Volunteer shows the world how incredible shelter dogs are

All it took was one day of volunteering at the Best Friends Lifesaving Center in Atlanta and Jamie Serratelli was hooked. Now she comes in almost every day after work to take dogs on walks or to help fellow volunteers supervise dogs while they play outside.

Jamie is an advocate for every dog at the center, and especially for dogs having a tough time adjusting to life after losing their homes. She loves it when dogs start to let their guard down and reveal their true personalities.

“Shelter life is more challenging for some dogs more than others,” says Jamie. “I focus on these dogs by getting them out more to learn what they’re really like. They tend to be the hidden gems.”

Erin Miner, the center’s marketing specialist, says Jamie helps with adoptions, mentors new volunteers and even lends a hand with social media. “She is truly invested in the quality of life of all the dogs at the center,” says Erin. “She’s awesome.”

In the following interview, Jamie describes what drives her passion for volunteering.

Volunteer Jamie Serratell holding the paws and looking face-to-face with a white and brown dog

Why did you decide to volunteer and what motivates you to continue?

One of my friends started volunteering through work and introduced me to Best Friends. We are both huge rescue dog lovers and advocates with our own adopted fur kids. I already loved any activity I could do with my dog, but I realized how lucky she was and I wanted to do more to make a difference for less fortunate dogs.

All it took was one day of volunteering and I was hooked. Such a small time investment on my part made all the difference in the world to them. As I started bonding with these dogs, it became rewarding to witness their personal progress — from coming out of their shells, to learning to trust humans, to settling down after burning off extra energy. All of this growth makes dogs more adoptable, so I felt like I was helping them get ready for their next step, in addition to easing their wait for a forever home.

Of course I was having fun in the process, too. I think dogs have so much personality and bring joy to any situation, which is one of the reasons I love being around them. They never cease to amaze me with how in tune and human-like they are without ever saying a word, and the things they are capable of learning (for example, service dogs).

Resources for training dogs

What inspires you most in your volunteer work?

How amazing these dogs are. Despite what life has thrown at them, they’re so resilient, forgiving and appreciative of the little things. You only get that from a rescue dog. They help remind me of what’s really important in life — to live in the moment and to keep all else in perspective.

What would you tell others who are thinking of volunteering?

Volunteering is incredibly rewarding and there are so many ways to give back. Looking to get more steps in? Dog walking or our weekly Doggie Dash may be for you. More of a people person? Sign up for a mobile adoption event. Love dogs but can’t adopt one or like to do your own thing? Take one of our dogs on an outing for the day or try being a short term foster parent. Like road trips? Help with one of our transports.

There really is something for everyone. You will meet a ton of fellow animal lovers and no amount of time you give is too small. Even if you only have one hour: That hour will make the day for one of our animals.

Volunteer Jamie Serratell squatting down and petting a white and brown dog in some unused railroad tracks

Since becoming a volunteer, what have you learned and do you see anything differently now?

When I first started volunteering, my primary focus was having fun with the dogs to help ease their wait for a forever home. Over time, I realized I had accumulated valuable information on each pup’s personality that would be beneficial to staff and other volunteers.

It was then that my volunteer role expanded to helping with adoptions, play groups, social media content and mentoring new volunteers. Even simple things like sharing a dog’s personality on the volunteer Facebook page helps other volunteers select the right dogs for particular outings and events or helps them match dogs with adopters.

In terms of your volunteer work, what are you most proud of?

I’ve helped a lot of dogs find homes. That is definitely the best feeling and what keeps me going.

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

I think it’s important for everyone to think about those who are less fortunate (whether it be people or animals) and to be part of a cause you care about. Not only does it help keep life in perspective, but it makes you appreciate what you have and you’ll be a better person because of it.

It can feel overwhelming sometimes, but I try to focus on the good I can do instead of all the things I can’t do. For example, it is hard watching dogs I love wait a long time to find a family, but I know those are the dogs I need to keep showing up for the most.

Tell us about your favorite volunteer moment.

I’ve helped a few long-timers get adopted and that’s always the best feeling. One in particular was Quora. She kept getting overlooked because she would constantly jump to the top of her pen due to kennel stress. But I knew that once outside, she was one of our best dogs — smart, gentle, obedient, great on the leash and great with other dogs.

One day some first-time adopters came in looking for an “all-around, well-behaved dog.” They looked around for a bit and eventually I asked if I could make a suggestion. I took them to Quora’s kennel and said, “Just trust me.” I took her into the play yard outside and she did the rest. The adopters fell in love and took her home that night.

Jamie Serratell the volunteer getting kissed on the face by a gray and white pit bull type dog

Tell us something interesting or something we don’t know about you.

I definitely owe my knowledge and love of dogs to my mom and sisters, but it really took off after college when I moved in with my younger sister Denise and her dog, Harley. Harley is a rescue mutt who would probably be labeled a "pit mix" by most. She was the most good-natured, naturally well-mannered dog I've ever met. You can't teach her level of gentleness and good nature. And she's never met a living being or creature she didn't like. Harley made me want my own dog, which then sparked me to start helping others.

Do you have a superpower, and if so, what is it?

Being able to pave my own path and not worry about what everyone else is doing.

Volunteer with pets near you

Best Friends in Atlanta works collaboratively with area shelters, animal welfare organizations and individuals to save the lives of pets in shelters in the region. The Best Friends Lifesaving Center is a hub for animals and a base for local programming and coalition-building to help the metro-Atlanta area in its final push to achieve no-kill, while strengthening the movement in the Southeast. Together, we will Save Them All.

Photos courtesy of Erin Miner