Sometimes people ask me why I volunteer at an animal shelter. Honestly, they’re probably expecting a very brief simple answer. But, for me, it’s a very challenging question that I don’t really know if I know all the reasons why I do it. Maybe by writing this… I’ll discover something else or better yet maybe it will inspire one other person to consider volunteering.
Oh, let me get it out the way in case someone reading this doesn’t know, I volunteer for the city of Los Angeles, for the department of animal services (LAAS) at one of the six branches. The branch I volunteer at mostly is North Central, located at 3201 Lacy Street, 90031.
Anyway… Yesterday, I had a young actress, who starred in a film that I wrote and produced last October, shadow me while volunteering. She got to walk several dogs. Meet other dogs that other volunteers were handling. She got to see a few adoptions happen. And the whole time I was wondering if she was enjoying herself or not.
Two plus hours flew by… and then she told me how she felt kind of guilty because she had such a good time and she wasn’t sure if she should’ve felt like she had a good time because the situation the dogs and other animals are in.
This is what I told her…
She should absolutely not feel bad for having had a good time. We are there to help animals find the right match for new homes. To help them get out of their kennels for exercise and love. Volunteers, at least where I put hours in, are constantly working together as a team to improve animals lives. Whether it be rabbits, turtles, dogs, guinea pigs, (and occasionally snakes, chickens, horses, pigs, sheep…) It IS very often a good time. Volunteers often joke with each other, hang out, tag team with animals or adopters, share stories, and often inspire or motivate one another.
But, that is just one reason why I enjoy volunteering. As it’s not all sunshine and rainbows. It can also be emotionally draining. Physically challenging. Bureaucratically frustrating. But ask any long-time volunteer why they are doing it… And the quickest answer they will tell you is, “it’s for the animals.”
The parts they may not tell you is it’s also for themselves. For many, many reasons, some they may never fully realize.
Personally, I make a living as an actor, pretending to do things. Working with animals is real. Animals only know how to be real. They do not fake anything. They are moment to moment. They are honest. They are incredibly empathetic. They are honest critics. They are mirrors of ourselves. They trust. They love. They feel. They react.
Volunteering with animals also gives me purpose. A goal. A mission. Changing a family‘s life by matching them to a new family member is one of the most amazing things you will feel. Sometimes when it clicks, there’s not a dry in the room.
Turning around a shutdown dog. Or building trust with a dog who trusts no one. Or taking a dog that society has given up on, and proving that they can be amazing and lovable… is addicting.
Without getting too much deeper… In my youth for a period of time I was a victim of bullying. Possibly that led me to now having a deep compassion for any creature or individual that is terrified, shut down, alone, nervous, defensive… Possibly by helping animals somehow I am repairing my own inner child. I really don’t know. That’s all therapy stuff.
What I can say is there is something magical and healing about taking animals that owners have given up on, building their trust, allowing them to remember what trust and happiness is… to remember that they’re dogs or cats… And when you are part of a team that helps find them everlasting love in a warm and supportive loving home well there’s not much better.
Volunteering with animals is a lot of risk and reward. If you are lucky enough to be trained enough, to be trusted enough, to log enough hours, to work with the most challenging animals, it is the highest risk… But it also is the greatest reward.
It’s a lot of sweat, possible blood, probable tears, definite smiles, unbelievable passion, deep friendships, trust, time, effort…
Nothing worthwhile is easy. But volunteers, no matter what they volunteer doing, are some of the best people I know.
Anyway, that’s why I volunteer. Or some of the reasons. Whether I volunteer where I volunteer for another day for the rest of my life… I will probably always volunteer somewhere. I have volunteered for animal rescues, the Hollywood YMCA, Los Angeles City zoo, very many theater companies, as well as a number of other places…
If you’re interested in volunteering with animals my advice is to go slow. Go slower than you think you should. Learn all you can. Animals in shelters are not equivalent to animals in loving homes. They face stresses and pressures that no pet should ever feel.
If you live in Los Angeles and want to volunteer for LAAS do a web search for “Los Angeles Animal Services volunteer” or go to the following link read what the city says about volunteering and fill out an application: https://www.laanimalservices.com/volunteer/
If you live outside of LA but still want to volunteer with animals, do a web search for your area. Punch in words like Animal Shelter. Dog Rescue. Cat Rescue. There’s all sorts of animal rescues. Horses. Farm animals. Bunnies. You name it. And most of them would love to have your dedicated and patient help.
About Tom: https://www.imdb.com/name/nm0452622/
Born in Hackensack, New Jersey, Tom Kiesche grew up in a household of seven, a tall, awkward target of school bullies until discovering the comradery of weight rooms and the self-discipline of Okinawa-Te Karate. A multi-sport athlete throughout college, he graduated with a major in biology and a minor in chemistry. His life changed one electric evening when Kiesche followed a whim and walked into a Theatre Sports improv comedy show. This experience lit a long-dormant fuse, and within a month he was on stage with that same company. His presence did not go unnoticed, and local directors were soon approaching him for more serious roles, impressed by what they saw in the tall, muscular man, with classic good looks and impeccable comedic timing.