My story: NKLA volunteer Victoria Vertuga

Victoria Vertuga volunteers with Best Friends in Los Angeles. She creates videos that help dogs get adopted into homes. Read her story and interview.
By Nicole Hamilton

As an actress and print model living in Los Angeles, you’d think NKLA Pet Adoption Center volunteer Victoria Vertuga would get noticed, and she does. But oftentimes, she isn’t noticed for her work on television or in magazines, but rather for creating videos that help dogs at the center find homes.

Victoria has spent thousands of hours volunteering at the adoption center, where she produces adoption videos shown at the center and on its website. She also helps with adoptions, and she spends quality time with dogs who have behavioral challenges to help them feel more confident in their own skin.

“Victoria understands dog behavior and often helps with our larger dogs, which takes a lot of patience, strength and confidence,” says Katie O’Shaughnessy, lead pet caregiver at the center. “She is an asset to our dogs’ daily enrichment and her bubbly personality and positive attitude serve as a guiding light to our new and veteran volunteers.”

In the following Q&A, you’ll learn more about what motivates Victoria to help L.A. become a no-kill city, what volunteering at the center has taught her, and what inspires her to help Save Them All.

Why did you decide to volunteer with Best Friends and what motivates you to continue to help?

I really believe in the work that Best Friends is doing. It's rewarding to see how much progress has been made at reducing the number of animals being euthanized in Los Angeles city shelters in a relatively short amount of time. Best Friends has done an absolutely wonderful job of bringing so many different rescue groups and organizations together to achieve a common goal. They are setting an excellent example for other animal welfare organizations and for other cities that want to become no-kill.

What inspires you most in your volunteer work?

It probably should go without saying, but I absolutely love the animals ― so I'm all about being able to spend time with them. It's especially satisfying to see a long-termer end up in an amazing home. I think helping out with dog play groups is probably my favorite thing. When dogs play, they look like they're having more fun than you've ever had in your entire life, and it's amazing to be able to see that. It also helps us to learn so much about the dogs and what homes might be best for them. We've had a few dogs who had some challenging behavioral issues and seeing them improve with work and dedication is really rewarding.

What would you tell others who are thinking of becoming a volunteer?

Do it! Honestly, it is so satisfying and rewarding to be able to pitch in and help. Whatever your likes or strengths, there is most definitely a way that you can help out. Best Friends makes it super easy to volunteer and there are so many different areas available ― from playing with dogs and cats, to helping out in adoptions, to driving to mobile adoption events.

Learn how Best Friends is helping L.A. become no-kill

Volunteer Victoria Vertuga helps at adoption events

Since becoming a Best Friends volunteer, what have you learned and do you see things differently now?

I've learned so many things. I've met some truly inspiring and knowledgeable people who have been generous enough to share their knowledge with me. I feel like my understanding of dog behavior and skills in handling have improved dramatically, just from spending time with so many different animals over the years.

I also feel like I have a pretty good knack for matching up potential play buddies or dogs who would do well as cohabitants in a home, which is awesome. I've also learned so much about the shelter system in general and where the biggest challenges lie with achieving no-kill.

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

I think in this day and age ― and especially in the city of Los Angeles ― it can be so easy for people to become completely wrapped up in themselves. It's so important to remember that there is a great big world out there and most of it doesn't revolve around us. I genuinely believe in being of service in every capacity.

I choose to spend time with animals because I find it to be one of the most enjoyable things to do with my time. Animals are always genuinely and completely appreciative of whatever time and love and affection you give them. It is impossible not to come away from that feeling better.

Volunteer Victoria Vertuga on an outing with a pit bull terrier

Tell us about your favorite volunteer moment.

There was a dog named Regina at the pet adoption center who was so sweet and loving and full of life, but had a hard time coping with life at the center, which didn’t suit her. She was with us for a very long time. But an amazing woman fostered her and then decided to adopt her. She is now living the life with an extremely dedicated adopter. I can't tell you how happy I was when I found out she was getting adopted.

Tell us something we don’t know about yourself, or just an interesting fact.

I graduated from the University of Southern California (USC) and am a huge USC sports fan (That sentence is redundant. Trojans know what I mean). I skipped a few grades in school so I graduated high school at the age of 16, and I don't know how to whistle.

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

I'm an actress and print model, so that keeps me busy running all around L.A. to auditions and castings. When I'm not working or volunteering, I love to travel. I've been to 17 countries and counting. It's such an educational experience, and it's a beautiful world out there so I love to explore it.

Volunteer Victoria Vertuga on an outing with dogs

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

I also volunteer with a few other animal welfare organizations that have shelter intervention projects focused on keeping animals from entering the shelter system. It's really satisfying because you're helping people and animals at the same time. Besides animal-related volunteering stuff, (it sounds really super cheesy) but I just try to be of service however I can.

I try to be generous with my time and knowledge, and go out of my way to help people. I work in an extremely competitive and complicated industry, so whenever I can provide a little advice or support to others trying to make their way, I definitely try to do that.

Volunteer Victoria Vertuga posing with a pit bull terrierDo you have pets?

I have three “pocket pitties” named Riley, JoJo, and Butters. All three came from the south L.A. city shelter. Riley came from there directly, JoJo came from NKLA Coalition partner Angel City Pit Bulls, and Butters came from NKLA through coalition partner Wags and Walks. Going to the vet with three dogs and only two people is very, very entertaining for anyone watching. My dogs crack me up every single day. It is crazy how much I adore them. There really is nothing like the unconditional love of a pet to make your life brighter.

Find a volunteer opportunity near you

Photos by Wendi Marafino and courtesy of Victoria Vertuga