Like daughter, like father: Teen encourages her father to save homeless cats

Bella Brodie’s very first word was “kitty,” which makes perfect sense when you consider how much she’s helped cats at the Best Friends Lifesaving Center in Salt Lake City — from the tiniest of kittens to the wisest of seniors.

If she’s not helping a shy cat build confidence or sprucing up the kitty condos, the 16-year-old volunteer is helping adopters meet their feline match. But Bella doesn’t do it alone. Usually, wherever you find her at Best Friends, you’ll also find her dad, Justin.

It all started about three years ago when Bella and Justin stopped by the center looking for ways to help animals. The team suggested she volunteer, but because she was 13 at the time, she would be required to be accompanied on her shifts by a parent or guardian. Since Justin loves animals, too, he decided to volunteer with Bella, thinking it would be a fun father-daughter thing to do.

Today, Bella and Justin are known for their willingness to do whatever it takes to help cats at the center (and they’ve been known to clean a few dog kennels, too). They’ll often check the volunteer schedule, and then come in during times when not many people have signed up to help.

“In the past three years they have made a huge impact in the lives of homeless pets,” says Sammi Nelson, the center’s volunteer coordinator. Recently, Bella and Justin were two of the first volunteers to become adoption assistants. “They know how our adoption process works and can talk to the public about the animals because they know them so well,” says Sammi. “This helps us complete more adoptions so we can save more animals.”

The following interview reveals more about this special father-daughter team and why they are working together to help Save Them All.

Bella and Justin Brodie volunteering with kittens on a table

What motivates you to continue to help the animals at Best Friends?

Bella: I simply love all of the animals, staff and volunteers. They’re all such kind and exceptionally cool people to work beside. I could easily count each of them as a good friend. Knowing that I'm helping even just a little bit is incredibly rewarding — not to mention, I get to pet a bunch of cats. I surely don't plan on leaving anytime soon.

Justin: I just love being a part of the of the no-kill initiative.

More about Best Friends no-kill initiatives

What inspires you most in your volunteer work?

Justin: Just knowing that we've helped animals have a better, safer life is enough inspiration. And knowing that there are countless other volunteers doing the same as us — because they feel it's necessary — is pretty awesome. We've met some amazing volunteers. They're all such good people.

Bella, what would you tell others your age who are thinking of volunteering?

Bella: Do it. For real. Especially if you're a minor. If you're 16 or younger and thinking about volunteering, I'm speaking from experience when I say it will be one of the best decisions you'll ever make — if not for any other reason, because it really is such great work experience. And being able to work alongside a parent before actually joining the work force has made it such an easy transition.

Bella Brodie the volunteer standing next to some large plastic kennels

Since becoming volunteers, what have you both learned and do you see anything differently now?

Bella: I've certainly learned to not judge people or animals. We all have our own story and it's important that we all get a second chance.

Justin: Yes, I definitely see things different. I've learned how bad the homeless population of cats and dogs actually is. I had no idea it was such an issue in our community and on our planet. They really need our help — whatever we can do — whether it's volunteering, donating, fostering or adopting. Whatever you can do to help, do it. We need to give back to them, They deserve it.

What are you most proud of when it comes to your volunteer work?

Bella: I'm pretty proud to say that we've both been constantly volunteering for over three years — from cleaning dog kennels to feeding newborn kittens. It's all noteworthy and it's all fun, but I can't exactly think of a specific moment.

Justin: That's a hard question to answer. I think all moments of time spent at the lifesaving center or the Best Friends Kitten Care Center are something to be proud of. It is a noble and necessary cause, worthy of our time and attention, that improves the quality of life for the animals.

Tell us about your favorite volunteer moment.

Bella: Each time I go to the center to volunteer it’s always a good time, whether it's really busy and I'm running around or it's not so much and I just get to chill in the cat room. This isn't exactly a volunteer moment, but back in April the staff took me out bowling for my birthday That was super fun and incredibly kind on their part. The staff there are seriously some of my favorite people ever. I loved hanging out with them outside of work.

Bowling party with shelter staff to celebrate Bella's birthday

Justin: There was a night we were helping in adoptions and a couple had just adopted a pair of cats about a year old. After the adoption was finalized, they were wondering how they were going to get the kittens home with the supplies that they had. I guess they had walked to the center and didn't think about that part of it.

I volunteered to drive them home. There was no way they could have walked home with two carriers and a handful of cat supplies. I think about that from time to time and have a good chuckle. The cats went to a great home to say the least.

Do either of you have a superpower?

Bella: I have a pretty darn good memory. Remembering stuff's my jam. My mom always says I have the memory of an elephant, which is cool because I love elephants.

Justin: I don't have a superpower, but if I could have one it would be to be a “Jeopardy” champ.

Tell us something that we don’t know about you.

Justin: I think something that's cool is that we've been making weekly trips as a family to various libraries in our city for 16 years straight.

What are you doing when you’re not volunteering with animals?

Bella: I love baking. I tend to bring in some baked goods into Best Friends from time to time. I also love music and play a couple instruments. My dad and I both love live music and have pretty darn similar tastes, so we go to a lot of concerts together.

Justin: I spend my time hanging out with my family. My wife and I like to make up random games that we all play as a family. We listen and play a lot of music, too.

Justin and Bella Brodie volunteering in a cat room at the Best Friends Lifesaving Center in Salt Lake City

Besides volunteering for Best Friends, how else do you give back to your community?

Bella: My brother and I have always done this thing where we go on walks and try to pick up as much litter as we can. We've been doing it for years now. It’s fun.

Justin: I try to be as environmentally conscious as possible.

Do you have pets and could you tell us about them?

Bella: Yes, we sure do! We have two cats, Binnigan and Winchester (or just Binny and Winnie). They’re the best kitties ever. Binnigan is about four years old and Winchester is three. We actually adopted Winnie from Best Friends when he was just a kitten. They may not technically be brothers, but we always call them that. They get along so well. Winchester loves playing, and he can climb a ladder. He also still nurses on his favorite blanket.

Binnigan is pretty sassy and very talkative, but he's also very sweet. He loves soft food, shoelaces and snuggling under blankets (especially during the winter).

What does volunteering mean to you and why do you do it?

Bella: It means a whole lot to me. When people ask about me, that's often the first thing I tell them about. Working with animals (especially cats) has always been something I've wanted to do for as long as I can remember. My goal is to learn as much as I can, so I can continue to help for as long as possible.

Justin: I think our culture and society needs people who are willing to give without anything in return.

Bella and Justin Brodie, volunteers at the Best Friends Lifesaving Center in Salt Lake City, holding black kittens

Volunteer near you. Dad/daughter not required.

Best Friends in Utah works collaboratively with animal rescue groups, city shelters and passionate individuals, all dedicated to the mission of making Utah a no-kill state. As part of this mission, Best Friends hosts adoption and fundraising events, runs the Best Friends Lifesaving Center in Salt Lake City, operates a spay/neuter clinic and leads the No-Kill Utah (NKUT) initiative. Together, we will Save Them All.

Photos courtesy of the Best Friends Lifesaving Center in Salt Lake City