A quiet but mighty superhero for animals
Swarnima Singh’s brother recently gave her a nickname: He affectionately calls her “Doga,” a name inspired by her passion for volunteering to help dogs at the Best Friends Pet Adoption Center in Atlanta.
“Doga is a fictional character in an Indian superhero comic book, who wears a dog mask and is capable of communicating with the dogs and teams up with them to fight crime,” says Swarnima. “For me that's a huge compliment.”
At the Atlanta center, Swarnima is known for her warm and generous spirit. “She’s not one to seek the limelight, and has a quiet presence,” says Carol Atwood, the center’s foster and volunteer coordinator. “Swarnima can handle the biggest, most rambunctious dogs we have at the center like a champ,” says Carol. “They respond to her calmness.”
At the core of Swarnima’s volunteer efforts is her dedication to Best Friends’ goal to make the entire country no-kill by 2025. That’s why she’s committed to volunteering at the center to help pets however she can.
“Swarnima attends recruitment events with me, does data entry, walks, socializes and fosters some of our more challenging dogs, and has even co-created a new volunteer mentor program at our center,” says Carol. “She conducts orientations with new volunteers and offers them her support if they need to reach out with questions or concerns.”
Of course, like most superheroes, Swarnima shies away from the limelight. “She never seeks any praise or recognition for all that she does,” says Carol. “She says it’s her privilege and honor to serve these fur babies.”
In the following interview, Swarnima tells us why she’s so committed to being a champion for animals. Her answers just may inspire you to dust off your own superhero cape and save lives.
Why did you decide to volunteer with Best Friends and what motivates you to continue to help the animals?
I grew up loving dogs and I felt a vacuum without canine love. I was looking for something to get involved with the community, and when this opportunity to volunteer with animals came up, it was like a match made in heaven. I love the staff at the adoption center. Never in my life have I seen such an amazing team of dedicated and genuine human beings. They are the people I look up to. Also, the Best Friends goal to make the nation no-kill by 2025 keeps me motivated. I have a feeling we are moving in the right direction and I’m glad I’m able to contribute to this goal.
What inspires you most in your volunteer work?
I would say there are two things that inspire me the most. First is the transformation the animals go through once they get love and care. And second, the dedicated staff at Best Friends.
When an animal is rescued (especially one who is scared and isn’t eating or has behavioral issues) receives love and care, they become healthy and transform into someone absolutely new. That transformation is magical.
The effort the staff and volunteers put in to work individually with each animal is inspiring. And all this leads to a happy beginning when these animals get adopted and find their forever homes.
What have you learned since you started volunteering and has it made you see anything differently?
I never realized how dire the situation was when it came to animals being killed or abused. But I'm glad something is being done about it, and we are working to make the country no-kill by 2025. I do realize there are more people like me who love animals but are unaware of what's going on. Now I take every opportunity to educate people about what's going on and share how everyone can help and contribute — even if that opportunity presents itself at a dinner party with friends.
What are you most proud of in your volunteer work?
For me, each volunteer shift ends with a sense of accomplishment. It might be as small as watching a dog sound asleep after playtime in the yard, or when a big dog you’ve been training for days finally learns to sit before you put the leash on. Every accomplishment is a victory.
I'm particularly proud of all my fosters. I have fostered dogs with both behavioral issues and health issues. The job challenges me to push my limits, train them with love and patience, or nurture them back to good health. There is no greater joy than to see that dog transform. It is such a proud moment when you see your foster dog play with a toddler and shatter all those judgements about supposedly never being able to be around kids, or when a starved assemble of bones and skin blooms into a healthy, playful dog.
Why do you volunteer and what does it mean to you?
Volunteering at Best Friends is the most beautiful aspect of my life. I experience a different state of unconditional love and joy when I work with the dogs. I do it because the bond that I form with the animals is priceless. It’s an environment of selfless love and trust. It’s the most wonderful feeling that is difficult to describe in words. And when I see the transformation in the personalities of the dogs I work with, it is like the biggest reward. When an animal gives you trust, believe me, there is no bigger reward than that.
Tell us about your favorite volunteer moment.
I really enjoy taking dogs out for a walk, training them and playing with them in the yard. The moment they step out of the building they are different dogs. I love to see them play, fetch a ball or just go nuts running around. It warms my heart and this is something that never fails to make me happy.
Besides volunteering for Best Friends, how else do give back to your community?
I also volunteer with the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society and I donate blood every couple of months. I also volunteer with organizing events in the community where I live. To me every small step matters, even if that is as small as not littering or helping people with their grocery bags.
Please tell us about your own pets.
Tiny was my first love. She crossed the rainbow bridge last year but she always lives in my heart. She was a mutt who my parents adopted off the streets back home in India.
I’m a proud mom to our rescue, Brodie, who is a Best Friends alum. He was a foster fail and I’m so glad we failed. Whenever someone asks me what kind of a dog he is, I always say “the silly kind.” He takes his time to warm up to people, but once you are in his inner circle, you are set for a lifetime of love and kisses.
He is a sweet, two-year-old boy and the reason why I look forward to coming back home.
What would you tell others thinking of volunteering at Best Friends?
Go for it. I promise it will be the most wonderful experience of your life. I know at times it’s difficult to take the time out, but Best Friends gives you the scope to be flexible and still make a difference. They have numerous volunteer opportunities to fit in your schedule. Every moment of help matters.
Photos by Nichole Dandrea and courtesy of Swarnima Singh