The duties of BC SPCA volunteers are not glamourous. Whether they’re walking dogs, cleaning litter boxes or lending their time and technical skills, accounting acuity and social media savviness, the BC SPCA’s nearly 4,000 volunteers give tirelessly every week of the year throughout the province. As April 12-18 is National Volunteer Week in Canada, the BC SPCA is celebrating and thanking the many volunteers who make the mission of helping B.C.’s most vulnerable animals possible.
“Our volunteers are wonderful – they never cease to amaze us with their work ethic, positive attitudes, their dedication to the animals and their genuine passion for the BC SPCA’s mission,” says Michelle Rodgers, manager, volunteer resources for the BC SPCA. “This year, to tie in the week with the Million Acts of Kindness (MAK) movement, we asked our volunteers to tell us ‘How Kindness Counts’ in a contest and the responses were phenomenal! It was so hard to choose the winning entries.”
A year-long initiative, MAK is about celebrating the BC SPCA’s 120th year of helping companion, farm and wild animals in the province by spreading kindness with small, easy-to-do acts that both promote being kind and help improve animal welfare. Participants sign up online at millionacts.ca and share their progress through the website and on social media, with the hashtag #millionacts.
Popular acts of kindness so far have involved switching to cage-free, SPCA Certified eggs and other SPCA Certified products, spreading the message about spaying and neutering pets by six months of age, and calling on the federal agriculture minister to update national laws about how farm animals are transported in Canada.
“I think the contest helps showcase how small acts of kindness really do count, especially for the animals in our care,” Rodgers says. “We are so thankful for our many volunteers and the jobs they do daily. They lead by example with their kindness and that can only help communities across the province become more humane, one act of kindness at a time.”
First place: Leanne Fogarty, volunteer cat adoption counsellor, Vancouver BC SPCA Branch
As a cat adoption counsellor, my job is to connect with would-be adopters and discover their needs so I can suggest the cats most likely to suit them. It can be tricky sometimes if the adopter feels I am restricting their choices or even trying to qualify them as a suitable new owner or not.
One Thursday afternoon a young man came in and said, "Which cat is the most unlikely one to be adopted."
I wasn’t sure I had heard him correctly but led him to Lucy, a snow white cat that had had a tough life. She was 11 years old, had lost interest in grooming, and hadn’t warmed to any of the staff over her long stay. She just liked to be left alone, facing the back wall, and if you tried to pet her she could scratch you with no warning whatsoever. I knew the adopter should wait until Lucy felt like turning towards him. But I was afraid she’d take too long and he would lose interest, so I gingerly began turning her bed to the front.
“No,” he said, “It’s up to her. Whenever she feels comfortable enough, she will turn around.”
I nearly flung my arms around him. He understood Lucy perfectly. It’s not about what you want from an animal, it’s allowing the animal to be itself and decide when it is ready. That’s what kindness is. It can wait.
“I was given subsidised housing today and I never thought I’d qualify – it’s always snapped up,” he mused, never taking his smiling eyes off Lucy’s back. “I want to give a home to a cat that has little hope of finding one either. Then we can feel lucky together.”
Runner-up: Chandra Bueckert, volunteer foster guardian, Nanaimo BC SPCA Branch
I am currently fostering a litter of six nine-week-old kittens (dubbed ‘The Spice Girls’ by Nanaimo SPCA branch staff).
I received a call on Dec. 20 asking if I could take them over the holidays – luckily I had some time off so I gladly accepted. The Nanaimo Branch was fabulous in setting me up with the food/supplies that I needed for the next few weeks. The kittens were already litter trained too!
I spent the next couple of days/nights spending lots of time with them until they were comfortable, keeping them in a small area with toys/cat post, etc. until they became comfortable. They were very shy at first, one kitten especially; she wouldn’t come out of the carry cage for a full day, so I would feed her at the door and talk gently to her. As she saw the others out and exploring, she eventually came out and joined her litter mates. A few days later they were very comfortable and starting to climb the large cat post (which they couldn’t climb the first day or two). I eventually opened another, larger “play area” for them to explore. Creating different play adventures is so much fun! They love to play in paper bags and under blankets.
I would put on the TV so they would get used to new noises, leaving soothing music on at night for them. Funny watching them as they hear new noises, like the clothes dryer! The entire litter would stop in their tracks with a panicked look on their faces!! Same thing with animal noises on the TV!
It’s been a lot of work having a litter of six, but has really opened my eyes up and made me think about all that the BCSPCA does on a daily basis. The amount of food/supplies they go through, especially when spring/summer hits and they receive dozens of litters of kittens. It has also been the most rewarding adventure I have taken on. To spend the time with the animals and gain their trust and love, is the best! The kittens now run to me when they hear me/see me come for a visit, all excited. They start happily playing/running around when I come sit with them. Then when they get tired, one by one they’ll hop up on me and get ready for a snooze. It’s the BEST!
I now feel they will be comfortable going to a new environment when they get adopted out; I will miss them! If you love animals and don’t want to commit to having an animal full-time, and have lots of love/patience and some time to give, I would highly suggest you try volunteering with your local SPCA. Make a difference in an animal’s life, and yours, even if it’s for a short-time – the rewards are worth it!
PS: Since writing this letter, the kittens have been successfully adopted!
Third place: Bernadette Irvine, volunteer cat companion, Vernon Branch
Every Saturday morning is the highlight of my week because it is when I get to spend time with the shelter cats. Many people may see a shelter as a place of unwanted, broken-spirited animals but, I see a place of second chances, hope and a stepping stone for animals awaiting their new homes and families.
As a cat companion volunteer, I enjoy the opportunity to be able to provide the cats with a clean kennel, food, water, toys and playtime. Some cats are playful and some are cuddly. I like to sit and cuddle with the ones that need some extra attention.
I take comfort in their contented purrs and soft head butts. Being a volunteer has allowed me to make new friends both furry and human. It is a pleasure to be able to work together with people that share the same passion for helping animals.
When I am feeling overwhelmed with the unimaginable cruelties that can be inflicted on animals, I take a moment and reflect on being able to be a part of helping animals. Each and every animal, I meet will always have a special place in my heart.
Some cat’s stays are longer than others but eventually their special day arrives and a match is made with a special family.
Even though it is hard to say good-bye, I know their stay at the shelter was just a small deviation in their life path and that somehow I hope that I made a difference in that animal’s life and that I made their stay a little less stressful.
The British Columbia Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals is a not-for-profit organization reliant on public donations. Our mission is to protect and enhance the quality of life for domestic, farm and wild animals in B.C.