PAWS Magazine

 

Issue 48, Winter 2001

 

Four women who help 700 volunteers “be of service”

By Richard Huffman

In the beginning, PAWS was completely volunteer-run. Though founded in 1967, the first PAWS employee wasn’t hired until several years later, when the quickly expanding shelter operation needed paid staffers to keep up with an increasing influx of animals. But the heart and soul of PAWS always remained the volunteers. Thousands upon thousands of volunteers built PAWS, nurtured PAWS, and helped bring PAWS to where it is today.

It is this legacy of volunteerism that Hilary Anne Exon, Sandy Kernast, Lauren Glickman, and Melissa Webb continue to develop as PAWS Volunteer Coordinators. Together these four women recruit, train and oversee more than 700 different volunteers who perform more than 60,000 hours of volunteer service at PAWS every year.

It’s a job they each love. “When people have that feeling that they need to be of service,” says Exon, who is the PAWS Companion Animal Services Volunteer Coordinator, “it is really empowering for them to be able to act on that feeling. And it empowers us to provide them with the means to do it.”

Volunteer Coordinators

With 700 volunteers spread over three PAWS locations, performing dozens of different jobs, it is no surprise that it takes four people to run the programs. Out of the Lynnwood location, Exon manages all of the volunteers that work at the Lynnwood Companion Animal Shelter and PAWS Cat City in Seattle. As the Companion Animal Services Foster Care Assistant, Melissa Webb works directly with the 200+ families that provide foster homes for needy PAWS cats and kittens, dogs and puppies. Across the parking lot, Lauren Glickman, Lynnwood Wildlife Center Volunteer Coordinator, manages more than 200 volunteers who help care for wildlife at the Lynnwood facility every year. And at PAWS Olympic Wildlife Center in McCleary, Sandy Kernast is charged with building and managing the center’s burgeoning volunteer program.

For each of these women, helping animals by helping people to volunteer was a calling that took a little while to find.

Hilary Anne Exon grew up as an Air Force brat, bouncing across the globe from California to Germany. Despite her vagabond youth, Exon knew from an early age that she wanted to join the Peace Corps. She went to the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, earning a degree in International Studies. She specifically took coursework that would help secure her a position with the Peace Corps.

It worked; Exon was selected to be a natural resources volunteer in Mongolia. “I worked at a national park teaching research methodology, tourism development, and English,” says Exon.

Though much of what she found in Mongolia was interesting and exciting, Exon came away from Mongolia disturbed by some of her experiences. “Outside of the capital city they really don’t have any veterinary care experience with companion animals,” says Exon. “Dogs are pretty much treated like vermin. [Local authorities] would pay people 50 cents for every dog that was killed.”

Exon rescued several dogs suffering from abuse, eventually becoming den mother to a whole pack of five dogs and several puppies. One of the dogs she rescued from a man who was in the process of stoning him to death. Exon put collars on each of her dogs to let the locals know that the dogs were not strays and therefore should not be killed.

“I went to take my garbage out one day,” says Exon, “and I found them, all five, shot.” Their tails had been removed, so their killers could have proof to collect their fifty-cent rewards.

“That incident, more than anything else, led me to work at a place like PAWS,” says Exon. “I can’t do anything for those animals in Mongolia, but I can make a difference for the animals here.”

Before arriving at PAWS, Exon worked for the Rose Resnick Lighthouse for the Blind and Visually Impaired in San Francisco. She helped more than 400 volunteers help blind and visually impaired people shop, read mail, go grocery shopping, and more. Exon moved to Seattle last year and quickly heard about the PAWS job opening. “It was a real dream come true,” says Exon.

Lauren Glickman, Volunteer Coordinator in the Lynnwood Wildlife Center, followed a path similar to Exon’s. After growing up in Massachusetts and graduating from Clark University in Worcester, Glickman joined the Peace Corps.

Glickman served as a Forestry Extension worker in Chacraseca, Nicaragua. “The place had been devastated by 50 years of cotton farming,” says Glickman. “We would plant living fences, work on composting projects, tree nurseries, and more.”

“It was one of the most amazing things I’ve ever done,” says Glickman of her fulfilling Peace Corps experience. “So many people thought of Nicaragua as dangerous, but in my rural community, everybody knew everybody. I never felt safer in my life.

“Working so closely with people in another culture made me realize that I can appreciate anyone, regardless of their education level, politics or social background.”

“I was raised in a real traditional way,” says Sandy Kernast, Volunteer Coordinator for the PAWS Olympic Wildlife Center in McCleary.

