9 stories about volunteers who are making a difference for pets

From Los Angeles to New York to every city in between, shelters all across the country are saving more and more lives every day, thanks in large part to the dedication and hard work of volunteers.

Whether they’re fostering pets, transporting cats and dogs, helping behind the scenes or rolling up their sleeves to clean kennels, volunteers not only better the lives of pets at shelters, but they’re part of a big reason why achieving no-kill in the U.S. is well within reach.

Here are nine stories about Best Friends volunteers who have made a huge impact on the lives of pets — and people, too.

1. Putting pets in the limelight

Volunteer Kristin Biggs doing some outdoor agility training with Larry the dog

Kristin Biggs is an editor and videographer who’s tapped into her talents to help pets at Best Friends in Los Angeles. These days, you’re apt to find her at the lifesaving center, where she’s become the right-hand helper of Best Friends photographer Lori Fusaro.

If Kristin isn’t wrangling kittens, puppies, big dogs and everything in between for their close-ups, she’s helping the public relations team and assisting on video shoots.

“It’s very empowering to be part of a purpose that’s larger than yourself,” says Kristin. “To know that your efforts both help to make the lives of shelter animals better and support the Best Friends mission of no-kill by 2025 is extremely gratifying and incredibly close to my heart.”

Read more about Kristin

2. A pilot helps TNR take off in his community

Two cats in boxes ready to be released as part of TNR

After a group of community cats made itself at home on the property of a transportation company, Malcom, the company’s cargo pilot, knew he had to do something. “This was the first time I had seen so many cats out there, all together,” he says. “I knew they needed help.”

Malcom got started by contacting the Riverside County Department of Animal Services, where he learned about the shelter’s partnership with Best Friends to implement a community cat program (CCP).

Malcom decided to give TNR a try, and when fellow employees raised some concerns, he became an advocate for both the cats and TNR, connecting the employees with Best Friends staff, who helped alleviate their concerns and get the green light to proceed.

Today, Malcom has trapped 15 cats in his own neighborhood and is a full-fledged animal rescuer. “You’ve got to find people where you are,” says Malcolm. “Everyone has different things they can offer: time, money, supplies, space. When you come together you can make a big impact.”

Read more about Malcom

3. Foster volunteer stayed by kitten’s side through heart surgery journey

Shinji the kitten sleeping on a laptop computer with his paw touching a person's hand

If you’ve ever fostered a pet with special needs, you know that while it can be an incredibly rewarding experience, it can also take a lot of dedication and determination.

When Shara Lopossa learned that Shinji, her foster kitten from Best Friends in Utah needed major heart surgery to save his life, she made up her mind to do whatever was needed. The goal was to make sure his surgery was a success so he could live the life he’d barely begun.

Following the surgery, she made his recovery her No. 1 priority, caring for him morning to night. And her determination paid off. Today, we’re happy to report that Shinji is a healthy, happy kitten who was recently been adopted by a family who thinks the world of her. (And they’re big fans of Shara, too.)

Read more about Shara

4. Sanctuary volunteer helps put spring back in parrot’s step

Person holding Lollipop the cockatoo in a towel while volunteer Rick Eddy does muscle alignment and restoration on the parrot's feet

Rick Eddy had a brilliant idea after dealing with knee pain for years. After getting help from muscle specialist Jared Gough, who created a technique called muscle alignment and restoration (MART), he got to thinking it just might help animals, too. The technique involves using light pressure to relieve muscle tension and restore range of motion.

Rick took classes to learn the technique and then he put his theory to work while volunteering at a zoo, where he noticed that MART had the potential to work particularly well for parrots. Then, he signed up to volunteer at the Parrot Garden at Best Friends Animal Sanctuary, where caregivers set up some sessions with Lollipop, a stunning white cockatoo.

While the big bird slept, Rick worked out the tight spots in Lollipop’s head, neck and legs. Afterward, there was more spring in Lollipop’s step. Seeing how much he was able to help, Rick began visiting the bird weekly, and while they’ve developed a friendship, he still has plenty of time to spend with the other birds in Parrot Garden, too.

Read more about Rick

5. Volunteer turns fostering into art

Smiling Ana Merkulova lying head-to-head next to black and white cat

When it comes to fostering cats and kittens, Namitha Kim is a natural. Since her fostering journey began in August of 2020, she’s cared for seven adult cats, plus five (and counting) kittens.

