My Volunteer Evolution

By Andrea Gremer
SFACC Volunteer and Friends Board Alum

I feel like this should start with, “Once upon a time, long, long ago…” because in many ways my entanglement with SF Animal Care & Control is one of the most unlikely stories of my life. Since I started volunteering at SFACC I’ve had six jobs and countless hobbies that I’ve picked up and dropped. My numerous dates and several ex-boyfriends might say I have a problem with commitment. I’ve never stuck with a therapist long enough to find out if they’re right.

During my first job with the City, my dog Jake passed away. We got Jake when I was 10 and he lived to be 17 years old. Without waxing too sentimental here, there’s a scene in Goodfellas where Ray Liotta’s character says something to the effect of, “When a dog you got as a kid dies, a little piece of you dies too.” That was certainly true for me, and my new coworkers noticed. Someone I worked with mentioned that her friends’ cousin’s neighbor, or someone within six degrees of Kevin Bacon, volunteered at SF Animal Care & Control and loved it and maybe that would help me be less sad.

Twelve years ago, I knew zero things about animal rescue, even less about open-admission shelters, and in general felt very skeptical about volunteering, but I went to the orientation and signed up to be trained as a dog volunteer. As a busy, young professional it was a perfect setup where I could go in whenever I had free time, get some steps in and cuddle with some furballs. I read that these things are good for your mental health and I can certainly confirm that to be true. A few years later someone recruited me to be a dog volunteer mentor and teach new volunteers how to volunteer. I know what you’re thinking, and yes some people need to be taught how to hold a leash and everyone needs to practice harnessing a wiggly six-month-old, 40-pound puppy that is just SO EXCITED TO SEE YOU!! I certainly needed help with both of those things when I started. New volunteers really run the gamut─from folks who are trying to get over their fear of dogs to people who have had dogs with significant behavior problems and had to manage them so they didn’t bite every person they met. I’ve mentored former VPs and recovering drug addicts. You never know in what corner of the world you’ll find other animal people.

As a mentor, you also get to be one of the few who are allowed to walk certain dogs. Like Calvin, a huge Mastiff that our Animal Control Officers had found hiding in a bush at a park just a few blocks from the shelter. The edges of his ears had been eaten away by mites and even after several weeks at the shelter he was still visibly underweight. He barked at anyone who walked past his kennel and had a generally scary appearance in his kennel despite being a big baby. We’d go out for walks and barely make it to a sunny spot in front of the building before he’d lay down for a belly rub. I don’t know anyone at SFACC that didn’t love Calvin, but I’m not sure he ever even had a get acquainted because of his size and loud voice. Eventually Calvin went to a rescue group to be a support animal for Veterans.

A few years after that, I offered to help out with the Friends of San Francisco Animal Care & Control (Friends), the non-profit arm that fundraises on behalf of the shelter, and found myself on the Board. Friends is a little bit of a mystery, probably because they don’t typically do things that are big and splashy. I think of Friends as a backstop: the organization that is there to make sure things don’t fall through the cracks. They pay for several part-time positions in the Behavior & Training (B&T) Department (without whom the shelter would fall to pieces, I’m fairly sure). They pay for certain medical procedures that ACC has to outsource because our mighty vet staff of two vets and two vet techs don’t have the resources to deal with them─such as amputations or temporary conditions that require 24-hour care. They also give out annual micro-grants to our rescue/adoption partners who are an absolutely invaluable resource in getting animals out of the stressful shelter environment.

Friends does incredibly important work, even if it remains mostly hidden. As a Board member and a volunteer, I was lucky to be able to see the ACC requests, but then also see the results and what a difference they make. I met some incredible people on the Board, smart, empathetic, creative problem solvers. Ironically I resigned from the Board to give myself more free time (which I probably would’ve used to walk dogs at ACC, if I’m being honest), only to find myself in a Covid lockdown three months later re-watching Game of Thrones to pass the hours.

Volunteers weren’t allowed into the shelter during the first year and a half of the pandemic. Not that it stopped me from taking a dog or two on a field trip or from stopping by to drop off cookies for friends who work there. Finally, last summer during kitten season, the vet staff put out a call for help to a group of dog volunteers. They were swamped and needed people to help out in the vet room. It was the first opportunity to start volunteering again and I pounced on it.

Unlike walking dogs where I would occasionally sit outside the shelter, on the sidewalk, in the sun, for an hour petting and cuddling with a dog, there is rarely a dull moment in the vet room. Between cleaning surgical equipment, administering meds, laundry, medical evaluations, ACOs bringing in animals in distress, ranting about the state of our healthcare system (both human and animal), getting more towels, and making sure our daily visitors get a little socialization, it is a busy room. I’ve recently learned how to draw vaccines, so I feel like now I’m basically qualified to do your kidney transplant. My favorite task though is delivering hot dog/cream cheese masterpieces filled with meds to some of our canine residents.