“Basically it was ‘you go to school, you get a job, and you make more money than your parents.’ That was the path that I was on.”

Following a Cleveland upbringing, Kernast earned an accounting degree and spent 13 years as a computer programmer, following the traditional path. “Somewhere in the middle of those 13 years I began to realize that my work had to have meaning; it had to have value and it had to make a difference.”

Kernast found her calling when she began to volunteer for the wildlife programs of her local Parks and Recreation department. Kernast volunteered in their wildlife center for a couple of years as a wildlife care assistant. “The center ran exactly like PAWS,” says Kernast. “They had apparently worked closely with PAWS to develop their own program.”

When Kernast moved to Seattle a couple of years ago, volunteering in the PAWS Wildlife Center felt like old times. When the opportunity to serve as a volunteer coordinator for the McCleary center opened up, Kernast jumped at the chance.

Like Kernast, Melissa Webb moved into her job as Companion Animal Services Foster Care Assistant by starting as a volunteer. Webb was one of the first volunteers to serve on the web team more than two years ago, posting cats and dogs available for adoption.

Webb came from Texas a few years ago. While volunteering at PAWS she worked as a temp at an insurance agency. Later the job became permanent. “I quickly realized that this job was so not what I wanted to do,” explains Webb.

Wildlife Volunteers

What she really wanted to do was help the fostering of kittens and puppies. “I was walking through the shelter one night and saw that Ann Watkins [the former Foster Care Coordinator] had two little kittens that needed feeding,” says Webb. “I asked if I could watch and she said that she would teach me how. That was just the start. Now I have home-fostered 17 kittens. And that’s not counting the ones that I’ve taken in emergencies.”

When the Foster Care Assistant job came open in October, Webb knew where her heart lay.

Coordinating a volunteer program effectively takes real talent. “When I first got into volunteer management I didn’t realize that it was a profession,” says Exon. “I’m sort of embarrassed to admit it. But then I learned that there were magazines and associations just for the job. I decided to learn as much as possible about the profession. By the time I came to PAWS I had a real understanding of volunteer management; I just needed to figure out how volunteer management fit into the context of a shelter environment.”

Glickman has put her Peace Corps training to good use in her job. “While I was training farmers in the Peace Corps, I was being trained in education techniques and technical skills.”

Exon and Glickman both came into very developed programs. Both the Companion Animal Services volunteer program and the Lynnwood Wildlife Center volunteer program had hundreds of active volunteers, and a legacy of success.

Glickman had been a volunteer at the Lynnwood Wildlife Center prior to becoming the Volunteer Coordinator, and the prospect of taking over the program was more than a little daunting. “Kathleen Foley and Kevin Mack had been coordinators before me,” says Glickman. “How was I ever going to improve on their program? But as I grew into my job I realized that there is always room for improvement.”

Exon and Glickman have some pretty significant positions to fill on a daily basis. In the shelter, Exon must have volunteers to work as adoption assistants, kennel cleaners, clinic assistants, dog walkers, cat room attendants, and more. Typically, each job requires two shifts a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year. While the general public may take Christmas Day off, the cats and dogs still need to be fed, walked, and loved.

The same applies to the wildlife in the Lynnwood Wildlife Center. Between March and April Glickman needs to interview and train 100 volunteers to prepare for the summer season.

The commitments that PAWS requires of volunteers serves to ensure that the volunteer workforce is truly dedicated. The shelter requires each volunteer commit to a three-month term, where they come in for weekly shifts lasting anywhere from two to four hours. The wildlife center requires a three-month commitment for weekly four to five-hour shifts.

While Exon and Glickman stepped into fully developed programs, Sandy Kernast had to build the PAWS Olympic Wildlife Center volunteer program from the ground up. PAWS was asked by Olympic Wildlife Rescue, a McCleary wildlife rehabilitation center, to take over their center two years ago. In many ways this meant building an entire set of new programs from the ground up.

“At first I thought that I would go down there and copy Lynnwood’s volunteer program and have a full program up and running in a year,” says Kernast. “It took me a while to realize that we have many fundamental steps to take first and, having realized that, I have become much more effective.”

Kernast’s first and foremost challenge was recruiting volunteers. “Most of the volunteers who helped at Olympic Wildlife Rescue have continued to volunteer,” says Kernast. “But they only had seven volunteers to start with, so we needed many more. Kernast has about 30 stable, long-term volunteers, but feels that they need about 15 to 20 more to be maximally effective.

