How I Started Volunteering: Part 2

If you are coming back from my previous blog post, thank you! My journey getting involved in fostering came with trying out all types of volunteering activities that I could, to find what spoke to me. After internal shelter volunteering activities, the next activities that truly got me the most involved at NHS, were Hiking Buddies and Pets on Tour. Both of these programs were turning points into realizing how close animal rescue was to me and how much further I could go.

This was Hans who jumped in my car and made himself comfortable right off the bat!

Hiking Buddies is a program where volunteers can take approved dogs out for a whole day and return them by dinner. I would take dogs on hikes, walk downtown, and even just hang out and relax at my apartment. Any time out of the shelter for these animals is a great way to show them off to potential adopters, take good photos, and be able to give information on their personality! I really liked this program because I felt like I was truly helping the animal relieve some stress outside of the shelter setting. It is a great program that I would especially recommend to college students who want to get a pet, as it can give a realistic understanding to taking on an animal.

The other program that I was widely involved in was Pets on Tour. These are events around the community where we bring adoptive animals and try to help them find homes in our community. These events can be at pet stores, shopping malls, car dealerships – anywhere! Some people will fall in love with an animal and just have to take them home that day; and some come to our events every week trying to find the perfect pet. This opportunity helped me understand the full process of rescuing an animal as I was able to be a ‘lead’ and conduct adoption interviews and process applications.

I would like to shed light on the fact that an hour of your week can truly help the staff and animals at your local shelter SO much. Whether you want to directly work with animals, you like talking to people who are interested in adopting, are very organized, and much more, there is a place for you to help. Consider using your strengths to help your local animal shelter! If you have any questions or don’t know where to start, please send me an email at kaelinleavitt@gmail.com and I would be more than happy to help. Please leave a comment on what your thoughts are on your local shelters’ volunteer programs!

How I Started Volunteering: Part 1

As you follow along with my journey of fostering animals, you’ll need to realize that I didn’t just wake up one morning and say, “Hey, I’m going to find an animal to take care of today!” I went online and did some research on the animal rescues in my area. The Nevada Humane Society (NHS) was the one I was most drawn to through their values, no-kill initiatives, and overall atmosphere. I signed up for orientation and went on November 14th, 2019.

When I got to orientation, they had a list of different types of volunteering activities that you could choose from: cat enrichment, laundry, front desk assistance, clinic work, spay/neuter packs, walking dogs, and fostering were some of the options given. I had originally signed up for cat enrichment and front desk assistance as those seemed like easier tasks to start out with. I went through orientation and learned the ropes and about a week later signed up for my first session for cat enrichment. This included brushing, playing with them, treats, and overall, stimulating their brain while they are in the shelter. This was awesome! I felt like I was truly helping each one of these animals and giving them the love and attention they deserved.

I then started helping with other tasks as needed such as laundry, filing paperwork, and helping clinic staff when they had busy spay/neuter days with paperwork and filing. I then decided that I was comfortable enough to start walking dogs. At NHS, the dogs are categorized into green, yellow, and purple dot dogs. Green dogs were usually older, calm, and not too big. Yellow dot dogs could be a little larger, stronger, and more energetic. And purple dot dogs are either small dog breeds, dogs that have yet to be tested on demeanor, or dogs that are not yet socialized enough to be around volunteers. I received my green and yellow dot training and was walking dogs at least once a week, in between classes. This was so fun!

Learning how to spend time with cats and enrich their experience in the shelter, as well as take dogs out of the kennels for playtime, walks, and socialization, really helped me realize the impact just an hour of my time had on these animals. I didn’t know it yet, but this realization was part of being drawn to fostering animals.

*Please note, it is not recommended to put your face this close to an animal. Be careful and use educated judgement.

I think the most important thing that I learned in my first few months of volunteering at NHS, was how much I was drawn to animal rescue. I was starting to understand the different ways to be involved and how I could use my time and strengths to help these animals. I will continue to tell you all how I started volunteering in my next blog post, so subscribe to be the first to read! In the meantime, I challenge you to look up at least one local shelter in your area and give them a follow on social media.

There is Beauty in the Battle

This phrase resonates with me more than any other I have come across. There is beauty in the battle. This phrase has helped me understand that no matter what you are going through, you have to find the beauty in your situation and in your story. Here is my story.

I grew up in what I would consider a normal 21st-century family, and some of my hardships in life, such as my parent’s divorce, were considerably simple to get through. That is until a few weeks after my 21st birthday. It was every parent’s worst nightmare and now my life. I traveled down to Las Vegas, Nevada, with tickets to the Route 91 Harvest Music Festival with my mom, her significant other, and two friends. We were celebrating my 21st birthday a few weeks late and ready for an eventful and fun weekend. Which it was, until October 1st, 2017, at 10:05 pm, when we became survivors of the deadliest mass shooting in American history. To this day, I am still so thankful that the five of us made it home safe, as this was not the case for most.

This may seem like a personal story and you may be wondering, “Why is she sharing this to a bunch of strangers on the internet?” I am sharing this because I believe that the more I share my story and what came out of this event, I could help or inspire someone to find their path as well. I came home from Vegas mentally and emotionally broken. I had so many questions that would never be answered and so many emotions that I still feel every day. I truly believe an event such as this one can stay with you for the rest of your life.

I had extreme survivor’s guilt. I would go online daily and read about every single one of the 58 people who lost their lives that day – what they did for a living, who they were as a person, if they had children, their family they left behind – all of it. I would sit there and wonder why the teacher who dedicated her life to educating children lost her life. I wondered why a college student was alive over a firefighter, EMT, police office, and veteran who all ran to save lives that day. These may seem like crazy emotions, but anyone who has experienced survivor’s guilt would know exactly how this feels. I knew I was strong, I knew I would get through this, but I still couldn’t help but feel guilty for being alive.

This is how I got started volunteering at my local shelter, the Nevada Humane Society. I decided that I needed to become a person that I was proud of, one that did not feel guilty for being alive. This also came with a lot of therapy, but I don’t think people realize the amount of serotonin and dopamine that an animal releases when you pet them! Being an avid animal lover, I decided this was where I would start. I started doing smaller tasks such as taking dogs for walks, playing with cats, and laundry work. I quickly realized how much I enjoyed helping these animals and how much they were helping me. I moved into different leadership roles within the volunteer work and was able to lead off-site events and conduct adoption counseling and applications. I started feely worthy of the life I was living.

Knowing that this was something I was passionate about, I set out to foster 58 animals in memory of those that lost their lives on that awful day. And three days before my college graduation in May of 2019, I took in my very first foster – a pregnant cat who was due with five kittens! Since that day, I have fostered 23 animals and continue feeling fulfilled with each and every one. I knew I was making a difference that I always felt the need to make.

I hope that you will follow along in my journey from living through trauma, finding my way, and discovering my true passion. I will guide you all through the steps I took to be an animal foster parent, the supplies you will need, the different types of fosters you can care for, and everything in between. I hope to shed light on trauma and that it does not have to be stigmatized as something that cannot be talked about and something that can have good come out of it. Follow along with how I found the beauty in my battle.