U.S. serviceman honored for his work helping homeless pets

U.S. serviceman Christian Ordonez is honored with the Military Outstanding Volunteer Service Medal for volunteering with Best Friends in Salt Lake City.
By Nicole Hamilton

Christian Ordonez was looking for ways to give back to his community when he learned about volunteering at the Best Friends Lifesaving Center in Salt Lake City. As an animal lover passionate about helping pets, he couldn’t think of a better fit.

Not long after he signed up to volunteer, Christian, who serves in the Navy, became a very familiar face at the center, where he helped out every way and every chance he could.

“Everyone, from the volunteer coordinators to the rest of the staff and volunteers, are so passionate and helpful that I just wanted to keep coming back to do more and more,” says Christian, who logged more than 250 hours of volunteer time at the center. His determination to make a difference in the lives of pets didn’t go unnoticed by the Navy, who recently awarded him with the Military Outstanding Volunteer Service Medal.

It’s an award that Christian more than earned, according to Patrick Theobald, Best Friends volunteer coordinator in Salt Lake City. “Christian is dedicated and reliable, and more importantly he really cares about our mission to save Utah pets. He’s the kind of person who is happy to step in and help wherever needed. If he signed up to walk dogs but we needed help with cleaning, he’d gladly change gears and pitch in.”

Christian’s recent transfer across the country has created a void at the center, where his perpetual positive energy is greatly missed. In honor of Christian’s service to our country and our pets, we thought we’d shine the spotlight on him this Fourth of July in the following interview.

Volunteer Christian Ordonez wearing a Best Friends sweatshirt giving a thumbs up from behind some large bags of dog food

What inspires you most in your volunteer work?

This may sound strange, but the classes I took at the center on cat care and dog walking were both really inspiring. The take-away for me was that it’s our responsibility as humans to take care of animals. And, after talking one-on-one with the staff and asking a lot of questions, I found out that I only knew a fraction of why pets in shelters need our help.

What would you tell others who are thinking of volunteering to help pets and shelters in their communities?

I really love talking to people about volunteering and what I try to advocate for the most is fostering. I let people know that when they foster, things like pet food, toys and any medical care that the pets need is taken care of. I was surprised when I learned this myself and I get the same reaction sometimes when I tell others.

Volunteer Christian Ordonez walking a dog on a leash in front of a mural on a wall featuring vintage cars

What are you most proud of in your volunteer work?

Definitely my consistency and my willingness to do any job that’s asked of me, whether its washing dishes and pans or taking on a mountain of laundry. Doing these less-than-glamorous jobs lets the staff concentrate on helping pets get adopted.

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

Of course, work, but I also love to travel. I’ll road trip by myself, camp along the way and go to national parks. I do amateur photography and keep it fun — nothing too serious. Find me on Instagram.


A post shared by Christian O. (@lostwithoutacairn) on

Tell us something we don’t know about you.

I collect dirt! Weird right? I’m not a huge fan of souvenirs but I’m trying to hike the highest natural point in each state. When I get to the top, I snag a small sample of dirt for my collection and put it in a jar. Not looking forward to Denali!

Volunteer Christian Ordonez moving large bags of dog food on a cart

Tell us about your favorite volunteer moment.

That’s easy! There was a dog who I had walked several times over the course of a few weeks. He was a rather large dog and would usually spend most of his time just lying on his bed. Every time I went into his run, he would slightly shake, and I would have to sit next to him for a few minutes petting him before I took him outside.

One day, a couple walked in and the dog got up and was super excited to see them, jumping up and putting his paws on the door. Surprised, I told the couple that he hadn’t done that for anyone. That’s when they told me they’d been fostering him and that they had come back to adopt him. It was a really good moment knowing he’d be loved for the rest of his life.

Volunteer and be a hero for pets where you live

Best Friends in Utah works collaboratively with animal rescue groups, city shelters and passionate individuals all dedicated to the mission of making Utah a no-kill state. As part of this mission, Best Friends hosts adoption and fundraising events, runs the Best Friends Lifesaving Center in Salt Lake City, operates a spay/neuter clinic and leads the No-Kill Utah (NKUT) initiative. Together, we will Save Them All.

Photos by Erin Fell