Meeting new people while volunteering with pets

Best Friends in Utah works collaboratively with animal rescue groups, city shelters and passionate individuals who are all dedicated to the mission of making Utah a no-kill state. As part of this mission, Best Friends hosts adoption and fundraising events, runs the Best Friends Pet Adoption Center in Salt Lake City, operates two spay/neuter clinics and leads the No-Kill Utah (NKUT) initiative. Together, we will Save Them All.

In the early morning hours when most people in Salt Lake City are just waking up and pouring their first cup of coffee, Becky Anderson, Kimberly Stark and Robin Reddy are already hard at work helping to save the lives of the city’s homeless cats. As volunteers at the Best Friends Pet Adoption Center, they start the day on a mission to help cats and kittens find homes.

Kim, Robin and Becky are three of the adoption center’s dedicated cat care volunteers. They do it all — from cleaning cat carriers, to helping feed kittens, to working with the adoption team to help the process along when cats finally meet their new families. In fact, moments like those are what get them out of bed.

“I really couldn't do my job without them,” says Charice Nauman, adoption specialist at the center. “They’re essential to our daily work here at the adoption center, and I can count on them for anything I need. The staff (and the animals) are so lucky to have them.”

Of course, not every motivation for this dynamic trio has whiskers and a tail. They’ll all tell you that one of the greatest rewards for volunteering is making friends with fellow volunteers and staff. “You are indeed making friends, while making a big difference,” says Becky.

Becky has always considered the founders of Best Friends to be her version of “rock stars.” But the staff at the adoption center feel the same way about them. “These ladies are at the heart of Best Friends,” says Cathy Overfield, an adoption and foster coordinator at the center. “They’re like family.”

We caught up with Kim, Becky, and Robin to learn more about what motivates them to volunteer with Best Friends.

Why did you decide to become a volunteer with Best Friends?

Becky: I have believed in Best Friends for over 20 years and first visited the Sanctuary in 2004. That visit was so life-changing for me, to see the wonderful work being done for the animals. I knew at that point that someday, I would be a regular volunteer. While I was working full-time and caring for my elderly mother, I didn’t have time to volunteer.

After my mother passed, I started to make plans to retire early so that I could devote time to Best Friends. The adoption center is truly my happy place and I love being able to make a difference for the staff and the animals.

Kim: Not long after I moved back to Salt Lake City in early 2014, I saw an article about an adoption program where Best Friends partnered with Salt Lake County Animal Services, encouraging people to consider adopting senior dogs and cats.

I was most moved by the idea of giving an older animal a secure, loving forever home, so I wandered into the adoption center. I loved its manageable size, and the cleanliness impressed me so much I decided to volunteer.

Robin: I ended up with Best Friends initially because it is a no-kill rescue organization. I was retiring and considering volunteer work opportunities. I mentored with another volunteer who had wonderful energy, enthusiasm and love for these cats and she was a great influence on my staying.

Learn how Best Friends is helping Utah become no-kill

Robin Reddy holding a feline friend

Describe one of your favorite moments as a volunteer.

Kim: On a dog walking shift, I was just bringing in a senior Chihuahua when a staff member came to me, worried about me handling the dog because the dog was known for being a bit on the crabby side. But I was just bringing him in from his walk and taking off his “adopt me” vest. She was impressed that I had bonded with the grumpy old guy.

He was the one I ended up adopting. That was over three years ago, and I have been volunteering regularly ever since. The staff at the adoption center are great people to work with.

As a side note, the senior Chihuahua was my beloved Freddy. He was around 10 years old when I took him home, and he had a happy, secure two-plus years with me before his heart gave out. I was with him the whole time.

Becky: One of my many favorite moments was being able to take my two best friends to Best Friends Animal Sanctuary last year and show them how life-changing it was for me. I am always talking about Best Friends to everyone I meet, and I think they realized why I felt the love so much after they volunteered at the Sanctuary.

What would you tell someone who is considering volunteering?

Kim: I would say that even though you will love your positive interactions with the dogs, cats and lots of kittens, the most gratifying thing about volunteering at the pet adoption center is that you are helping the staff concentrate on their jobs and the mission of Best Friends. And they (the staff) will let you know all the time how much they appreciate you and the work you do.

Becky: If anyone is thinking about volunteering with Best Friends, I seriously recommend it! Being able to make a difference in the lives of these beautiful creatures will make your heart full!

Robin: If someone was considering volunteering, I would encourage them to speak to both other volunteers and staff. It is very rewarding. It is a commitment of both time and caring for the welfare of these cats and dogs.

What lessons have you learned through your work as a volunteer?

Kim: To me, the main lesson you learn is that on your own you could not possibly adopt or save all the animals you encounter. You and many others are helping them along to their forever homes. Sometimes it’s a bittersweet lesson, but when you see the numbers over time, you know that you are making a difference.

Robin: I have learned that it truly "takes a village" to help these cats and dogs be safe and healthy, and find the loving homes they deserve. One of the biggest lessons I have learned has been not to judge people for returning adopted animals, because the animals are hopefully better off getting another chance in a home than remaining in an unsuitable situation.

Becky: Teamwork! Nothing gets done by yourself. Building lasting relationships with the staff and other volunteers makes contributing all the better. Always be willing to do what is asked of you and want to learn more. I consider the staff members my friends and would do anything to help them help the animals.

Volunteer near you

Kim Bayley believes the most gratifying thing about volunteering at the pet adoption center helping the staff concentrate on their jobs and the mission

Photos by Sarah Ause Kichas