L.A. volunteer has a soft spot for senior cats and those with special needs

Belle Henderson the volunteer holding a black catHelping unsocialized, frightened cats gain confidence and begin to trust people isn’t easy. It requires the ability to remain calm, stay positive and have a healthy dose of patience. Luckily, these are traits that Belle Henderson, a volunteer at the Best Friends Lifesaving Center in Los Angeles, has in spades.

Belle works closely with the cat care team and has helped some of the most shy, scared cats feel more confident so they can get what they deserve the most — a loving home of their own.

“Belle has the sweetest, most welcoming demeanor,” says Marissa Sunny, volunteer coordinator at the center. “She has the ability to handle difficult situations with such grace and ease, and her calm presence soothes the cats.”

When Belle isn’t paying special attention to cats with behavioral challenges, seniors and those with medical needs, she’s helping her fellow volunteers. Belle teaches cat socialization classes for other volunteers, sharing what she’s learned as a volunteer and helping new volunteers feel welcome.

“Compassion and empathy, teamwork and community, dedication, and being a voice for animals — that’s what volunteering means to me,” says Belle.

In the following interview, Belle describes why she’s inspired to volunteer.

Why did you decide to become a volunteer?

Ever since I was a little girl, I’ve loved animals. I had a kitty named Porky, who I would dress up in my doll clothes and then wheel around in my doll stroller. I would get so disappointed when he would jump out. Apparently, cats were more important to me than dolls were at that time in my life.

I truly believe in Best Friends’ mission to help Los Angeles and the rest of country reach no-kill, and it is something I am deeply passionate about. To have the opportunity to be on the forefront of that here in L.A. is inspiring. Plus, I just love all the kitties so much, their compassionate caregivers and the other dedicated volunteers who work endlessly and tirelessly to help Save Them All. There is no better place to give love and get love in return.

How Best Friends is helping L.A. reach no-kill

What inspires you most in your volunteer work?

It inspires me to see medically challenged cats recover from ringworm and seniors get adopted. I have a weakness for cats who have special needs and there is no greater reward than helping them on their journey to forever homes. In fact, recently, one of my favorite kitties who has feline leukemia (FeLV), Baby Garfield, was adopted. I gave him lots of extra kisses that day.

Volunteer Belle Henderson sitting on the ground with multiple cats on her lap and legs

Has volunteering made you see anything differently?

I thought I knew a lot about cats and then I quickly learned I knew nothing after I started volunteering. I’ve learned an enormous amount about cat behavior, common cat diseases, cat handling, sanitation protocols, community relations and outreach, city government regulations, and how physically and mentally demanding the work is. I learn something new every time I volunteer. That’s why it’s so rewarding. There’s never a dull moment.

Tell us something we might not know about you.

I'm a vice president of learning and development and senior consultant for Wells Fargo. I support leadership development across the organization. Every year, I am granted volunteer service hours and, boy, do I use those up really quickly at Best Friends. Also, Wells Fargo makes a monetary donation to Best Friends on behalf of my volunteer hours worked, and I couldn’t be more grateful. I share this so people can check to see if their workplace encourages them to volunteer in different ways.

Save Them All at work with Best Friends workplace giving

What are you most proud of in your volunteer work?

Belle Henderson the volunteer cradling a black and white kitten in her armsI’m proud of a lot. Impacting an adoption is always a proud moment. I also facilitate cat socialization training and I am a mentor. In this role, I can connect with other volunteers and make them feel welcome and comfortable. I also enjoy informing the public about cats and the impact people make when they choose to adopt. In fact, I follow many adopted cats on Instagram, and it makes me so happy that they are living the life they so deserve.

Tell us about your favorite volunteer moment.

As I mentioned earlier, I have a special heart for the cats with FeLV because they typically take longer to get adopted. I fell in love with Bailey, a cat with FeLV, to say the least. One day before I started my volunteer shift, I decided to sponsor his adoption fee. Literally an hour later he was adopted by a wonderful woman, and I got to be there for it all. The fact that I could meet his new mom and share with her how I knew Bailey and what he loved was a moment I will never forget. I still pinch myself over this.

I have another one, too. I cried when Millie, a precious senior cat, got adopted. This angel left an imprint on my heart in so many ways. I think about her at least once a day and will always. I was so touched that two Best Friends staff people reached out to me personally to tell me when someone adopted Millie. Just the fact that they took time from their hectic day to notify me, I will always remember. It’s such a touching example of collaboration and teamwork between staff and volunteers. I am so grateful for this. I’m also very happy to report that princess Millie is doing fabulous in her new home.

Do you have pets?

My cats Winston and Zoe are the loves of my life. They are beyond spoiled to say the least. I rescued the pair in January of 2015 and there was no way they were going to be separated.

Do you have a superpower?

I am not sure about that. I wish it could be for every animal in need to find a forever home and always be treated with compassion, empathy and love.

Volunteer and help pets near you

A black and white kitten being held up by volunteer Bell Henderson

Best Friends in Los Angeles works collaboratively with animal rescue groups, city shelters and passionate individuals, all dedicated to the mission of making Los Angeles a no-kill city. As part of this mission, Best Friends hosts adoption and fundraising events, manages two pet adoption centers, and leads the No-Kill Los Angeles (NKLA) initiative. Together, we will Save Them All.

Photos courtesy of Todd Roisman and Belle Henderson