I might eventually walk adoptable dogs again or I might start volunteering with the unavailable dogs in our Fetch program, but ACC and I are in this for the long haul. When I think back over the last 12 years there, and what I want out of the next 12, two common threads come to mind. One is that I’m constantly learning new things at ACC. We are continually learning new things about dog behavior and B&T Dept. does an excellent job at keeping volunteers updated. I’ve learned about the health code and how the City is structured and run. I’ve learned about how to run a nonprofit organization, and how to fundraise and network. I’ve helped to give ringworm medication to guinea pigs (they look so surprised!). I’m learning about kittens and their medications, and the challenges that come with running a high-volume foster program. The second, and probably more important thread, is the people. In all my various roles, I’ve had the opportunity to interact with almost every department in the shelter. People frequently tell me that I “know everyone,” which I’m sure isn’t true because animal welfare has such a high turnover rate among staff. But I do know quite a few of “everyone” and I feel incredibly lucky to have met several of my best friends through ACC. We recently had a volunteer appreciation party and someone said, “I came for the animals, but I stayed for the people.” and I couldn’t agree more. As an introvert, I often feel like the people at ACC and on the Friends board adopted me in spite of myself.

One of the best things I ever heard an adopter say about ACC was that we really know our animals. They had shopped around at other rescues and were struck by how well we know each one of the available dogs. If they prefer playing fetch to going for a walk; if they love their stuffed elephant; if they are really excited in the kennel, but calm right down as soon as you get them outside; if they love to play in the kiddie pool, but hate the rain. We really know our animals. Because the people at ACC─staff and volunteers─all really care. The front desk will make special announcements when adopted animals come back to visit, “attention staff and volunteers, Max is in the lobby if you’d like to come say hello.” and we all flock to the first floor for a reunion.

I’ve been wracking my brain for the perfect story that encompasses ACC, but there’re honestly too many to pick just one. Calvin, obviously, but also Cloudy, Bedda, the Hurricane Irma rescues, Max, Melody, the wine puppies and the cocktail puppies, Bullwinkle, Brenda, Remus and Remy, baby Reggie, Linus, Wesley, Porkchop, Sonny (the good boy), Kiska (the model), Rufus (the goofus), Faith who had the best kennel card write up of all time, Milo (a goober), Sweet Jane, at least six Brunos and at least seven Lunas, Chester, Sara Jessica Barker, Smokey Bear, and Murphey and about five hundred others. And those are just the dogs!

I did recently stumble upon a quote that I think about sums it up, “Keep rescuing animals, you may lose your mind, but you will surely find your soul.” Twelve years ago the plan was to just volunteer until I’d gotten over the loss of my dog. Twelve years later I still look forward to my weekly shelter adventures. I can’t wait to see what comes next.

To learn about volunteering at SFACC, visit their website and complete the online form.

Celebrating Carl Friedman – Founder and First Director

This July, we celebrate SFACC’s 33rd Anniversary by re-printing an article written by Carl Friedman, SFACC’s founder and first executive director, for the occasion of his retirement in 2009. The story will be new to some. It is a testament to Carl’s total dedication to helping all the animals in his community, and it is an inspiration to all who love animals.

 

 

Small Animal Volunteers Have Big Hearts

By Lisa Stanziano
Newsletter Editor/Dog Volunteer

On the second floor of the shelter, you might see a volunteer in an apron holding a guinea pig in his lap and brushing it. A couple of bunnies are nibbling hay and hopping through a pink tunnel toy on the floor, in a temporary corral-style pen. Rabbits and guinea pigs of various sizes relax in their cages.

The new spacious building has three separate rooms to house small animals other than cats and dogs: one room for reptiles and amphibians, one for birds, mice, hamsters, and rats, and the largest one for rabbits and guinea pigs. The new building is also notable for having a rooftop yard exclusively for rabbits–in the old building rabbits used the dog yard only on Thursday afternoons! Volunteers generally take two or three at a time to give them fresh air, and space to hop and play.

Kirby Counts, an experienced volunteer, fills me in on what happens when small animals are surrendered or found as strays. “First they go through a holding phase to allow them time to destress and be evaluated by the staff. Rabbits are generally spayed/neutered and given RHD vaccination before they’re adopted (2 shots, three weeks apart). Sometimes we take in bonded pairs and in that case, the pair must be adopted together. Rabbits and guinea pigs are individuals, and have unique personalities. They’re as resilient as cats and dogs, and can become more social when given attention and care.”

