LOS ANGELES — Help Wanted: No pay, hours can be lousy and sometimes it stinks.
That plea from animal shelters and rescues across the country doesn’t sound very appealing, but thousands of faithful volunteers answer the call every day.
“I don’t know how we could function without volunteers. We could never do what we do for animals without them,” said Robin Starr, CEO of the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals in Richmond, Virginia.
Jobs include that often smelly cleanup chore, but every facility also needs people to feed, walk, groom, train, play with and show animals. They also need office, fundraising, shopping, phone and other help.
Every volunteer says they do it for the animals.
Volunteer Karen Gammon, 58, donates her art for auctions and the gift store at Starr’s shelter. She used a charcoal-smothered canvas and then an eraser to peel away the charcoal.
Bidding wars were common. “One year, the bidding got to $11,000, so she agreed to do two drawings at that price, making $22,000 for the shelter,” Starr said.
Gammon started volunteering in 1999. Less than a decade later, she had to give up her drawings because rheumatoid arthritis and surgeries would not let her grip the erasers.
It took her a few years, but she found a substitute and resumed making money for the shelter with “Muttcrackers,” a term she copyrighted which means nutcrack- ers with mutt heads, pivot joints with tails and paws for feet and hands.
Last year, she made 28 in different sizes for the gift shop. They were gone in hours. She’s trying for 40 at $300 or less this year, along with a life-sized version for the auction.
At Florida’s Humane Society of Vero Beach and Indian River County, Cornelia Perez has seen it all in more than 30 years. She has adopted, fostered, volunteered, served on the board, worked with students, coordinated building campaigns and fundraisers and is the shelter historian and archivist, said Janet Winikoff, the shelter’s director of education.
“Cornelia is also a true community pied piper. If we tell her we need something, you can bet she’ll be able to help,” Winikoff said.
Perez, 72, started volunteering 60 years ago when she rode her bike to a shack by the railroad tracks and they let her walk the dogs.
She was away for a while — boarding school, college, early career. But she was back in 1984, and there is nothing she hasn’t done. She put pails in supermarkets for food donations and coordinated the building campaign for the shelter that replaced the shack. She now volunteers at the state-of-the-art shelter that replaced the building.
A retired school teacher, Perez lined shelter walls with facts and questions; turned baby sweaters into animal coats; established humane-education and care-cadet programs for students; and today runs programs for pets that need special medical or dental care. And she publishes the Humane Times.
“I also did laundry,” Perez said. “If I save the staff time, that’s time they have to devote to the animals.”
Jourdan Giron, of Lawndale, California, who turns 21 this month, is new to the volunteer corps. She signed up in February for eight hours a month at the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals in Los Angeles, volunteer services manager Elise Thompson said.
But Giron’s put in over 325 volunteer hours — well over the 64 promised. “I’m just happy being here, and I don’t want to leave,” she said.
“She’s young, bubbly, vivacious, dedicated and quickly made herself a standout,” Thompson said. She’s completed nearly every class offered to volunteers.
Giron, majoring in biology, said she has wanted to be a veterinarian since she was 5.
She’d never seen a shelter close up before. “It’s greater than I could have imagined,” she said.
Usually shy, she said she gets quite chatty now when talking to customers about animals.
Giron does those smelly jobs too, but she sees it as a matter of faith.
“I know it’s because they trust me to go in the kennels,” she said.