It’s been tough for Kernast to recruit volunteers. Situated in the rural community of McCleary, almost all of her volunteers come from Olympia. “I put on all of my fliers, ‘we’re only 30 minutes from Olympia!’”

At first Kernast was concerned that the local community and volunteer base would be unsupportive of the merger between Olympic Wildlife Rescue and PAWS. “At the beginning I think people thought of PAWS as this big bad organization; it was almost like they thought we didn’t much care about the individual little animal. They thought we would be impersonal.

“Fortunately, I think people have quickly come to appreciate the level of professionalism that we have brought.”

Kernast feels fortunate that PAWS Olympic Wildlife Center is located a short 15 minutes away from The Evergreen State College. “Evergreen students are required to do internships in the community,” explains Kernast. “We have a great relationship with them. They are motivated and articulate. They’re just incredible.

Kernast is helped immensely in her job by her co-workers. “The staff members are very supportive of me. The let me know that they want to be a part of what I do.”

Dog Walker

Kernast likes that volunteers at Olympic Wildlife Center are very empowered, and clearly an integral part of the team. “At some centers there is this clear line between staff and volunteers,” says Kernast. “But at PAWS we have always had our volunteers work closely with the staff and many consider wildlife rehabilitation as a career.” Kernast notes that almost every single staffer at PAWS Olympic Wildlife Center began as a PAWS Wildlife volunteer.

Both Kernast and Glickman have a challenge ahead of them when baby eastern gray squirrels begin arriving at both wildlife centers in the coming spring months. PAWS offers a squirrel foster program for people interested in taking a group of orphaned squirrels and caring for them for the three to six weeks necessary to get them healthy enough to return to the wild.

“Eastern gray squirrels are very hearty,” says Kernast. “We have found that they are relatively simple to care for, and the skills needed to care for them can be taught easily.” Because eastern gray squirrels are a non-indigenous species, wildlife regulations allow for them to be cared for outside of a permitted rehabilitation center. By having volunteers raise the squirrels at home, valuable staff time is freed up to care for other animals needing more intensive care.

In many ways, the PAWS Wildlife squirrel foster care program was modelled after the already-successful companion animal foster care program. Melissa Webb has more than 200 families who regularly care for hundreds of cats and kittens, dogs, and puppies in need of help. Last year was the largest year ever for the program, helping foster 1,069 animals, up from 727 animals in 1999. Last year 876 kittens alone were fostered.

Because PAWS does not euthanize healthy, adoptable companion animals, nor does PAWS adopt unaltered animals, foster care provides help for kittens and puppies while they grow big enough to be spayed or neutered. Some of the orphaned kittens PAWS receives are less than a day old, requiring intensive care. Kittens less than a few weeks old need to be bottle-fed every two hours, around the clock.

“They don’t always make it,” says Webb. “These kittens really have a lot stacked against them. If a kitten does die, I encourage the foster family to focus on the other kittens, and to help them make it. I try to remind the foster families that without them, none of the kittens would make it. You just have to focus on what you can do.”

Some cases are much more complicated than others, and that is where some of Melissa’s super-foster families come in. “Jim Kellar and CeeCee McCrae take some of our toughest cases,” says Webb. “They have taken dozens of animals, from adult dogs with skin conditions, do litters of sick kittens.”

Key to the success of each of the PAWS volunteer programs is extensive on-going training. Each shelter volunteer goes through a mandatory orientation, followed by continuing on-the job training from the PAWS staff. For the two wildlife centers, every day represents a new opportunity for training. Each volunteer is interviewed to give people an understanding of PAWS’ wildlife philosophy and job specifics. Then the volunteer goes through a 4-hour basic skills workshop. During this workshop volunteers are orientated to the physical facility, learn how to clean and set up cages, practice feeding orphaned animals (typically squirrels and song birds), and learn how to admit animals and answer the phones.

Monte

Volunteers start out performing basic tasks before moving onto increasingly complex task. Wildlife volunteers typically serve six months or more before they are able to be participate in the Senior Wildlife Care Assistant program, allowing them increased exposure to animals and increased responsibilities.

As part of their on-going training, every wildlife volunteer is required to attend a Wildlife Ethics workshop, held by Sandy Kernast or Lauren Glickman. These workshops are forums to discuss many of the ethical issues inherent with wildlife rehabilitation. “I approach the class,” says Glickman, “by telling volunteers from the outset that this isn’t a class about what’s right and what’s wrong. Rather, it is a discussion about some of the more difficult issues that we face.”

