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!)

Emily Buldoc — Animal Care Attendant

Emily Bolduc came to SFACC with the intention of becoming a volunteer. With her background working at a local boarding facility, she was eager to lend her skills to the dogs and cats waiting for homes at the shelter. She never made it as a volunteer. During the orientation, she learned that ACC was hiring a part-time temporary animal care attendant (ACA) and applied for the job. She joined the staff in Dec. of 2019 and became a full-time permanent ACA in July of 2020. Animal care attendants carry out the cycle of an animal’s stay at SFACC: receiving the animal in the lobby; setting them up comfortably in a kennel, cage, or aquarium; providing enrichment (exercise and socialization), administering medicine as directed by the vet staff; and conducting virtual adoption meetings on zoom. ACAs play a critical role in the animal’s chance at a new life.

Back to Emily…growing up in Central Massachusetts, Emily’s family embraced a menagerie of animals: dogs, cats, mice lizards. When she went to college in Rochester to study biotechnology, her roommate had a lab/Rottweiler, Levi, who she helped care for in his twilight years. Emily bonded strongly with the dog and felt the deep responsibility of caring for an animal. The experience might have forged her path to helping animals.

After college, Emily and her boyfriend drove across the country to San Francisco, where her boyfriend was starting a new job. The experience of caring for her roommate’s dog still resonated with her and she took a job at Wag Hotel, where she worked for 6 years, first as an enrichment coordinator, supervising dog play groups, and eventually as a manager. That’s when she decided to head to SFACC to apply as a volunteer (the old location is across the street from WAG). Instead, she applied for the part-time position to cover for staff who were bringing kittens to the Macy’s Windows event (before the shelter-in-place shutdown). “It’s odd that most of my time at SFACC has been during the SIP.”

Emily notes that without volunteers in the building—though they are helping in other ways like fostering and driving transfers—the staff has the opportunity to do more enrichment with the animals directly. “We take the animals out of the kennels and work with them. It gives us the chance to see their personalities out of the kennel and to observe changes in their behavior that we can share with the Behavior and Training team. We can advocate and collaborate in this way, which sets an animal up for success.” As an example, Emily shares the case of King, a pit bull stray with a tendency to become overexcited. Working with techniques guided by B&T, Emily saw progress in King’s interactions with people, which she relayed to the B&T team. They continued to work with King and his interactions with people improved to the point where he was able to be transferred to a rescue partner and charmed his foster family so much, they adopted him.

One of her favorite things to do on the job is take animals out of the kennel and engage them for photo shoots. She likes to capture their personalities with the goal of getting them adopted into the right home. “Showing a dog having a great time in the yard or a cat playing with toys or lounging in a relaxed moment is so much truer to their character than a sad face sitting in a kennel.”

Like many shelter staffers, Emily has two rescues of her own at home. Both were strays in S.F. and are beloved family members: Rizzo, a sweet pit bull, and Pancho, the Chi. Both are middle-aged and sweet. Emily is also very fond of plants, a passion she learned from her grandmother. “I have about 50 houseplants right now, which is probably my biggest hobby at home, plus cooking and walking my dogs.”  During the pandemic, instead of making sour dough starter, Emily’s pet project became creating a plant aquarium. Then she decided to add beautiful red and white freshwater shrimp. “I started with about 10, and now I have around 50. They’re fun and colorful!”

When asked what has made an impression on her working at SFACC, Emily doesn’t hesitate, “Everyone here has such respect for all the animals that come in—whether it’s a pigeon, cat, dog—it doesn’t matter what the species or circumstance is. Every animal is treated with the same high level of care. And it’s not easy because different species have specific needs. We all try to meet those needs and set each animal up for success.”

Fostering During the Pandemic

Meet Suniti Warey (with Shakespeare), a long-time cat volunteer who–like many SFACC volunteers–rose to the challenge when the pandemic closed the shelter by fostering an animal. She fostered six!

I fostered Shakespeare for almost three months. He had been returned twice and desperately needed a lucky break. He was a challenge at first. He had a strong hunting drive which led to some behavior issues until I figured out how to manage them, working closely with Daniel “DQ” Quagliozzi (SFACC’s Cat Behavior Consultant), who was very helpful.  Though Shakespeare demanded a lot of tailored interaction to help get his energy out, he did settle down and became a sweet and loving chonk. I was so thrilled for him when he finally found his adopter, seemingly a perfect match.

 

My next foster was an adorable little black kitten, Pipette. She was a bit shy and overwhelmed when I first brought her home, but soon acclimated. She grew up so quickly into an energetic, hilarious cuddle bug and was soon adopted. It was hard to see her off, as she had provided quite a lot of entertainment during the pandemically uneventful summer.

Flamingo was kitty number three, who was with me very briefly and went off to her new family after enchanting visitors with her adorably playful nature.

My next fosters were the undersocialized pair Bonnie and Clyde who took a couple weeks to warm up but ultimately were the most charming and fun duo. Clyde especially couldn’t get enough affection; they were the happiest and funniest little characters. They were overlooked by adopters for a while but eventually found their perfect forever home. We’ve received some updates from their new family and it fills my heart with joy to know they are so loved.

Denver Max (Maxy) was my most recent foster, and he was quite a project. Extremely under socialized and fearful–it took me almost a month to earn his trust. He learned to love being petted and snuggled, and could play forever! He remained nervous around people and found a wonderfully patient adopter to continue to work with him. He also has a brother to show him the ropes!

During the pandemic, fostering provided me with a continued connection to SFACC, where I’d been volunteering for six years. I sorely missed the interactions with staff and fellow volunteers as the pandemic dragged on, and of course I missed visiting the rotating lineup of furballs and getting to know these little souls for the brief time they were at the shelter. I always hoped that I brought something positive to their lives before they could find their adoptive family. Fostering was a great way for me to keep this going. Of course, looking forward to playing and cuddling with my fosters after a long day of work was a bright spot in the otherwise isolating times.


Suniti and Pipette