13 stories of volunteers who save pets’ lives

Person snuggling and kissing the top of the head of a dog lying on his hap
They’re all amazing, and they all show up time and again to pitch in and help pets go from shelters to homes.
By Best Friends staff

You know the saying “it takes a village to raise a child”? The same can be said for the “village” of folks who love animals and who give their time, care, and expertise to pets in need. And at Best Friends, those big-hearted people make it possible to save tens of thousands of animals every year who otherwise might not get a chance at going to a home.

National Volunteer Appreciation Week is April 21-27 this year, and while we appreciate volunteers every day, this is the week when their work gets the spotlight it deserves. Best Friends’ goal is for all shelters to reach no-kill in 2025, and volunteers play a key role in those efforts.

Here are just a few examples of the countless ways that people around the country are rolling up their sleeves, sometimes literally to wash dishes and scoop poop and sometimes figuratively to email a new adopter for help with a dog training challenge.

Each person has a unique story and reason for deciding to get involved. What will your reason be?

2 tiny kittens inspire life of volunteerism

It started when Steve Pack found two tiny, orphaned kittens in the alley behind his home. They were the reason he first got in touch with Best Friends, and that sparked a whole new world for him. He not only got support to care for the kittens and to spay and neuter them, but he also signed up to volunteer. Now he’s a key part of the team, saying “yes” to helping however he can. Read the whole story.

Best Friends volunteers help in animal shelters

They’re trained, they’re prepared, they’re ready to help when called to take care of animals in an emergency. Best Friends emergency response volunteers have robust training in cleaning and sanitation, disease prevention, safe animal handling, animal sheltering, and many other key skills needed after a hurricane, flood, fire, or other disaster that impacts pets.

Recently, this team of more than 100 skilled volunteers has been pitching in by assisting with the daily emergencies facing animal shelters around the country. Read the whole story.

VIP puppy chauffeur

You just never know what a volunteer role might include. Ira Shankman has been a Best Friends volunteer for about seven years. He’s a retired educator and musician and has always loved animals. In fact, that part of his life is a family affair. “My son Peter has been to Best Friends in Utah, and we adopted our cat, Broadway, from Best Friends. I’m also a docent at the Central Park Zoo,” Ira says. These days, he fills his time volunteering. “New York has been good to me, and I just wanted to give back a little bit,” he says.

Ira filled a unique role when he took Sonny to star in Puppy Bowl XX. It meant a two-day road trip centered on one adorable puppy’s participation in the televised event. Read the whole story.

Kitten foster extraordinaire

Lizel Allen has had a bit of a unique roommate situation over the years. For one, they’ve all been particularly fuzzy. Some stay for mere days while others live with her for several months. And she’s gone through 165 of them over the past decade.

Lizel began fostering pets for Best Friends Animal Society back in 2014. She had already been volunteering for a while — so much so that Best Friends staff asked her to mentor new volunteers — and she wanted to try something new. She inquired about fostering and went home with kittens that very same night. It was the beginning of a new passion. Read the whole story.

Foster home is simply the best for mama dog and pups

Laura Gallagher and her daughter Isabella are no strangers to fostering. The Gallagher family had been fostering pets for years with Best Friends and other organizations, and on their most recent trip to Best Friends Animal Sanctuary in Utah, Laura and Isabella spent time volunteering. Dog lovers committed to rescuing, they already had two adopted dogs at home, both adored and named by Isabella: Jimmy Waffles and Sparkle Syrup.

But that didn’t stop them from fostering mama dog Tina Turner and her puppies — and deciding that Tina was there to stay. Read the whole story.

Caring for kittens at home

For Tyler Lisonbee, it doesn’t get much better than when the ailing kittens he’s caring for start to get better — or when a kitten who’s wary of people learns to trust him. “Seeing them turn corners, that’s what motivates me,” he says about the palm-sized felines he fosters.

Tyler’s foray into fostering began about a year ago after he was inspired by The Kitten Lady videos on YouTube. He began with a pair of kittens who were just 4 weeks old. Since then, his home has become a respite for felines who need a place to heal and recover before getting adopted. Read the whole story.

