4 volunteers helping animals in unique ways

Group of volunteers holding the items they sewed for Best Friends
From teaching cats to “talk,” to creating videos that inspire others to get involved, these volunteers prove there are many ways to support pets in shelters.
By Nicole Hamilton

Looking for ways to get involved at your local animal shelter or rescue organization? Why not think outside the box and tap into your unique skills and talents to help save lives? If you get up early to take a run around the neighborhood, perhaps you could organize a running group at a shelter to take dogs out for a jog. Have an eye for photography? Consider volunteering at the shelter to take cat and dog photos that help them get adopted.

Support, after all, comes in many forms. Here are four Best Friends volunteers who found unique ways of giving give back and helping animals, while having a lot of fun, too.

Videographer inspires others to get involved

Volunteer Nathan Shaw with two dogs and a blue sky behind him

Nathan Shaw and his wife, Sarah, were looking for another cat to adopt when they read on Facebook that Best Friends in Houston was hosting an adoption event. So, they decided to check it out.

They didn’t leave with a cat that day, but they did make plans to bring one (or in this case, five) home very soon. You see, Nathan and Sarah were so inspired by what they learned about Best Friends that day that they decided to become foster volunteers. “Once we learned about Best Friends’ foster program and how important it is to give animals a loving home, even if it’s just a temporary situation, we immediately jumped on board to help out.”

Soon after signing up, Nathan and Sarah welcomed a mom cat and her four kittens into their home. They've all been adopted, and Nathan and Sarah have since fostered many dogs overnight. And Nathan has taken volunteering a step further by combining his profession as a videographer with his passion for helping animals.

Today, Nathan creates videos about Best Friends in Houston that are shared on social media to promote events and inspire others to get involved. “I like that my content (spreads) awareness because at the end of the day, that is how we were able to learn about and find Best Friends,” says Nathan. “My favorite projects so far involve animals, so that’s every project.”

Volunteers do the heavy lifting of weighing cats

Volunteer Tana Hunter smiling and holding a gray tabby cat

For several years, Tana Hunter has been volunteering to help cats at Best Friends in Salt Lake City. Each week, she comes to the lifesaving center with her daughter, Ciel, to weigh cats and kittens. Tana calls it “the best volunteer job ever.”

As you might expect, it’s a role that’s typically a lot of fun and filled with plenty of sweet moments, but it’s also an incredibly important one. The weighing sessions are also an ideal time to notice anything unusual about a cat being weighed that requires a closer look (a runny nose, for example). Rhoney Richens, Best Friends senior coordinator, says: “Sometimes it's hard to notice if an animal is losing weight and there can be many reasons why. Tana and Ciel's help can alert us to knowing when an animal may need further attention.”

The mother-daughter duo has come up with a process for helping cats feel comfortable when it’s their time to get on the scale. “I usually give them a scratch behind the ears and lift them out of their kennels making sure to secure their legs, keeping their backs to my stomach, more or less hugging them in a way that is easy to place them on the scale,” says Tana, noting that every cat is different.

The little ones and the kittens are usually easy to handle, but they can be quite squiggly and getting them to stay still so the scale can register a weight can be challenging. The larger cats (20 pounds) require more support around the hind legs, and it can be tricky making sure all four feet are on the scale.

“The older ones seem to like more cuddling and special rubs on their way to the scale and afterwards,” says Tana. “But all of them are special and deserve the best.”

Foster volunteer, cat coach

Volunteer Monesia Green forehead-to-forehead with a tabby cat

Reiki sessions and supplements for healthy, shiny hair: No, we’re not talking about the newest neighborhood wellness spa. We’re talking about the special ways that foster volunteer extraordinaire Monesia Green helps her foster cats feel comfortable and look fabulous. But perhaps the most unique thing she does as a foster volunteer is teach them how to communicate with people. In fact, you could say that she’s teaching cats to “talk.”

It all started with Ripley, a beautiful but shy two-year-old tabby brought to Best Friends in Atlanta from the Humane Society of Valdosta/Lowndes County. After watching a YouTube video on how to teach dogs to communicate by pressing buttons, Monesia decided to give it a go with Ripley.

After investing in some recording device buttons she found on online, she slowly began teaching Ripley how to communicate simple needs. Monesia and her husband started slowly by teaching Ripley how to ask for treats. Monesia began by placing a treat on the button. Once Ripley reached for it, she pressed down on the button that said, “treat.” Monesia did the same with words such as “play” and “pick up.”

The training helped Ripley develop newfound confidence and that in turn helped her land a home. Today, Monesia is still helping cats communicate via buttons and has no plans on stopping. “It really sparked a passion in me,” she says.

Getting “sewcial” for community cats

Volunteers Maggie Schroeder and April Bowerman holding mats for cats they had sewn

Maggie Schroeder was so inspired by how Best Friends helped reunite displaced pets with their families after Hurricane Harvey that she decided to volunteer with Best Friends in Houston as much as she could after she retired. Her trip to Best Friends Animal Sanctuary last September was life-changing and served to strengthen her resolve to help animals even more.

Maggie’s biggest passion is trap-neuter-vaccinate-return (TNVR), and today, she helps with the spay/neuter program in Houston. Most recently, she’s combined her love of helping community cats with one of her favorite hobbies: sewing.

It all started when Justin Gonzales, Best Friends community cat program coordinator in Houston, found out that Maggie sewed and asked if she could make covers for the cat traps. Maggie used a pattern by Best Friends to get started and it evolved from there. “The best part is so many people donated sheets and fabric for the covers,” she says.

Not only did the donations make the covers very affordable, but they also gave Maggie and April Bowerman, fellow volunteer and sewer, the idea to start a “sewcial” event to make even more items for cats.

Once a month, volunteers gather with Maggie and April to get crafty for cats. So far, the group has made 27 trap covers and four comforters to keep cats cozy in their condos while they wait to be adopted.

The sewcial is getting popular and Maggie and April are thrilled. That being said, Maggie says she can’t decide what she loves most about volunteering with Best Friends. “I can’t decide if it’s the animals, the people or the difference we are making for the benefit of all.”

Inspired to help animals?

Why not use your unique talent and skills to help your local shelter save lives?

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Photos courtesy of April Bowerman, Nathan Shaw, Julie Memmot and Monesia Green