Woman works around the clock to help save hundreds of animals

Volunteer at almost any shelter or rescue group in any part of the county and you’ll learn quickly that saving homeless pets is a 24/7 effort. Chelsea Hughes, a volunteer at Palm Valley Animal Center (PVAC), in Edinburg, Texas, knows this well. Since she began volunteering in center’s foster department, the native of Toronto, Canada, has seen plenty of Texas sunrises from the grounds at PVAC — and a few sunsets, too.

Chelsea plays a critical role in organizing the transporting of pets from the shelter to rescue groups across the county, and she logs plenty of late nights before transport day. And she’s taken the lead to launch PVAC’s Tail’s Around Town program after being inspired by a Maddie’s Fund workshop she attended with PVAC staff. “She made it her baby,” says Mike Bricker, Best Friends manager of lifesaving operations who works out of PVAC. “Chelsea is one of the most amazing people I've ever worked with.”

More about Best Friends’ work at PVAC

Chelsea began volunteering at PVAC soon after she moved with her partner to Edinburg. But no matter where she’s landed through the years — from Texas to Taiwan — she’s always looked for ways to help pets in need.

Learn more about Chelsea, and what keeps her coming back to volunteer, in the following interview.

Why did you decide to volunteer at Palm Valley Animal Center?

I knew about the crisis facing pets in south Texas before I moved here, and I wanted to gain a better understanding of animal sheltering. People say a lot of awful things about shelters down here, and I wanted to find out for myself what was going on. I learned that the public perception of the biggest shelter in this area doesn’t do justice to the dedicated and caring staff and volunteers who work tirelessly to save lives. I am motivated by the hardworking people I work alongside as we move toward positive change and save the lives of more animals.

What inspires you most in your volunteer work?

Is it too cliché to say the animals? I also find people — particularly good leaders, foster families, and other volunteers — incredibly inspiring.

Since becoming a volunteer at PVAC, what have you learned and has the learning process caused you view anything differently?

Volunteer Chelsea Hughes bottle feeding a neonatal kittenThe learning never stops. I definitely have a better understanding of animal sheltering, and I am a huge believer in barrier-free foster and volunteer programs. I think that anyone should be able to walk into an animal welfare organization and help out, then and there. There are so many lives to save and so many ways to help. The last things we need are long, complicated application and orientation processes. We should make it easy for people to get involved!

What about your volunteer work makes you the proudest?

The development of the foster program and the number of lives we have been able to save through foster to rescue.

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

To me, volunteering means getting involved in the community, but it is also filled with the opportunity to make a difference in a cause you feel passionate about. I volunteer for a number of reasons — above all else to save lives, but I also volunteer to gain experience in different areas.

Tell us about your favorite volunteer moment.

I have favorite moments every day! Seeing people drop off their beloved foster dogs and cats before sunrise for rescue transport is so incredibly moving. And when they have a great fostering experience and decide to foster again because of it — that is one of the best feelings.

Group of people in Edinburg posting in front of a transport van

What are you doing when you’re not volunteering with animals?

Hiking, working, fostering and hanging out with the dogs.

Besides volunteering, how else do "give back" to your community?

These days I volunteer more than full time hours, so things are pretty busy. But I like doing acts of kindness and picking up litter.

Tell us about your pets.

Volunteer Chelsea Hughes with two dogs on leashes on a beachI have two dogs and (currently) only one foster kitten. Meester is a street dog who adopted me in Taiwan 10 years ago. We’ve lived all over the place together. She’s been on cross-country road trips and flown on airplanes. Nyree is two and came from the shelter here. She loves most things and is very silly. They are both pro snugglers.

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

I wish! Superhuman endurance and the ability to talk to animals, if I may.

Volunteer where you live

Photos by Sarah Ause Kichas, Sonya Sellers and courtesy of Chelsea Hughes