Like many foster volunteers, Namitha loved everything about it except one thing ― saying goodbye when the cats were ready to be adopted. In search of ways to make the parting moments easier, she contacted fellow foster volunteers on Facebook for advice. That’s how she got the idea of making clay paw prints of the pets she fostered.

Over the next few months, what started out as a quirky art project turned into a treasured collection of memories. Creating the paw prints became Namitha’s way of celebrating both the animals coming through her house and the journey she shared with them.

Read more about Namitha

6. A longtime volunteer who (literally) hits the road for pets

Volunteer Judy Steiger holding an Ear Tips Are Hip sign while positioning her hands above her head like cat ears

When the team at Best Friends in Utah needs help on a moment’s notice, they know who to call: Judy Steiger. The former hydrologist, who’s been volunteering with Best Friends for a decade, was a huge support during the early part of the pandemic, when challenges were especially difficult.

She’s always willing to transport pets to Salt Lake City from rural shelters in Utah or deliver pet food to families in need. And when she isn’t logging the miles to help pets, you’ll find her caring for neonatal kittens. In fact, she sometimes combines her volunteer roles, performing such feats as pulling over on a country road to bottle-feed hungry kittens.

“She is an incredible human being,” says Rhoney Farrimond, Best Friends volunteer coordinator in Utah. “She is never frustrated or overwhelmed. She just goes with the flow and problem-solves.”

Read more about Judy

7. Tech-savvy volunteer helps pets during the pandemic

Volunteer Randi Schey posing next to a Labradoodle type dog

When in-person adoptions at Best Friends in New York stopped last year due to the pandemic, volunteer Randi Schey was uniquely poised to roll up her sleeves and take on new roles. Her savvy skills as an elementary school technology teacher made it possible for her to help Best Friends in a variety of new ways, even if it meant volunteering from home in her pajamas.

As the pandemic continued, Randi seamlessly shifted gears, and it didn’t matter if she was helping with virtual meet-and-greets or handling kitten counseling calls. (How cute does that sound?) She played a big role during the whole of 2020 by helping Best Friends in New York place a record-breaking number of pets in foster homes and get many other animals adopted.

Read more about Randi

8. How volunteering with mom helped a young woman with autism

Kimberly wearing a Best Friends shirt looking down at Master Chief the dog

Pets have a way of reaching us the way that our fellow humans sometimes cannot. This is what Julia Lawson found when she began volunteering at Best Friends in Atlanta with her daughter, Julia, who is autistic (though highly functioning) and dyslexic. "The more we volunteered, the more at ease she became," says Kimberly. "Now, everyone can see her natural ability to love dogs where they're at and encourage them to be more."

Happiest when she’s helping dogs, Julia spent many hours cleaning kennels and has a particular affinity for shy dogs, while Kimberly’s favorite thing is to pitch in and help wherever there’s a need.

“They’re the perfect mother-daughter team,” says Brantlee Vickers, volunteer coordinator in Atlanta. “Their dedication to the mission of Best Friends is truly inspiring ... It's amazing to see a youth volunteer so willing to help and a mother being so supportive of her child's passion.”

Read more about Julia and Kimberly

9. The only thing better than volunteering ― doing it with friends, of course

Marylin Sharp sitting on the floor at Cat World surrounded by friendly kitties

Bobbie Oldfield and Marylin Sharp may not be hitting the roads much these days due to the pandemic. But you can bet that someday in the near future they’ll leave their Houston homes and head out toward Best Friends Animal Sanctuary, a place they often visit together.

Sometimes they’re transporting a pet passenger or two to the Sanctuary, or back to Texas on the return trip. That was the case with Knox, a senior cat with diabetes who needed a lift from Best Friends to his new home in San Antonio.

When they aren’t logging the miles, you can find the two friends volunteering together with Best Friends in Houston. And that’s not all: Marylin also fosters cats while Bobbie has a soft spot for helping dogs with special needs.

Bobbie Oldfield sitting in a chair and petting a black cat at Best Friends Animal Sanctuary

“They both have such big hearts and are so much fun to be around,” says Deyra Galvan, event and outreach coordinator for Best Friends in Houston. “Their energy is one of a kind. Not only are they amazing volunteers on their own, but their friendship makes them a dynamic duo together.”

Read more about Bobbie and Marylin

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Photos courtesy of Lori Fufaro, Alesha Davidson, Shara Lopossa, Molly Wald, Namitha Kim, Judy Steiger, Randi Schey, Kimberly Lawson and Marylin Sharp