Monte

“We talk about the choices that we’ve made that guide our work,” says Kernast. Among the issues discussed are the ethical implications of naming wild animals, whether wildlife rehabilitators should treat non-native species such as starlings, the ethical implications of helping animals that might otherwise be incapable of fending for themselves, and issues surrounding euthanasia.

“If you put ten different rehabilitators in a room, you could get 10 different answers as to how best to care for wild animals,” says Glickman. Rather than tell the volunteers why the PAWS philosophy is the correct philosophy, the workshops give volunteers an understanding as to why PAWS operates the way it does.

Monte

“I think it creates a real space for sharing of opinions,” says Kernast. “We will have some volunteers who may disagree with our approach to rehabilitation, but because of the ethics training they feel comfortable discussing their feelings.”

The trainings are an essential part of the program for Glickman. “I’ve gotten a lot of positive feedback from volunteers saying that they feel that their opinion matters to us.”

Staff at PAWS always say that they couldn’t exist without volunteers. From a purely practical perspective this is certainly true. Not counting foster care hours PAWS volunteers spent more than 50,000 hours in 2000 helping animals. That works out to more than half a million dollars of staff time, or 25 full-time employees.

75 volunteers at PAWS Olympic Wildlife Center in McCleary put in 6,715 hours of their time during 2000. Another 50 volunteers were available to transport animals to and from local veterinary clinics.

243 volunteers gave 21,152 volunteer hours at the PAWS Lynnwood Wildlife Center. As at the McCleary center, this doesn’t include the numerous volunteer hours devoted to fostering squirrels.

More than 250 volunteers performed over 22,000 hours of service at the Lynnwood Companion Animal Shelter and at PAWS Cat City last year.

None of these numbers reflect the thousands of hours volunteers devoted to special events such as Bark in the Park and Wild Night, or Advocacy efforts such as when Ringling Bros. Circus was in town.

So what does a PAWS staffer do on his or her day off? Volunteer, of course! Recently Glickman and Exon helped coordinate an event that drew more than 20 PAWS staff and volunteers together to help plant 320 native rose bushes in Redmond’s Marymoor Park.

“Jennifer Convy, the Wildlife Department Manager, was talking about a place where she used to work,” says Glickman. Because they weren’t as big or as busy as we are, Jennifer said that the staff and volunteers were able to sit down together for lunch everyday. I got to thinking that no only do we not do that in our own department, but Wildlife staff and volunteers rarely gets to interact with the Advocacy staff and volunteers, and the Advocacy staff and volunteers don’t get to interact with the shelter staff and volunteers, and so on.”

Glickman was interviewing a new volunteer named Julia Michalak, who told Glickman about a volunteer project she worked on planting trees for the King County Parks and Recreation Department. Glickman contacted the department and arranged for a day for PAWS staff and volunteers to come to Marymoor and plant indigenous rose bushes along the banks of the Sammamish River.

“It was a perfect project for us to get involved with,” says Glickman, “because of Marymoor’s big off-leash area, and the project’s focus on habitat preservation.”

What drives people to volunteer? “I think most people feel the need to be of service,” says Exon. “I think it’s cultural, that it’s part of the American psyche. I think that people have been the recipient of assistance enough to know how valuable it is.”

“My foster care volunteers are generally people who love animals so much that they want to bring them into their lives to help them,” says Webb. “This is a major commitment made by people who enjoy being with animals, who have a special ability to deal with youngsters and/or behavioral issues, who know that the contribution they make is really making a difference; a difference that they can see.

“People volunteer for many, many reasons,” says Glickman. “Some want to meet people who care about similar things. Others want to become more involved in their community. Others want to learn to do these things because they are thinking about having a career with animals in some capacity. Some people already have a career with animals at a veterinary office and want to learn about wildlife. Some people just find wildlife fascinating and want a close-up look. It seems to me that in a world like ours where we see so much get destroyed, it is very nourishing to come here and see healing.”

“During the interview that I have with all prospective volunteers, I ask them why they want to volunteer at our facility,” says Kernast. “They all say, ‘because I love animals,’ then they talk about their own companion animals and interesting experiences that they’ve had with wildlife. They almost always mention the impact that humans are having on wildlife and their habitat, and they feel a responsibility to try to correct the problems that we as a society are causing, so they volunteer for an organization such as PAWS.”

If you are interested in volunteering, please click here to visit our volunteering section.



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