Volunteers like Kirby and his cohort on Monday afternoons, Sandy Barth, routinely handle the “smalls” at SFACC to socialize them and give them time outside of their cages. They carefully supervise animal interactions and gauge the compatibility of the animals—both for playtime at the shelter and for adopters who have other pets and are looking for a companion. The volunteers also have a wealth of knowledge about basic care and health of the animals. They often share observations with the shelter vet staff and help the animal care attendants advise adopters.

Most people are familiar with the basic needs of cats and dogs, but not everyone knows that in some ways, rabbits are more complicated. For example, bunnies have fragile digestive systems; they require specific kinds of food and hay, and chewing material to keep their teeth from becoming overgrown.

You might think of small animals as good “starter pets” for kids, but the truth is that an 8-yr-old adopting a guinea pig, rat, rabbit, or parakeet is as much a commitment for the parents as it is for the child. Luckily, the entire family receives an education from the staff animal care attendant or volunteer helping them meet their potential pet.

Sometimes people come in when one of their pets passes and they want to adopt a new friend for the remaining pet. Just as SFACC requires folks to bring in their dog if they are looking to adopt a sibling, they are encouraged to do the same for rabbits, guinea pigs, and other animals, so that experienced volunteers or staff members can observe them together. A very important point: make sure the siblings or the adopted pair are the same sex; otherwise you might have an unwelcome surprise in a few weeks!

SFACC can always use hay-based treats and plain wood pieces, i.e. unpainted toy blocks are great!

Katy Jones: Portrait of a Cat Lady

By Lisa Stanziano
Newsletter Editor/Dog Volunteer

Usually, I see Katy Jones at the shelter with a dog on a leash, or in the courtyard with other Behavior & Training colleagues, evaluating dogs or talking to a rescue partner about transferring some. We don’t see her on the “cat side” much. But one of the best kept secrets about her is that Katy cut her adult rescue teeth on cats. No, she didn’t bite them, she trapped them, fixed them, and rehomed them.

As a 19-year-old living in Crown Heights, Brooklyn, Katy noticed there were LOTS of free-roaming cats in the neighborhood. She also observed kind souls feeding colonies of cats and quickly learned about TNR (trap/neuter/release). Katy bought a trap from Craigslist and decided to pitch in. She would trap cats, get them fixed and release the most feral. If they seemed to like humans, she’d foster them and find them homes. “Starting out, I did all the wrong things, like keeping 4-month-old kittens in pairs as I attempted to socialize them. Sometimes having two scared kitties together can impede their progress, and once they’re at that age, turning them around can be VERY challenging. Fortunately, I found adopters who were understanding of their behavioral quirks from living such a significant portion of their development on the wild streets of Brooklyn.”

Determined to help these roaming cats, she sometimes waited in her carovernight–to keep an eye on the trap so that as soon as a cat went in, she could retrieve it. Also, to safeguard her equipment. The Eastern Parkway in Brooklyn is sketchy. Once, a wooden board she was using to block an escape route hole in a fence was stolen. Katy persisted. She became known in the area as the Cat Lady. She got a call once about a vacant house with squatters living upstairs and kittens discovered in the basement. Using the flashlight from her phone, she made her way in the dank basement to find them, dodging the fleas jumping off the floor. She got the kittens out. They were ~4 weeks old. She kept them in her bathroom, bottle fed and socialized them. When they were older, she got them fixed and then adopted. “I had a lot of bottle babies pass through my bathroom back then! I once found a litter that still had umbilical cords, covered in fleas under a car during a heatwave. No sign of Mom, so I took them in. My first time raising bottlers from birth!”

Brooklyn at that time did not have the resources that many cities do now (like SF), with the Community Cats (program), and TNR volunteers and services. Spay/neuter services were scarce. First come, first served. “I would get in line at the ‘snip truck’ at 3am with 8-week-old kittens in my coat pockets because I couldn’t carry the number of carriers I needed. And I kept the kittens warm that way. March in NY is not warm and I remember the other trappers and I would take turns holding each other’s spots in line and going to the bodega across the street for hot chocolate. It was a pretty bizarre scene, but somehow a really sweet little community.”

Rehoming all the cats that Katy found or that made their way to her was another challenge but she was up for that too. Her skill with figuring out who of her friends and neighbors wanted, needed, or knew someone who wanted/needed a cat expanded to a wide network and she’s still in touch with adopters who give her updates/photos. One particular outdoor cat, a wary tabby she called Frank, found his way to her yard in Oakland and would stand on her stoop and look inside but wouldn’t go in. “The door was always open for him but he was so hesitant. I was moving in a week and wanted to take Frank. I knew if he stayed, he wouldn’t be ok. Finally, I just picked him up and he went limp. He was ready to be taken care of. Now he’s living the good life in San Rafael with a lovely lady named Fran. Frank and Fran–a perfect match!”

