This week is National Volunteer Week, and in honor of this we have started a series called "Spotlight on Volunteers." To kick off the series, I had the pleasure of interviewing my friend and fellow New Ventures graduate, Kath Holland. Kath is an animal lover and landscape designer who lives in Warren, Maine. Her business is Blue Newt Landscape Designs, which provides design, coaching, and fine gardening services throughout the Midcoast area. She specializes in sustainable design and land care practices that are safe for you, your family and your pets.
Me: Where do you volunteer and how long have you been there?
Kath: I volunteer at my local animal shelter, the Pope Memorial Humane Society of Knox County (PMHSKC) in Thomaston. I’ve been volunteering there since shortly after moving to Midcoast Maine in 2010.
M: What are some of the tasks you perform for this organization?
K: My tasks really run the gamut! I started out weeding the gardens. I took over tracking volunteer information to facilitate call-ups for events and to track the number of volunteer hours per year, an important number for demonstrating the extent of community support when the shelter applies for grants. I’ve baked goodies and helped out at events. I joined the P/R Committee, a fabulous group, where I help maintain the website, post to online media outlets, put up posters, or whatever it takes to get the word out about the Shelter’s community and fundraising events. I assist with the annual pet calendar, tracking submissions, editing photos and stories, organizing photo shoots, and amiably stalking people who forget to pay for their photos or business ads. And of course, I bought a business ad and have all of our cats’ photos in the 2014 Pet Calendar! (You can do the same for the 2015 calendar.)
M: Why do you choose to volunteer?
K: I was looking for a way to join in my new community and do something useful. I hate being bored, and I really love animals – petting them, talking to them, and just being around them - so the shelter was a logical place to approach. But then I found this place to be heroic: it’s small, but these people are completely dedicated to finding homes for all of the pets who come through the door. Plus they really go the extra mile, even providing health care for malnourished, abused, and badly injured animals. You wouldn’t believe some of the amazing recovery stories I’ve witnessed. And this fairly small shelter also supports 20 towns in this area – not 1 or 2, 20. They trade animals with other shelters in hopes that a new audience will improve adoption possibilities. They have helped transport and find homes for Katrina strays, Chihuahuas from California, and dogs from kill shelters. They are just amazing. It really makes me feel good to be even a small part of their team.
M: What do you think we can do to inspire other people to give their time?
K: A lot of people tell me that they can’t bear to go to the shelter because they find it so sad to see all of the homeless animals and know that they can’t take them all home. My answer: if you feel so emotional about the animals, I’ll bet that doing something to help them - without even having to look at them or visit the shelter in person - would make you feel pretty good, wouldn’t it? And there are loads of important tasks that don’t require you to even peek at an animal!
1. Donate money! The PMHSKC needs funds for a new building to hold the ever-increasing numbers of animals that come through their doors from year to year. And shelters can always use money to help care for their guests, especially those with medical needs.
2. Donate goods! Our shelter can always use more pet food, old towels and blankets, gift cards to local markets and pet supply stores, gas cards, trash bags, office supplies, you name it. In fact, we keep a current “wish list” on the website.
3. Help out at events. Many are just plain fun! We had a Tropical Getaway dance with a steel drum band just last month. Several people had a blast building our award-winning float for Thomaston’s 4th of July parade. There’s something for everyone, and friends to be made as well.
4. Help create public relations material, put up posters, solicit donations, assist with mailings, gather money from donation boxes, write thank you notes, or read an uplifting story about pets at the local library’s story hour. Just ask our events coordinator or operations manager how you can help; they will ask you about things you like to do and help you find something you’d enjoy that would also be incredibly useful.
I also think that if people knew more about all of the different ways that animal shelters support the community in addition to homeless animals, they might be more interested in volunteering to help them. This shelter sponsors events such as low cost rabies clinics, a trap-neuter-return program to lower the numbers of feral cats, an education program to teach people of all ages about proper care of and compassion for animals, the K-9 Corrections program, which teaches at-risk prisoners and homeless dogs the skills to become safe members of society, and they serve as a pickup/drop off spot for a low cost spay-neuter clinic. Sometimes they even have grant money to help people who can’t otherwise afford to spay/neuter their pets.
M: Do you have a favorite story from your experiences as a volunteer?
K: Yes! A young cat came to the shelter with bad burns on her back and neck. She was kept by herself in an office where I often sat while inputting volunteer data. The thing is that she was an incredibly friendly cat in spite of these horrific wounds and oh-so many stitches (her unofficial nickname was “Frankie”). The Shelter not only funded her ongoing treatments, which were extensive, and nursed her back to health, but found her a great home. Now named “Gracie”, she even stars in the Shelter’s new video!
M: What does giving back mean to you?
K: In this case, I just love it: the people, including volunteers, the animals, the happy going home stories, especially for our older guests, just everything. For me it’s a source of happiness and energy.
M: How can others pay it forward?
K: Pick an organization that you admire or one that is doing something in an area you’re interested in, but clearly needs assistance. Tell them about your skills and preferences, ask or suggest how you can help, and just give it a try. You may find an amazing new outlet for your energies, some new friends, and a happy feeling in your heart! As a favorite teacher once said, “You miss 100% of the shots you don’t try.”
A big thank you to Kath Holland for her willingness to share her experiences as a volunteer, and inspiring all of us to do whatever we can to help. Please "like" Pope Memorial on Facebook.
And please consider making a donation here: Pope Memorial Humane Society Donation Page.