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Musings of an Animal Shelter Volunteer

By Kevin Hattori

My wife Tracey and I are often told that volunteering regularly at our local, no-kill animal shelter is “nice” and “selfless,” but we'd venture to say we get just as much – if not more – out of our experiences there than the cats with which we work.

I've been volunteering at the Pet Animal Welfare Society (PAWS) for more than 13 years, and Tracey’s been doing so for about seven. We both feel the lessons and rewards that come from working with these incredible animals are exponentially greater than the time we've given.

People often ask what motivates us to spend every Saturday and Sunday afternoon socializing the cats of PAWS. Well, first of all, we’re huge proponents of adopting from shelters (something instilled in us from an early age). Growing up, all of our respective families' pets were rescues, or from shelters. Our current cats Sammy and Moosey were both adopted from PAWS, and our Angel cats – Bitsy, Graphite, Lady Madonna, and Maggie – were all rescues, too.

Just as our relationships with our pets past and present have helped shape the very essence of who we are, so too do the animals at the shelter. Perhaps that’s because the time we spend at the shelter is outward-focused, and we’re able to put life’s worries on hold for a few hours. This is such a great blessing after a long week of work. And what wonders we get to see and experience during our time there!

One of our favorite things is watching as cats overcome the fear and uncertainty of ending up at a shelter. New sights, smells and sounds, and unfamiliar people… we can only imagine how scary it must be for them. But we’ve seen time and again how love, patience and persistence can help shy or even extremely frightened animals learn to trust (and actually like!) people. And when those newly confident cats find their forever homes … euphoria!

The cats in the photos are two that are currently up for adoption at PAWS. The black and white beauty is Betsy, and the cutie on the chair is Jasmine, who happens to be a prime example of a cat that came to the shelter terrified, but has decided that people are pretty cool. I can even pet her belly now!

Because we spend so much time with the PAWS cats, our bonds with them are strong.  As you’d imagine, this means that whenever one of our feline pals finds its forever home, there is some sadness because we know that we will probably never see him or her again. But any sadness about having to say goodbye is eclipsed by the incredible knowledge that together we – the volunteers, shelter staff and the cats themselves – have helped that cat find its very own forever home. It’s a great feeling to know you’ve helped change an animal’s life, the lives of its new people, and the life of the cat for which the shelter now has space. 

Kevin Hattori is one of the bloggers at Animal Shelter Volunteer Life, and a volunteer at Pet Animal Welfare Society (PAWS), a no-kill shelter in Norwalk, CT. Since its founding in 1962, PAWS has rescued and re-homed thousands of stray, neglected and abused cats and dogs. The shelter’s ultimate goal is to help these animals find their forever homes, but they can live at PAWS as long as it takes for them to do so. 
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