Labor of love: serving pets and people

Volunteer Ben Richards holding a black and white cat in front of some kennels
Ben Richards has dedicated his life to service and channels his faith into helping homeless pets in Salt Lake City.
By Nicole Hamilton

When Ben Richards became a service missionary for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, he was given a list of organizations in the area where he could volunteer. It didn’t take him long to make his decision. “I wanted to help at an animal shelter and when I saw Best Friends on the list, I knew I wanted to be there,” says Ben. “I knew people who had adopted from Best Friends and about everything they’re doing for the community in Salt Lake City.”

On most days, you can find Ben at the lifesaving center, where he helps any way and anywhere he can. If he’s not walking a dog, he’s apt to be cleaning cat litter boxes. He’s even been known to help the team organize computer files.

Recently, Ben trained to be an adoption counselor and has completed a few adoptions on his own. He also helps train new volunteers and has even inspired some of his own friends to get involved with Best Friends (whew).

[5 men making a difference for homeless pets]

Although Ben’s willingness and ability to help out is indeed impressive and inspiring, Patrick Theobald, Best Friends community engagement supervisor in Salt Lake City, says you have to dig a little deeper to fully understand the scope of Ben’s contributions.

“Ben doesn't just complete volunteer tasks in the lifesaving center. He elevates the team’s understanding of what volunteers can do,” says Patrick. “He’s excited to learn about everything we do and why we do it, and his enthusiasm lets us see our own work through fresh eyes and renews our passion for helping animals.”

In the following Q&A, you’ll learn more about Ben and what motivates him to volunteer.

What motivates and inspires you to volunteer?

Seeing people adopting animals and giving them homes makes me happy. And I look forward to being there … knowing that all the small little things I do … are helping Best Friends with their work around the country.

Since becoming a volunteer, what have you learned, and has volunteering caused you to see anything differently?

I have learned the importance of service and acts of kindness. There are so many other volunteers at Best Friends, and they are all so awesome. I've learned about everything Best Friends does for animals and people around the country. Without all of the amazing workers and volunteers, none of it would be possible.

In terms of your volunteer work helping animals, what are you most proud of?

Every time I go to the lifesaving center, there is always something waiting for me to do. Whether that's walking dogs or scanning documents, there is something to do. This makes me happy because it shows me that I am helpful when I am there.

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

Volunteering is very important to me. It is my way of showing others that I love them and care for them. There are a lot of negative things in the world these days and I want to be the light in someone's day.

Tell us about your favorite volunteer moment.

One Saturday, I was able to help at the pet food pantry. A man came in and was telling me that because of the food pantry he can keep his dog, and then he gave me a hug. It was really awesome to see the effect Best Friends has on the community.

Tell us something about you that we might not know.

I lived in a small village in Côte d'Ivoire (Ivory Coast) called Agnibilekrou, and in the capital of Abidjan for five months.

Besides volunteering for Best Friends, how else do you give back to your community?

I volunteer and serve at other places throughout the week when I'm not at Best Friends. One of my other service projects is helping in an elementary school with its French immersion program. I help out the teacher and students in whichever way they need me. It is a lot of fun and I enjoy being there.

Please tell us about your pets.

I have four bunnies! They are the funniest and cutest little creatures. Their names are Kevin, Stella, Kenny and Chandler.

What would you tell others who are thinking of volunteering?

Do it! Best Friends’ staff and volunteers will teach you everything you need to know, and you’ll feel so much joy when you are serving others.

Do you have a super power, and if so, what would it be?

Unfortunately, I don't. I'm just a regular guy trying to make a difference in my community.

Inspired to help animals?

Use your unique talents and skills to help your local animal shelter or rescue organization save lives.

Volunteer near you

Read more

Rock star volunteer helps hundreds of cats

Mother and son help dogs get adopted, one hike at a time

4 volunteers helping animals in unique ways