Two volunteers, helping animals in countless ways

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Alida and Gary sitting with a cat in his lap
From transporting pets to fostering cats, Alida and Gary Oldham are always ready to help.
By Nicole Hamilton

A little over two years ago, Alida and Gary Oldham decided the time was finally right to start fostering pets. Back when they lived in New Zealand, Gary’s allergies to cats, dogs and many other things meant fostering pets was out of the question. But over the years and after moving to Salt Lake City in 2015, Gary’s allergies cleared up. Couple this with the pandemic that left them with more time on their hands at home and it seemed like the perfect time to get involved helping animals in shelters.

[Foster volunteer prepares to welcome her 100th kitten]

Soon after signing up to foster cats with Best Friends in Salt Lake City, Alida and Gary welcomed Roman into their home. They enjoyed their four-legged houseguest so much that they adopted him. Then, after fostering more cats, along came Cinna. It didn’t take them long to decide he was already home, too.  

You’d think that after two foster wins, Alida and Gary would be inclined to call it a wrap. But Cinna and Roman only inspired them to help animals even more. Today, Gary is a dedicated volunteer driver who loves making overnight trips all over Utah and elsewhere. In fact, he often drives pets from partner shelters in Salt Lake City to Best Friends Animal Sanctuary in Kanab. “The amount of animals Gary has transported from at-risk situations is incredible,” says Rhoney Richens, a Best Friends supervisor.

It doesn’t stop there, either. Gary and Alida also help keep track of in-kind donations and complete general volunteer cleaning shifts. And Gary has even detailed the transport vans. “They are truly lifesavers,” says Rhoney.

You can learn more about Gary and Alida in the following volunteer spotlight Q&A.

Sarah Ause Kichas

How long have you been volunteering and why did you decide to get involved?

(Alida) Because Gary is allergic to cats, dogs and many other things, we never planned to get another pet after moving here from New Zealand in 2015. As a result, I was living vicariously through cat videos on the internet, which was how I eventually discovered animal fostering was a thing. It seemed like a perfect way to have a cat without any long-term commitment, just in case it didn’t work out.

[4 volunteers helping in unique ways]

I researched what our options were for fostering in Utah and discovered Best Friends. We brought home Roman, our first foster cat in February 2019. He came straight out of his carrier and rubbed on Gary’s leg. We foster-failed within two weeks and any rules about where in the house the cats can’t go have long since been abandoned. Best Friends has been such a great organization to work with and we’ve since discovered several other ways we can volunteer, which is how Gary got into doing animal transports on a regular basis.

Sarah Ause Kichas

Tell us more about how you’re volunteering.

(Gary) I really enjoy driving, especially here in Utah with the amazing scenery; so, being able to combine that with helping animals has been very rewarding. Transports range from scheduled runs to spay/neuter clinics (and) pet meals on wheels to more urgent needs like surgeries and relocating animals from shelters that don’t have enough room for them. Getting these animals where they need to go is an important part of the overall process of reaching no-kill.

(Alida) The fostering program with Best Friends is very flexible and easy to get into. So far, we’ve fostered only adult cats and have been in a position where they are able to stay with us until they are adopted. That can take less than a week or sometimes many months.

Usually, the cats we’ve fostered have integrated well with the two resident cats to the point where we have had up to three foster cats in the house at once. Saying goodbye is the hardest part, but it’s made a little easier by being able to hold meet-and-greets with the potential adopters and, of course, making room for another cat to arrive.

What do you love most about volunteering?

(Gary) Some of the cats we’ve fostered have been sick or very shy. Being able to help these animals get well again or (help them) learn that people are not scary is our favorite part of volunteering. Not all cats are lap cats, but it’s especially rewarding when we get to snuggle with them.

Sarah Ause Kichas

What would you tell others who want to get involved helping animals? 

(Alida) Every little bit helps. Even if you don’t have much time or space, there are opportunities out there. In addition to fostering and transports, we’ve also done a few general cleaning shifts, (cleaned) the vans and (done) some data entry from home. Best Friends has some great resources on ways you can get involved.

Tell us about one of your favorite volunteer moments.

(Gary) One of our favorite volunteer moments was a transport we did to the Sanctuary and back up to the lifesaving center in Salt Lake City. It was one of the few transports we’ve been able to do together. We were able to stay in the Best Friends Roadhouse and Mercantile and then briefly visit Dogtown at the Sanctuary to pick up our passengers. One of them was a Great Dane mix that was too large for a crate, so he rode in the back of the van and had his head on the center console the whole way home.

(Alida) He was such a sweet boy and probably would have crawled into the front seats with us if he could.

What inspires you to volunteer?

(Alida) Being able to work with animals has always been something I’ve wanted to do, so volunteering with Best Friends has been a great way to be able to do that. The staff and foster community are very supportive and knowledgeable, and it’s really encouraging to see and share stories of all the animals who’ve been saved and gone on to find their forever homes.

Sarah Ause Kichas

Volunteer to help pets

There are countless way to help pets where you live, so why not reach out to your local shelter and get involved?

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