Helping fearful dogs
One of Roberta Monti’s primary jobs as a volunteer at the Best Friends Pet Adoption Center in Atlanta is to sit with and comfort shy or scared dogs. In some ways, it’s a simple job, but the results are powerful and priceless. You see, Roberta’s kindness and love has helped some of the center’s most shy dogs overcome their fears and be more at ease meeting potential adopters. And that means they have a better chance at finding the loving home they deserve.
“Roberta spends quality time with the ones that need attention the most, often gaining the trust they refuse to give to anyone else,” says Susan Leonard, volunteer coordinator at the center. “When the weather is nice, she'll take them for long walks around the center, finding joy in how curious they are of everything.”
You can usually find Roberta, a New Jersey native and a retired employee of The Coca-Cola Company, at the center with a dog curled up in her lap. Here’s what Roberta has to say about her volunteer work at the center, and what motivates her to help Save Them All.
Why did you decide to volunteer with Best Friends and what motivates you to continue to help?
I just love working with dogs. I volunteered for two years with Atlanta Pet Rescue and continued when it became Best Friends in Atlanta. I also volunteered for two years with the Atlanta Humane Society. That’s where I found my dog Lucy. She’s a corgi mix and is now 16 years old.
What inspires you most in your volunteer work?
I just love seeing the dogs walk out of the shelter, knowing that they are on their way to live with a family in their very own home. I’m especially inspired when dogs who have been waiting for a while finally get adopted. Eventually, I’m going to begin fostering, and I’m really looking forward to it.
Since becoming a Best Friends volunteer, what have you learned and do you see anything differently now?
I have learned a lot about the behavior issues of dogs and what to do to help them gain confidence and be less shy. You have to let the dogs come to you and give them as much time as they need to feel comfortable with you. You’re walking into their safety zone, and you have to be aware of that.
I’ve also learned that dogs can have many of the same medical issues as humans, and also like humans, they have good days and bad days, too.
In terms of your volunteer work for Best Friends, what are you most proud of?
I am most proud of my work with shy dogs who have finally warmed up to me and have been adopted. With these dogs, you have to see them a lot. They have to recognize your voice and get used to you, and if they see you holding other dogs, they usually decide they want to be held, too. We had seven Chihuahuas come to the center once from a hoarding situation and they were all very shy and scared. In fact, you couldn’t go near them at first. But I knew they just hadn’t had a lot of attention from people, and so I was patient with them, hoping that in time they’d let their guard down. Eventually, they did, but it didn’t happen overnight. And they all got adopted.
What would you tell others who are thinking of volunteering?
I tell them that volunteering with Best Friends is very rewarding, and that you don’t have to love dogs as much as I do. You can volunteer with the cats, or in other ways like doing the laundry or helping out at the front desk. To people who want to help dogs but are worried they don’t have the right skills, I tell them that all dogs really want is love and attention, and they are grateful for any time that you give them. It all helps.
Really, any time you can give at the center adds up, even if you only have an hour on a Sunday. It means so much to the animals. And the more people they see and interact with, the better their chances are of getting adopted.
What are you doing when you’re not volunteering with animals?
I knit, go to the gym and I read. I also work with a friend of mine who has a candy business. We decorate hotel lobbies during the holidays and do a lot of charity events. We even did one once for an event with President Jimmy Carter. I love to give back to the community.
Tell us about your favorite volunteer moment.
I don’t think I have one favorite moment. I just love it when dogs cuddle up on my lap and give me kisses. When you hold a dog in your arms, you can feel all their love, and they give me as much love as I give them.
Photos by Nichole Danrea