 
Frankie on Katy’s Oakland stoop, and in his forever home with Fran in Marin.

Katy’s destiny of working in animal welfare seemed a birthright. “My family loved animals and my mom was always bringing home animals and fostering them. I was four when she came back from the grocery store with two small kittens. We named them Fred and Ginger.”

When she was 16, her family drove to Florida for vacation and rescued a dog that was lost near the freeway! They picked up the dog and found it a home before their vacation ended.  Though Katy’s family moved several times, there was no question that the pets would come with them. This philosophy carried through her own moves as an adult. When relocating from the east coast to Oakland, California, she drove out with her dogs and bought a plane ticket for a close friend to escort her cats. No pet would ever be left behind!

In her position at SFACC, Katy supervises the Behavior and Training Division (three other staffers) and coordinates adoption partner transfers. Moving animals from a place where there’s a lot of competition for resources (space, adopters, etc.) to a place where there’s a demand for those animals is another skill that she honed in Brooklyn with kittens. “I pipelined the cats I trapped and cared for up to New England, where there’s actually, somehow, a kitten shortage. Probably because of the harsh winters.”

Katy’s especially excited about two B&T programs that are unique to most municipal animal shelters: FETCH (dogs) and PURR (cats). The programs use the expertise of experienced volunteers and B&T staff to focus on customized behavior work for dogs and cats that need a little extra socialization before they are ready to be adopted. “What’s great about these programs is they allow more flexibility and fluidity in approaching training and socialization plans for each animal. The volunteer groups are committed to collaborating with the staff and each other in a way that will positively affect the animals. They have access to timely behavior information about a cat or a dog–what one person tried that works or what someone has observed–and they’re able to communicate that to all parties involved. An animal that was considered under confident and shy on Monday might become a social butterfly by Friday and we’ll be able to share that with each other quickly and affect the outcome for that animal. Make them adoptable.”

So now you know. At the shelter, you might see Katy pushing a stroller with a 13-yr.-old Chihuahua in it or carrying a puppy. But her secret is out: rescuing animals started for her with cats!

 

Editor’s Note: Kathryn (Katy) Jones is the SFACC Adoption Partner Transfer Coordinator and Acting Supervisor of the Behavior & Training Division.

McKenzie Joseph – Friends of SFACC Director of Dev. & Communications

What do you do for Friends of SFACC ?
I started working with Friends of SFACC (Friends) the first week of February, 2020, as a Campaign Manager. My role was to work directly with the Board of Directors and SFACC to raise funds to support the new shelter and multiple Friends-funded programs at SFACC. I am now serving as Director of Development and Communications for Friends. My focus is to continue stewardship of our generous donors and solicit new donors to keep funding the Behavior and Training Program for SFACC, the Rescue Partner Grant program, along with other SFACC needs that are not funded by the City of San Francisco.

How did you become involved with the Friends of SFACC? 
I was not aware of all of the amazing services SFACC provides until I began preparing for this position. When I was looking to adopt my very first dog, SFACC was my first stop, but the day I went all of the available dogs were at an adoption event! I am glad that I was able to experience the old building without knowing about the capital project in the works. In just that short experience, it was obvious how much the animals and people of San Francisco needed and deserved a better facility.

Where did you grow up and have you always been interested in animals?
I grew up in Bakersfield, CA. My dream career as a child was to become a veterinarian because I couldn’t think of anything better than spending all day every day with animals. That dream quickly faded once I realized the tougher sides of being a vet. My parents are Great Dane lovers, and because it gets so hot in Bakersfield, our 100+ pound Great Danes were mostly house dogs, which I loved.  When I was younger, I also had a special fondness for smalls, and I always had either a lizard or turtle as my own pet that I didn’t have to share with my sisters.

Do you have pets of your own? What do you do when you’re not at work?
I share my home with one cat named Sloan and one dog named Grey. Sloan is an independent, lazy, loving, orange kitty who has finally warmed up to sharing his home and his mom with his hyper little sister, Grey. Grey is a mystery breed who came into my life from Family Dog Rescue when I was working for a non-profit in the Bayview. I live in Pacifica, so I spend much of my spare time with Grey either at the beach or hiking.

What do you enjoy most about your job?
I can honestly say that I believe in the work SFACC does and find so much joy out of being able to play even the slightest role in their success. Working alongside other like-minded, animal-loving people makes every day a treat.

Grey and Sloan lounging together (Ruff life!)