Pet matchmaker

Vicki Williams has a beautiful passion for helping both pets and people. It’s a passion she weaves into her daily life, whether she’s volunteering at the Best Friends Lifesaving Center in New York City or helping to implement animal-friendly policies in the workplace.

As the head of human resources at the company where she works, Vicki helped introduce policies for employees including time off from work for new pet adoptions, vet appointments, and pet bereavement.

Vicki started volunteering with Best Friends in 2019. Today, she draws from her experience caring for cats at the lifesaving center to mentor new volunteers, teaching them about feline behavior and how to take care of the cat areas of the center. Read the whole story.

Birthday barks

For the past two years, David Temple (fourth from left) has celebrated his birthday in an unconventional way: by driving a transport van from Best Friends’ Houston location to Ruff Start Rescue in Princeton, Minnesota. On February 9, David and other dedicated volunteers packed up 32 homeless dogs and embarked on the 1,200-mile road trip. When they pulled up to Ruff Start two days later, David says he was so touched to see a couple already waiting there to pick up their new pup.

College students save cats’ lives through fostering

Lauren Burgess and Jill Church are college roommates who share an immense passion for helping animals. After taking in their first foster cat from Best Friends in June 2023, they have since fostered three other cats, one of whom Lauren decided to adopt herself. Lauren says, “Fostering while going to college is good for us because our schedules can be flexible enough to meet the needs of the cats, especially during the summer.”

Lauren and Jill are dedicated to helping their foster cats put their best paws forward until they’re adopted. They've even donated professional grooming sessions for the cats. And once one of their feline houseguests is matched with a home, his or her picture is given a coveted space on the Foster Cat Wall of Fame that graces Lauren and Jill’s living room wall. Read the whole story.

Dogtown puppy mama

Betty has been volunteering at the Sanctuary in Kanab, Utah, for over 12 years. In fact, she moved to Kanab from Pennsylvania specifically to devote her time to volunteering for Best Friends. She provides TLC to each puppy, helping them feel soothed through socializing, petting, feeding treats, and reading Dr. Seuss books. She also works with puppies on training cues, and she shares stories for their adoption biographies to help potential adopters connect with them. Read the whole story.

Finding a happy place (plus pets)

Soon after moving to New York City, David Sprague started thinking that he might like to adopt a dog. There was just one hiccup: He traveled frequently. Even when he was in the Big Apple, he wasn’t home much.

The solution, David decided, was to volunteer at a local animal welfare organization instead. That way, he could spend time with animals and make friends in his newly adopted city in the process. When he learned about Best Friends in New York City, he immediately signed up to volunteer at the lifesaving center and foster as well. It wasn’t long until he was fostering two puppies. Read the whole story.

NOVA volunteers

Troy was having a hard time. The sensitive, tricolored pup had been adopted a few days earlier from Best Friends, and in his new home he was anxious and destructive when left alone, even for short periods. He was also really scared to ride in the car. These are the kinds of challenges that can make or break an adoption, but there was help for Troy, his brand-new family, and their budding relationship: a Best Friends volunteer named Kim Glenn.

Kim is one of more than 80 Best Friends NOVA volunteers. NOVA stands for National Operations Volunteers and Ambassadors; they work behind the scenes remotely from wherever they live — like total superheroes. Read the whole story.

Cat overcomes her shyness and ringworm

Kayley Watson and Doug Paolillo have fostered about a dozen cats (and counting), including solo adult cats and litters of kittens. Over the years, they’ve come to expect the unexpected every time they welcome a new feline houseguest into their apartment. In fact, that’s one of the things they love most about fostering.

So when they learned that the team at Best Friends was looking for a foster home for a cat named Savannah who was extremely timid around people, they stepped up to help. Fear wasn’t Savannah's only challenge; she also had ringworm. And while the word alone is enough to give some pause, it’s nothing to be afraid of at all. Read the whole story.

Silhouette of two dogs, cat and kitten

Help save homeless pets

You can help end the killing in shelters and save the lives of homeless pets when you foster, adopt, and advocate for the dogs and cats who need it most.

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