Bonne VeVea is an animal rescue volunteer who captures what it’s like to do the work of saving animals:
“Every single animal has a story. Some are interesting, some are exciting—and some break our hearts.”
Inspiring volunteers like VeVea know there are countless reasons they work so hard, and each of their stories is more uplifting than the last.
As a follow-up to our feature, Animal Rescue Volunteers Share How They Keep Fighting the Good Fight, the Rover.com team reached out to more volunteers who strive to give animals the happy lives they deserve. There’s no better time to extend our gratitude to them.
Animal rescuers have ‘aha!’ moments that lure them to the cause
Saving animals is a tireless pursuit. So what inspires people to take on the challenge? As it turns out, there’s often a pivotal moment that seals the fate of an animal advocate.
“Always an animal lover, I had my ‘aha’ moment about 25 years ago when I saw a couple of women doing a small adoption event at a local Petco,” Bonne, Executive Director of MEOW Cat Rescue in Kirkland, Washington, revealed. “Having two cats at home, I couldn’t adopt — so instead, I asked, ‘How can I help you?’”
After several years of donating her weekends to running adoption events through that organization, she was encouraged to start her own program — although it took a little convincing from her peers!
“One of the rescuers I worked with kept saying, ‘Why don’t you start an organization and I’ll help you?’ My response was to repeat that question back to her!” she laughed. “I knew nothing of the nonprofit world. But together with a few other animal-loving friends, we created Mercer Island Eastside Orphans & Waifs, now more commonly known as MEOW.”
And she never looked back.
“That moment changed my life, but I didn’t know it at the time. I’ve reflected on it, and that was when I turned the corner and went straight into the animal shelter. I had to. I had no choice.”
Pets provide a source of inspiration
Audrey Lemke, Foster Coordinator for Barks of Love in Orange County, California, didn’t have an aha moment — but rather, an aha companion.
“I got my first dog, Finn, at a really difficult time in my life,” she confessed. “There were a bunch of things going on that made life very hard on me, and I felt isolated and very alone.
“Finn just happened to come in at the right time. I felt like he gave me a purpose: he gave me a reason to want to get out of bed every morning, even if it was just to take him for a walk. I didn’t always have a choice — sometimes he would wake up and lick my face, telling me to get up and get ready!”
She realized that there were all kinds of people in need of their own Finn — and way too many creatures like Finn looking for their forever families.
“He just opened up my heart in such a special way that made me want to help these dogs find their families so people can feel what Finn makes me feel every single day,” she said.
Every animal has a story
People who work in animal rescue — and indeed, those who adopt a pet in need! — work to ensure that every creature has a bright future. Of course, they also each have a unique past.
“Some of these dogs have been through so much — they’re extra special, and they would give that extra special love to somebody who would give them the time of day,” Audrey says.
“When an animal comes to the shelter, we can tell which were strays and which were beloved pets,” notes Rhonda Lobsinger, Executive Director of Bathurst SPCA / Animal Shelter in Bathurst, New Brunswick, Canada. “The strays seem to be happy to have food, water and shelter, and they adapt easily.”
But while homeless animals seem grateful for their newfound refuge, once-beloved pets are often in a state of shock.
“They refuse to eat for anywhere from three to five days,” Rhonda said. “Some become catatonic, staring at the back of the cage, not reacting to our voice or touch.”
An animal’s suffering can be a mystery
While there are often clues as to what an animal has endured, their past is sometimes a mystery — and although people in rescue work to reveal the missing pieces, this process takes time.
“I wish people knew that the rescue doesn’t always know the full backstory of these dogs,” Audrey admitted, adding, “We have a rule [at Barks of Love] that a dog must stay in a foster home for at least two weeks before we even make it available to be adopted. That way, our foster families can get a sense of what the dog is really like.”
Fostering not only provides insight into a critter’s true character, but also builds a more solid foundation for their transition into a home environment.
“Some of the animals that we get don’t do well here, and we feel they need to go to foster homes to learn how to live in a home,” concurred Allison Amico, Adoption Counselor for Northeast Animal Shelter in Salem, Massachusetts.
“We have dogs and cats that have behavioral issues that go into foster care. We also have dogs and cats that have medical issues that need to be attended to 24/7, and with all the pets here and the stressful environment, this is not the best place for them. So they go into foster care, and once they are there, we get to know them better. We have wonderful foster families that help us out. We’re able to place them in a home and know exactly what they are going to be like in a home. It really helps them.”
