Volunteers team up to support Texas shelters

Group of volunteers from a Best Friends in Houston takeover day at a local animal shelter
Best Friends volunteers go into shelters for a full day of doing whatever the shelter staff need help with the most.
By Nicole Hamilton

On a recent Saturday morning, a group of volunteers and staff with Best Friends in Houston joined together for a volunteer takeover day at Mont Belvieu Animal Services. They were there to clean kennels, wash dishes, walk dogs, and socialize with cats — and for anything else the animals or the shelter staff needed. No task was too big or too small because every act of kindness makes a difference.

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“Many hands make light work, and this was no exception,” says Melanie Losoya, who wears two hats at the Mont Belvieu shelter as both the programming coordinator and an animal services officer. As one of only two full-time staff members at the shelter, along with animal services officer Weston King, she relies on help from volunteers. That makes it possible for her and Weston to focus on other important projects and gives them more time to respond to calls in the community.

“It was awesome to have a larger team assist us for the day,” Melanie says about the volunteer takeover. “The support from Best Friends meant so much to us.”

Enrichment for pets, support for shelter staff

The Best Friends team in Houston launched volunteer takeover days last year after visiting area shelters and seeing their need for more help, especially when so many shelters are at, or beyond, capacity.

“The takeover days are a way for us to give staff some relief and provide extra support and enrichment to pets at the shelter,” says Sarah Shaw, Best Friends community engagement coordinator in Houston. “By working alongside staff, we’re saying, ‘We’re doing this with you. We’re in this together.’”

Each month, the team chooses one local shelter for a volunteer takeover day and works with the shelter staff to identify what types of help they need. Then, they reach out to Best Friends volunteers and tap into social media to enlist others who want to get involved. Many who sign up are new to Best Friends, and some sign up having never volunteered at an animal shelter before.

[An enormous thank-you to Best Friends volunteers]

“It’s been great to interact with community members who saw a post on Facebook and decided to take part,” says Sarah. “Someone might share the post, and then someone else might get involved.” On the day of the takeover, volunteers and Best Friends staff meet up at the shelter, ready to help.

On a recent visit to Montgomery County Animal Shelter, the team of seven volunteers “jumped in headfirst,” says Sarah. “They were cleaning kennels, doing windows, walking dogs. Everyone just joined together to help shelter pets in need and give the staff a moment to breathe.”

Volunteers also recently made a big impact at Galveston County Animal Resource Center when they showed up for a takeover day. “We have over 100 animals (at the shelter), and without volunteers they may not get the extra walk they deserve or socialization they need,” says Alexandra Sierra, animal services manager with Galveston County Animal Resource Center.

Many of the dogs at the shelter on takeover day were good and tired after all the extra attention and socialization they received from the volunteers. Alexandra says, “It is always wonderful to see not just individuals but groups of people working together to make a difference in the lives of our homeless pets.”

Cat gains a friend and advocate

Dana Bond was scrolling through Facebook one day when she learned about an upcoming volunteer takeover day at Pearland Animal Shelter. She had taken part in Best Friends’ Strut Your Mutt in the past, but she’d never volunteered at a shelter.

Because she loves spending time with animals, she decided to sign up for the takeover day. With five cats at home already, Dana knew she couldn’t adopt another, but she looked forward to spending time with cats at the shelter — and maybe even helping them get adopted.

[Labor of love: serving pets and people]

On volunteer takeover day, Dana made herself comfortable in the shelter’s cat area and quickly became friends with a black cat named Bagheera. “I gave him treats and toys, but he just wanted affection,” says Dana. “I worried he was getting overlooked, as I know younger cats and kittens usually get adopted first. He kept rubbing his face on my face and licked my face several times. He was such a love bug, and he made my heart happy.”

Dana took tons of photos of Bagheera that day and shared them on both Best Friends’ and the shelter’s Facebook page to help promote him for adoption.

She’s planning on returning to the shelter soon to spend more time with Bagheera and take more photos of cats. “I love the idea of shelter takeovers,” she says. “It was such a great day.”

This article was originally published in the July/August 2023 issue of Best Friends magazine. Want more good news? Become a member and get stories like this six times a year.

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