Utah volunteers donate their time to help cats and dogs

Imagine the sound of roughly a dozen cats in a car, stacked in carriers to the roof. Some might consider the clamor unpleasant at the very least. To others like Julie Brueck, it’s music to their ears.

“Some were crying, some were meowing — it was just this whole chorus of animals,” says Julie of her memorable 30-minute ride. “It was really funny; I think I just laughed the whole way. It was a wall of cat faces and everyone had something to say.”

Voluteer's efforts go a long way

Julie Brueck with two catsJulie is one of the many remarkable Best Friends Animal Society–Utah volunteers. In high school and college, she volunteered at a local animal shelter, but explains that real life got in the way. However, when her work schedule changed, freeing up some time, a friend referred her to Best Friends.

Now Julie makes the 40-minute commute once a week to help with the Cat Crusaders, a program developed by Best Friends and Salt Lake County Animal Services to increase the number of cat and kitten adoptions in Salt Lake County. In addition to her assisting with transports, she helps at the shelter and weekly adoption events.

She also volunteers for special events. In fact, Julie is one of the behind-the-scenes helpers at the Pet Super Adoption. She prepares for the roughly 400 cats in attendance, including table set-up, condo assembly, litter, water, food and scooping duties. In her spare time, she helps walk dogs.

“It’s nice to feel like I’m helping these animals, even if I’m just there petting them for an hour or I take one dog around the block,” says Julie. “Service just makes you feel good.”

Volunteer has a standing Saturday night date

Kathy Park is another volunteer the public might not see, but whose work is vital. She spends a few hours every Saturday night caring for the adoptable felines at the Cat Suite at Best Friends Animal Society–Utah in Sandy, Utah.

Kathy Park with a cat friendLike Julie, Kathy’s efforts began with transport help, and she’s now well known for jumping in to help with last-minute needs. However, the duty closest to her heart has to be caring for the adoptable cats.

Her Saturday night routine includes medicating cats, providing water, freshening food, cleaning, scooping litter, and sometimes special requests like brushing.

“After all that’s done, then it’s time for play or to be petted,” says Kathy. “I give each one of them their own attention depending on what they’re interested in.”

Outgoing cats insist on attention, but Kathy makes the extra effort to accommodate the more reticent cats like Lucy. Lucy loves TLC, just not all the other cats. So with the right positioning where Lucy doesn’t feel threatened, Kathy will “just pet the stuffings out of her.” Don’t think her efforts go unrewarded. Lucy will stretch up, put her feet on Kathy’s shoulders and nuzzle her neck.

“You know, I have never been bored, and they really pay you back. I really get something out of petting them. It makes me feel good and I feel that I have helped them and made a difference,” says Kathy. She laughs as she adds, “For a few hours every Saturday, I get to be a crazy cat lady without having to have them 24/7. You get to play with all of them … and then you get to leave them … kind of like nieces and nephews.”

Much-needed help

Julie Brueck with Oso the tabby catKristina Stromness, volunteer coordinator for Best Friends Animal Society–Utah, sings the praises of volunteers like Julie and Kathy.

Not only are they reliable, they’re both willing to help with background tasks that are out of the limelight, but vitally important.

“I think when people go to our events, they don’t realize how small a team we have working on everything,” says Kristina. “A lot of people say that they can’t do what they do without volunteers, but we actually can’t. We physically wouldn’t be able to get done what needs to be done in a day if we didn’t have people like them.”

How to help

Sign up to volunteer for Best Friends Animal Society–Utah or the Best Friends Volunteer Center if outside of the Salt Lake City area.

Photos by Sarah Ause Kichas