“It takes a lot of time and caring for these animals to turn around into adoptable animals,” Rhonda continued. “We do our best to give them a comfortable environment, but in reality, no animal is truly happy in a cage with little human contact.”
Networking with other rescues is critical
Saving animals is all about teamwork — and sometimes, that helping hand comes from another rescue organization!
“I think we’re really lucky around here,” Bonne said. “We’ve got a lot of rescues and independent rescuers we work with. It’s really important not only to share information, but to step in and help each other whenever we can. We often get calls from other groups about animals with special needs who are less adoptable, and we take them in as often as possible.”
“When we get serious inquiries when a dog’s life is at stake, we do whatever we can to help that dog, even if it is suggesting it to another rescue,” Audrey said. “Because the rescue world is very small, we like to have a lot of partnerships with different rescues that cater to those situations, and vice versa. We love working with all types of communities in order to get these dogs help.
“… Some people get a little anxious if they work with our rescue but want to work with another rescue as well, and they believe we think they betrayed us. No!” Audrey laughed. “Our main goal is to help the dogs. We are willing to work with people however we can and in whichever ways are best for the dogs.”
It’s just as important to work with the community
Perhaps the most inspiring lesson we took away from our conversations was that we all have the power to make a difference — and rescuers are willing to work with their communities however they can to give everyone a chance to save lives.
“People have different talents,” Audrey said. “Since Barks of Love is a volunteer- and foster-based rescue, we love utilizing people’s talents!”
She especially enjoys when people are able to contribute in ways they wouldn’t have thought could be lifesaving.
“If we have people who are graphic designers who want to help with promotional items or creating designs for fliers, we are always open to that. If people want to help with transportation, we are always open to that. We try to work with our volunteers as much as we can, especially when we’re able to talk to them and can get an idea of what they like to do.”
And even the seemingly-smallest of gestures is cherished by the rescues — and the animals they care for.
“No act is too small in the eyes of an animal,” assured Jacqueline Diaz-Mewes, Co-founder and Executive Director of Voices in the Dark Animal Rescue in Cleveland, Ohio. “Never be afraid to just do what you can, even if it is just donating one bag of litter or toys a year. That one item means the world to the rescue and the animal.”
Balancing work, life, and rescue
Part of the reason that any amount of help from peers or the community is so valuable is that there are no “days off” in the animal rescue world — no matter how many other acts volunteers are juggling alongside their passion project.
“Our events coordinator, director and I all have separate full-time jobs aside from Barks of Love,” Audrey said.
And sometimes, these two parts of their lives must compete with each other for the sake of the animals.
“For a lot of emergency cases — like when a dog is going to be euthanized — if we don’t have a volunteer available to pull it from the shelter, a lot of us take personal time off in order to go get it. This really is our passion.
“I wish people knew that,” she admitted. “Our rescue wants to help as many animals as we can as quickly as we can, but sometimes because of our jobs, we are not able to.”
“The biggest challenge working in animal rescue is allowing yourself time to have a life outside of it,” agreed Jacqueline. “Animal rescue is very consuming, and you are often the first call someone you know will make when they need help — this happens at all hours of the day and night. Most people think their issue is the only one you have on your plate. It can be very overwhelming, and leads to burnout for most people.”
Happy endings take work, but they happen again and again
Their work is not without its share of hardships—but every rescuer we spoke with agreed the rewards are more than worth the effort.
“Each day, I see new furry faces arrive at the shelter, and it is so rewarding to see each one of them get a second chance in a loving forever home,” Allison glowed.
And while emotionally exhausting, the most heartbreaking cases wind up being some of their proudest success stories.
“The most difficult cases are the ones which are the most gratifying,” Bonne said. “It’s wonderful when that frightened or aggressive cat finally rubs against an outstretched hand, or that senior cat with medical issues has become stable and manageable — and someone wants to adopt her!”
“Working with special needs animals, I have the amazing gift to watch animals transform every day. Each one has a journey that inspires me,” Jacqueline said. “Animals have an amazing gift of perseverance and can often, against all odds, have an amazing will to fight.”
And that fighting spirit helps drive these generous protectors to persevere, because no matter how hopeless a journey may seem, there is always an opportunity to pave the way for an animal’s happy ever after.
“Every single animal that has walked through our doors has an amazing story and has truly touched my heart. I am truly the blessed one to get to work with them every single day,” Jacqueline added.
“Seeing these animals flourish and find forever homes is such an awesome feeling,” Rhonda echoed. “I can’t think of a job I’d rather do.”