Find your joy helping needy pets
By Katherine Heerbrandt
People who have an affinity for animals and want to make a difference in their lives can serve in a variety of volunteer roles at the Santa Fe Animal Shelter and Humane Society. Several dedicated animal-loving Santa Fe County Democrats took the training to become dog walkers, just one of several volunteer options coordinated by the Community Service Program.
Elizabeth Broyles and husband George wasted no time signing on to walk dogs after joining the Santa Fe County Democrats in January 2023. The Shelter offered a way to get their dog “fix,” Elizabeth said, and offer some comfort to dogs at the shelter.
The couple found their dog Meg by fostering her for a few months, another way to give dogs a break from the Shelter. Although Elizabeth admits it’s often “emotionally difficult to come to terms with these dogs’ circumstances,” spending time with them is far more rewarding than it is sad, she said.
The Shelter’s program has 277 volunteers who contributed 33,427 hours year-to-date since March 2023, across many areas of shelter operations. Those include fostering, dog walking and enrichment, medical, retail at the two Cat Resale Stores, adoption support, community outreach, housekeeping and administrative, according to Volunteer Coordinator Tony Wasowicz. Additionally, corporate, alumni, faith-based, and school groups often come for a day of service or on a recurring basis.
Tony himself started as a volunteer dog walker at the Shelter, and later served as Volunteer Liaison. Working as a volunteer lends him a perspective he carries into his current role. To that end, Tony immediately created stronger communication channels between staff and volunteers, and expanded opportunities for volunteers to serve and be served.
“As a volunteer, I saw ways that things could work better,” Tony said. “Now we look for input from volunteers. We want to tap their creativity and to engage more with them to make this a better place.”
Shelter staff recognize the critical role that volunteers play in day-day-operations, and have planned activities for them to expand their knowledge about animal behavior and training, and to socialize with each other. Aside from special events and gatherings, the Shelter offers regular classes, including how to read dog body language, how to handle dog fights and loose dogs, and how to mentally stimulate dogs through nose work
The Shelter’s volunteers run the gamut in age and experience – the oldest is 91 – but share a compassion for animals and a passion for keeping them safe. SF County Dem Linda Burchfiel has been walking dogs at the shelter for nearly two years. Linda admits she spoils her own dog, and chose to work at the Shelter because “all dogs are deserving,” she said.
Fellow Democrat Karla Lauritsen began volunteering at the Shelter at the same time as Linda in March 2022. She chose to walk dogs because she, too, enjoys the direct interaction. Karla admits other volunteer activities kept her away the past few months, but plans to change that very soon.
“Taking them for a walk, then taking them to the play yard is very rewarding,” Karla said. “These dogs need people, and they remember you!”
Dogs and the humans who interact with them benefit from their togetherness. The dogs receive care and attention from loving people; humans get a boost in serotonin, and the exchange creates a positive feedback loop.
Still, some would-be volunteers worry they may be too tender hearted to work with shelter animals. Talking to other volunteers can help allay those concerns. Long-term volunteer Lyn deMartin has volunteered at the Santa Fe Animal Shelter for 25 years, and remembers helping move shelter operations from the original location on Cerrillos Road to the 100-acre facility on Caja Del Rio in July 2005.
Prior, she helped establish a permanent shelter in Las Vegas, New Mexico. Although volunteerism was part of her upbringing– she began by reading to the blind at age 15 – she was initially hesitant to volunteer with dogs because she was afraid it would be too emotionally draining.
Lyn said two things happened to help her overcome that fear. The first thing, she said, was to get over the idea of crying in public. Secondly, she recognized that her heart would suffer a little after each visit. “I realized I just had to deal with that because it was worth it,” she said.
Aside from the personal benefits of working with animals and like-minded people, volunteers help relieve Shelter staff. The need is great, according to Volunteer Liaison Barbara Leighnor.
“Sheltering is tough right now and dogs continue to flow in at record numbers. And this is the pattern we are seeing everywhere. Add to that staffing challenges and we are experiencing a greater need for volunteers than ever before,” Barbara wrote in a recent email to volunteers. Her message expressed gratitude for those who volunteer while reiterating the need for a sustained effort. Volunteer Coordinator Tony said ideally, the Shelter could use at least 200 more volunteers.
To learn more about volunteer opportunities, contact Volunteer Coordinator Tony Wasowicz at 505-983-4309, ext. 1128; and at . For more information about the Shelter, visit sfhumanesociety.org.
Katherine Heerbrandt is a SF County Dem who also volunteers at the Santa Fe Animal Shelter.