Volunteer’s passion for helping pets spans two continents
For many years in Zurich, Switzerland, Fabio Vitolla loved volunteering for an animal welfare organization that helps both homeless pets and wildlife. Then last year when it was time to start volunteering again after moving to New York City, Fabio knew exactly where he wanted to do it: the Best Friends Lifesaving Center in New York City.
When Fabio first visited the center during a trip back in 2017, it was an experience that stayed with him long after he returned home. “I was inspired by Best Friends’ mission and I wanted to be a part of it,” he says. “It was one of the best decisions I could have made.”
110% dedication to helping pets
Fabio volunteers at the center almost every day, but you can also find him helping out at Best Friends events throughout the city — jumping in and lending a hand wherever he’s needed. “He puts 110% into everything he does,” says Laura Barnes, community engagement lead for Best Friends in New York. “His dedication, hard work and good attitude is incredibly impressive.”
Fabio spends most of his volunteer time with the dog care team, but he has also trained to work with cats and he's even been known to make supply runs.
Everyone loves Fabio, especially the dogs
Fabio’s dedication has been invaluable to a staff that relies on his help. Mallory Kerley, communications manager, appreciates Fabio’s calm and happy presence at photo shoots and live television opportunities, which can sometimes be stressful.
“He always has a smile on his face and everyone loves him, especially the dogs,” says Mallory. “He’s always exactly where he needs to be when you need him to be there. Honestly, when we are doing events, I hope that I see Fabio’s name on my volunteer sheet, and I usually do.”
In the following interview, Fabio tells us why he loves working with pets, from Europe to the U.S.
What motivates you to help pets?
I would say the daily interaction with all the dogs and cats, as well as with the volunteers, staff members and the potential adopters. In addition, feeling the connection between myself and the pets while playing with them, spending time with them or just taking the dogs out for a walk fills my life and heart with joy and happiness.
What inspires you most in your volunteer work?
Many times, I don’t know the whole story of our animals, but what I know for sure is that they need and deserve to be loved. It is very inspiring and rewarding to see their reaction every single time I meet them. The more time I spend with them, the more they trust me and it’s inspiring to see this process happening, no matter how painful their journey was in their past.
What have you learned since becoming a volunteer?
I enjoyed having the chance to share some of my own knowledge and experiences. Because of the diversity of dogs and cats at the center, I have learned a lot about their behavior and needs. Every day, each situation and every animal is different, so I am thrilled to learn new things each day.
Do you see anything differently since you began to volunteer?
I had to understand that some people still don’t fully accept pets as part of all of our lives. The fact that so many animals are still euthanized each year is not only sad, but unacceptable. To accomplish no-kill we need more support than ever. I try to encourage everyone I know to help and reach the goal so that animals no longer have to suffer and be euthanized.
What are you most proud of in your volunteer work?
For me, it is important that our animals are happy and feel safe. While volunteering for Best Friends during the past seven months, I have had the chance to work in different departments and be a part of many marketing and social events on- and off-site.
Having the chance to match potential adopters with dogs and cats and to see their happiness makes me proud. Further, it is a privilege to collaborate with staff and volunteers and be part of the team.
What does volunteering mean to you?
It means everything to me. I am at the center almost every day and simply enjoy being around the animals and working with them. Seeing them when I arrive and watching them when they leave the center to go to their new forever homes is overwhelmingly satisfying.
Do you have a favorite volunteer moment?
There are so many nice stories. I love all the pets at the center and every time I see a dog or cat leaving there with a new family it makes me happy. There are some dogs I had (or still have) a strong bond with, and connecting them with new people shows me every day why I enjoy volunteering.
One of my most exciting moments was introducing one of my most beloved dogs, Rocky Earl, to his new foster family. Because Rocky was ill, it was very important for me to find a home for him. Meeting the couple fostering him and seeing a bond form between Rocky Earl and his family made me so happy. I will never forget that moment.
Please tell us something interesting about you that we might not know.
Back in Switzerland I rescued pets — from small ones like hamsters, birds and hedgehogs up to cats and dogs. The smallest animal I rescued was a tiny mouse, and the biggest was a huge Great Dane that escaped while his family was on vacation. I am very passionate about animals and for many years have been able to train security and police dogs. I also trained employees to interact with K-9 dogs.
What are you doing when you’re not volunteering with animals?
I enjoy spending time with my two adorable cats who I brought from Switzerland to the U.S. One of them is a long-haired cat who I found on the street when he was four weeks old. The second is a short-haired cat who came from an industrial area in Germany. I also like to explore New York City and meet new people. It is one of my goals to visit all 50 states in the U.S.
Do you have a superpower?
It is a combination of my positive and contagious energy and happiness, a big heart for animals and my dedication to help everyone whenever and wherever I can, no matter what.
What would you tell others who are thinking about volunteering?
Just do it! You will never regret volunteering. You will meet and work with an amazing team and with adorable cats and dogs. Spend time with pets at the center and you will understand my passion and dedication for Best Friends.
Best Friends in New York works collaboratively with city shelters, local animal welfare organizations and individuals to save the lives of pets in shelters in New York City and the surrounding tri-state area. As part of this work, Best Friends has a national lifesaving concept space and pet adoption center in SoHo, hosts adoption and fundraising events, and runs a foster program in partnership with Animal Care Centers of New York City. Together, we will Save Them All.
Photos by Robert Stoetzel