Volunteers try to find homes for animals

Published 8:18 am Tuesday, October 23, 2007

By By ERIKA PICKLES / Nile Daily Star
MISHAWAKA, Ind. – Jami Vandenbossche has been a volunteer with Pet Refuge in Mishawaka, Ind., for almost 15 years. The one thing that keeps her coming back is simple – miracles.
"People change animals and animals change people," she said.
Vandenbossche admitted she has seen just about every dog and cat one could imagine come through the doors of Pet Refuge.
"They all have different personalities. They may come when a little timid at first, but after they see we are not here to harm them, the true colors come out," she said.
While there are many highlights that go along with her volunteer work, Vandenbossche said the one thing she wishes is that people would learn the importance of spaying and neutering their animals.
According to a recent study, Vandenbossche said that approximately five million animals get put down every year due to the fact that they cannot find a home.
"That statistic is almost unbelievable," she said.
Pet Refuge is a no-kill shelter and will give any animal a temporary home until they find good, loving owners. However, in many shelters across the U.S. many innocent animals lose their lives everyday because of the simple fact that they are homeless.
"If you look at every shelter across America, they are full. They cannot take in anymore animals. Part of that is due to the fact that people don't take the time to spay or neuter their pets. Did you know that the offspring of one male and female cat, in six years, will produce 420,000 kittens? How many of those kittens are going to find homes? And how many will be put down just because they can't find a home? This is something that needs to be controlled," Vandenbossche explained.
Spaying and neutering is a problem that has become bigger than most would expect. Until it is controlled, it's shelters like Pet Refuge who come to the rescue of a homeless animal.
"We get animals here everyday that we have to turn down. It's not that we don't have the room, but we don't have enough volunteers. If we had more people step in and help out, we can take in more animals, find them good homes and try to help stop the over-population of animals," Pet Refuge Vice President Bonnie Richardson said.
The waiting list to intake cats is running in excess of four months and the dog waiting list runs an average of one to three months.
Pet Refuge, which has been established for almost 30 years, is a not-for-profit "no-kill" animal shelter run by volunteers for the placement of unwanted and abandoned pets into responsible permanent homes.
Pet Refuge will try to help as many cats and dogs as possible; however, with pet over-population being a problem in the community and being short on volunteers, Pet Refuge is limited to what they can do.
"The word volunteer alone tends to scare people off, then when they hear there is kennel cleaning involved, they really want nothing to do with it. But it's so important to understand that you're not just coming in to clean. You are spending quality time with these animals who want nothing more than five minutes a day with you," Richardson said.
The dog rooms, for example, are filled with any kind of breed you can imagine. The dogs get anxious when anyone walks through.
"There's nothing more rewarding then seeing a pet go to a permanent home. It's enriching. We do everything we can to show all of the animals attention and work with them while they are here," Dave Darnell, a four-year volunteer said.
Pet Refuge volunteers take time to play with the animals by taking them outside, playing games of fetch and even setting up play dates with other animals. They do several fundraisers throughout the year as the refuge runs on donations. They even set up obedience classes for animals who may need a little extra work.
"This isn't just a place where animals come, get locked in cages and stay there until they find a home. We care about the animals and know they have already been through tough times. We work with them, train them, get to know their personalities and some even go to temporary foster homes," Richardson said.
The Pet Refuge is currently looking for volunteers from all over the area to come in, help out and make a difference not only in an animals life, but their own life as well.
"Volunteering has so many rewards. I do why I do because I love animals and it gives me a great feeling knowing I am doing something right for them," Darnell said.
Without more volunteers, the shelter can only take a limited number of animals, which means so many others are turned away and left homeless.
"Even if it's only one day a week, it doesn't matter. Every little bit helps," Richardson said.
Those wishing to volunteer or learn more about what it takes to volunteer should call Pet Refuge at (574) 256-0886 or visit www.petrefuge.com.