New Yorker finds stress relief in volunteering with pets

Volunteer David Sprague lying in a bed with a brown and white dog sleeping and snuggled next to him
Nursing student David Sprague fosters dogs, is a volunteer driver, and considers the Best Friends Lifesaving Center in New York City his happy place.
By Nicole Hamilton

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.

David also stepped up as a driver and often accompanies cats and dogs from the lifesaving center when they make their TV debuts for adoption spotlights. He’s also made 10-hour drives to pick up animals from partner shelters. And while David continues to volunteer at the lifesaving center, he’s there a little less now that he’s in nursing school. But it’s still a special place for him.

“When I get stressed out, I pick up a shift and spend a couple of hours playing with some really adorable pups,” he says. “Talk about stress relief. Who doesn't want to help save a life?”

[Volunteers expand homeless dogs’ worlds]

Now, David and his boyfriend have a puppy named Trinity, whom they adopted at a Best Friends yoga with dogs event that David helped run smoothly (or as smoothly as possible, considering there were three gleeful puppies running around). And soon, David will depart New York City to continue his nursing studies back in his home state, Virginia.

He’ll be missed, says Jenna Goldberg, Best Friends community engagement coordinator. “David brings a compassion for animals, a positive attitude, and readiness to help that inspires those around him to keep working toward our mission to Save Them All,” she says. “We are all so thankful for his support and for all the incredible work he does to help pets find their homes.”

Learn more about David in the following interview.

What motivates you to volunteer?

I’m motivated by all the staff and volunteers and Best Friends’ mission. I have met some of the kindest, most generous people at Best Friends. There is so much negativity in our society today, but if you walk into the lifesaving center in New York City, you'll find a lot of love.

This, along with the sheer joy of seeing a tail wag when you walk in, or when the senior dog who's got arthritis runs to you for a kiss and then falls asleep with his head on your lap after a walk, how can you not be inspired to just show up and do what you can?

What does volunteering mean to you?

Volunteering brings me such joy. It's completely my choice to do it, and so there's no pressure. Most of my professional life has been in the service industry, so I'm very comfortable in doing for others. But volunteering with animals and seeing the impact in a photo of a dog being spoiled at the park or relaxing in the yard, that's that golden ticket.

Tell us about your favorite volunteer moment.

I would say it was the day we brought three puppies (who happened to be siblings) to a yoga studio for a Best Friends fundraising event. It was the cutest thing I had ever seen. There were probably 30 people in the studio, and these three puppies were just running and jumping around. The event was a huge success, and my boyfriend and I adopted one of the puppies named Trinity. I absolutely fell in love with her and sent a picture to him. The next day she was at home with us.

Trini, as we call her, is such a sweetheart. She’s very smart and loves to sunbathe on the patio. She has made lots of friends in the building and must stop by the front desk to say “Hi” to the doorman on our way in from a walk.

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

Something you don't know is that in 2015, I won a trip to Abu Dhabi on the Today show. It was a contest for the Travel Channel's show 50/50. Myself and another hopeful contestant connected while in line and ended up winning and spent a week in the UAE. Our travels were documented for the premiere episode of the show.

Do you have a superpower? If so, what is it?

I don't know if I have a superpower, but I do feel that I have the ability to connect to people or things. I have been told that I am gentle and warm and easy to be around.

Since becoming a volunteer, what have you learned? Do you see things differently now?

Since becoming a volunteer, I have learned so much about how to care for animals, whether it is the best way to walk a dog who is leash reactive or what the signs are if a cat or dog is scared or shy. One of the many reasons I really respect Best Friends as an organization is that they educate staff and volunteers, so they can provide competent and compassionate care to the animals.

I see things differently today because I have witnessed firsthand what goes into helping animals. I have driven 10 hours to move van loads of dogs, puppies, cats, and kittens. I have fostered 8-week-old puppies and spent the night cleaning up poop. It may be cliché, but it truly does take a village. Through volunteering, I have seen how many good people there are in this world.

Volunteer David Sprague wearing a Best Friends T-shirt and looking eye-to-eye with a dog with cropped ears
Photo courtesy of David Sprague

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