Volunteer Spotlight: Kaelen Haworth

Fashion designer volunteers at Best Friends in SoHo in NYC to care for cats and walk dogs. She enjoys making a meaningful difference for animals.
By Nicole Hamilton

Kaelen Haworth spends most of her days at her studio in New York City’s Chinatown, where she designs clothes worn by women all over the world. But even though she’s a very in-demand designer, Kaelen still finds the time to volunteer at the Best Friends Pet Adoption Center in New York.

The Canadian-born clothing designer rolls up her sleeves at the center and helps out anywhere she’s needed. If dogs need walking, Kaelen’s on it. And if the cats need a pinch of catnip and a little attention, you can count on Kaelen to make that happen, too.

Versatile volunteers like Kaelen make a big difference at the center, which stays busy from open to close, probably because it’s the only place in SoHo where cats can play in the storefront windows.

“Kaelen is one of our rock star volunteers who is always ready to learn more and build up her skills,” says Laura Barnes, foster and volunteer coordinator at the center. “We're so grateful to Kaelen for everything she has contributed to Best Friends in New York. When she’s at the center, you can see how much joy it brings her, as well as to the animals.”

In the following interview, Kaelen explains what motivates her to volunteer and make a difference for homeless animals in New York City.

Volunteer Kaelen Haworth with Erin the dog

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

I actually learned about Best Friends from watching the documentary The Champions, about the rehabilitation of dogs used in dog fighting rings. I was moved by the unwavering belief that these dogs (and other animals) are inherently good and deserving of love. When I started working with Best Friends, I really saw those beliefs and tenets at work every day, in every person at the shelter. And that is something I want to be around.

What inspires you most in your volunteer work?

Seeing all of the people who are working and giving their time to better the lives of animals is so inspiring.

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

You won’t regret it! It’s two hours out of your day and it is genuinely something I look forward to. It’s like free therapy: tons of dogs and cats excited to see you when you walk in. What could be better? And walking the dogs is great because you get to spend time outside. Also walking by the kitten nursery does wonders if you’re having a bad day.

Learn how Best Friends is saving lives in NYC

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

I’ve learned a lot about how to read an animal to get the best out of your interaction with each other. Now I am much more aware of when to give a dog some space, when to engage … I have a better understanding of how my actions can make an animal feel safe and happy.

Emma the dog with volunteer, Kaelen Haworth

What are you most proud in your Best Friends volunteer work?

I am most proud of the fact that each week when I come in to volunteer, most of the animals that I hung out with the week before have been adopted! I think that the volunteers working to raise awareness — even just in the neighborhood and on social media — is really helping to get the animals into good homes.

Tell us about your favorite volunteer moment.

My favorite moment is something that happens a lot: When people on the street come up to me to ask for information on the dogs I’m walking and where to visit them. The dogs wear little vests that say “Adopt me” and the volunteers carry cards. I’ve given out cards on almost every walk I’ve taken. SoHo loves a mutt! Also I was thrilled when Bentley, a very excited and enthusiastic little pit bull terrier, found a home. He was there for a while and was so lovely. He just needed the right human.

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

I’m at work in Chinatown where I design for my clothing line, or I’m at home in the East Village with my family.

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

We (my husband and I) have supported the Bowery Mission and other animal rescue groups in our neck of the woods. We are always looking for more ways to engage.

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

I volunteer because I want to make an impact. I want to contribute to the great work that Best Friends does and be a part of getting shelter animals home. Selfishly, I love spending a few hours outside of work obligations to do something that I love that also happens to be helpful. It’s a win-win.

Volunteer with Best Friends near you

Achilles the dog with volunteer Kaelen Haworth

Photos by Stacey Axelrod