, family and colleagues who otherwise may not visit the shelter.

Pet fostering refers to temporary care to shelter animals who need to live in a home environment prior to forever adoption. When you foster, you agree to take a homeless cat/dog/rabbit/parrot/etc. into your home and give him or her love, care and attention, either for a predetermined period of time or until the animal is adopted. Sometimes, the rescue organization may cover the living costs of the animal. Fostering is a crucial part of the animal rescue world. Some of the most common reasons why, say, a cat might need foster care include:

  • A rescue group doesn’t have a physical shelter and depends on foster homes to care for cats until suitable homes are found.
  • A kitten is too young to be adopted and needs a safe place to stay until he or she is old enough to go to a forever home.
  • A cat is recovering from surgery, illness or injury and needs a safe place to recuperate.
  • A cat is showing signs of stress such as pacing or hiding in the shelter.
  • A cat has not lived in a home before and needs to be socialized.
  • The shelter is running out of room for adoptable cats.

In addition, donation of money and supplies, as well as public relations and awareness raising activities, such sharing and commenting on posts on social media or rallying support from your elected officials are great ways to help. Forever adoption is naturally the desired ultimate goal.

Cat face [Photo source: József Kincse, Pixabay]

My Short Career as a Foster Parent

I have always loved cats but my mobile lifestyle and long, irregular working hours have earlier hindered a cat adoption. Although my present living conditions are mostly well suited for living with a pet, visits to my home country still seemed to create a final obstacle to inviting a four-legged family member. Yet, I was “infected” by cat fever when a pretty cat was looking for a new permanent home on a Facebook group. After some serious reflection, I discovered the alternative possibility of fostering which appeared a perfect solution in my life situation.  I also realized how it is a partly selfless act to help someone in distress. I wrote to a few animal protection associations, and Locrami was the fastest to reply.

Locrami offered me a very timid, skittish female cat that had been dumped with her five kittens. A vet had assessed the kitty’s age to be 21 months when I came to contact with Locrami in September 2020. Her narrow baby-face looked younger than her biological age, and her body was a bit skinny. She was introduced to me under the name Porsche. Don’t ask me why the rescue team had given the kitty the name of a German sports car!

Porsche was regarded as a difficult, asocial personality who was not yet ready for adoption because she was too shy, scary and insecure. I could read between the lines: she was labelled as unfriendly and hostile. After her tentative suggestion, Locrami’s contact person asked me if I could consider fostering Porsche or if I considered her case to be too challenging for a beginner. I agreed to take Porsche, which was the best decision I have ever made.

When Porsche arrived in our house, she was frightened and terrified, seeking desperately hiding places where she believed to stay invisible. She was paralyzed in her fear and stress, looking like a frozen statue with enlarged black pupils. Her body language (e.g. tail position) reminded that of a feral cat. Her face looked sad and traumatized. A narrow book shelf became her favorite safe place although I had prepared several comfortable, cave-like boxes as sheltered beds. Porsche emptied the wooden shelf of my office supplies with her own paws and moved in.

Nearly every day since then, I keep on witnessing some positive advancement with tiny steps forward in Porsche’s behavior. Porsche has become much more daring, trustful, relaxed, responsive and playful compared to the beginning. Of course, she is still shy, reserved and cautious, but she appears pleased and happy, sometimes almost blissful while purring loudly. When I compare the first photos of her with those taken in our home after 3–4 weeks, I can see the huge difference in her calmness and self-confidence. The pictures also reveal her shining beauty.

After this wonderful progress, which entailed the development of a mutual emotional bond, it became impossible to hand over Porsche to strangers who may not understand her sensitive character and who may lack the necessary patience. We simply could not betray her trust. To the delight of Locrami, we adopted Porsche after we had been fostering her for less than a month.

Porsche is not only a sweet, adorable darling but also a smart, easy and well-behaved cat. Accordingly, we gave her a new Finnish name, namely Mirri Kiltteliini. The new name can be freely translated to mean something like Kitty Kind or Pussycat Benign.

From a Human-Centered Hierarchy to Equal Companionship

One of the latent undercurrents that nourishes animal abuse indirectly is a human-centered worldview. Human-centered views think humans to be the most important species and stewards of the earth, whereas the rest of the nature is treated as humans’ resource storage. Respectively, pets are treated instrumentally as toys whose duty is to entertain their owners, relieve their stress and mitigate their loneliness.  Scientific studies on human-animal interaction show positive health effects on humans: regular walking or playing with pets can decrease blood pressure, cholesterol levels, and triglyceride levels. Yet, my intention is not to point out the benefits of having a pet from this standpoint!

An implication of the human-centered worldview is that even decent, well-meaning people may fail to respect their pet’s boundaries due to their ignorance. Species-appropriate care for pets includes not only the health and physical well-being of an animal, but also its psychological well-being and the opportunity to live out natural behaviors. For instance, pets need to consume the food that they were designed to eat in order to thrive. It is equally important that their behavioral needs, such as barking, scratching or flocking, are not restricted excessively. An intelligent, active dog breed, such as Border Collie, needs constant mental and physical stimulation. As an owner, it is important to create positive ways where such dogs can direct their energy in order to avoid unwanted behavioral disorders. If you are a coach potato living in a city, you should not choose a highly energetic dog breed with a hunting instinct.

I analyzed the categorization of Mirri Kiltteliini as a difficult cat from the above angle. When I read descriptions of adoptable kitties, those sales texts always emphasized how each cat is friendly, joyful and human focused, loving petting. Their message was that from day one, the cat exists to satisfy the emotional needs of its owner, and it matches the stereotype of a purring robot. A vet advised to subordinate Mirri Kiltteliini to so called “tough love”, i.e. forced petting, in order to accelerate her socialization, which strictly contradicts European instructions on handling a scared cat. Hence, there was no room for a timid, withdrawn and introvert feline even though it was the cruel humans that had initially driven Mirri Kiltteliini to the state of distress. Moreover, particularity of an individual is being neglected if every pet is expected to be lively, outgoing and super social.

Fortunately, research findings, among other things, are slowly paving the way for better understanding of our paw friends. In parallel, some newer schools of moral philosophy are interpreting the relationship between people and animals on a more equal basis. What is required next is to disseminate this knowledge and educate ordinary pet owners.

Goat & kid [Photo source: Filinecek, Pixabay]