For the Love of Animals
The dog glanced back, eying the person holding his leash mischievously. And in a flash, he wiggled out of his collar and took off. Nimbly weaving through the downtown farmers market, the dog ran through a car wash, jumped over a few fences, and went around a roundabout…twice.
Undaunted, the dog's caretaker followed persistently, and finally caught up as the dog squeezed his way underneath a shed for a nap. The caretaker didn't give up, and didn't try to wait the dog out. Instead, this person got down on the ground, wiggled through cobwebs, and emerged covered in dirt, soaking wet, and victoriously holding onto the rogue dog.
Who was this diligent caretaker? Just your average volunteer at the Animal Service Center of the Mesilla Valley, located in Las Cruces, New Mexico. For this community-based organization, volunteers are the physical and emotional lifeblood that enables them to do their important work.
Ed Southworth is a dog walker, an exotic snake foster and a transport volunteer. He has been a reliable, loving ASCMV volunteer for over five years, and is determined to "save them all!”
The Role Volunteers Play
The Mission of the Animal Service Center of the Mesilla Valley (ASCMV) is to provide safe shelter for all lost, mistreated, and abandoned animals of the Mesilla Valley and surrounding communities. The organization educates, mentors and facilitates communication between these communities, with the goal of enhancing the lives of the more than 12,000 animals the nonprofit takes in annually. The organization also promotes responsible pet ownership through its public education and outreach activities.
Volunteers for ASCMV play vital roles in the organization, assisting with research, statistics, educational outreach, fostering of animals and mentoring. They participate in the Reading with Canines Program, teach the dog walking courses offered at the Center, and help at off-site adoption and fundraising events. In fact, all of the organization's off-site locations, both in- and out-of-state, are run by volunteers!
For the past three years, Terri Conatore has been a volunteer manager for the Pets Barn cat care team. She launders linens, cleans litter boxes, grooms cats, trims nails, feeds all cats, creates a monthly schedule for volunteers and covers shifts as needed.
Additionally, volunteers provide valuable insight into the larger community served by ASCMV, and some volunteers even rally for the organization in Albuquerque and Washington, D.C., speaking to Representatives on the nonprofit's behalf.
"We're all so proud of the dedicated volunteers that make all of this happen," said Jan Wright, Volunteer Coordinator at ASCMV. As the wife of a former Army Blackhawk pilot, Jan, her husband and her two daughters have traveled all over the country and the world, and Jan herself has held a variety of jobs including team facilitator of military deployments. As Jan reflects on her own path, she shares a lesson she has learned: "There are routes we all take and roads we all choose - the easiest has the less heartache; but the more narrow and windy road has the most adventure and better learning experiences!"
Lessons from a Volunteer Management Expert
And now Jan works at ASCMV to engage and manage the many volunteers who give their time, skills and passion to help animals. She has honed her strategies for attracting great volunteers. For example, to keep one-time volunteers, such as those coming from the local University, coming back for more, she shows up at the event with postcard-type flyers. These flyers advertise upcoming programs and events, and Jan hands these to volunteers while they all recap what they learned as a group. Jan finds that this most often catches the interest of these folks and encourages them to come back and volunteer again.
Another key strategy for Jan in her volunteer management is volunteer appreciation. Each month during the organization's Board meeting, they announce a volunteer of the month and a volunteer team of the month. These folks are publicly honored for their dedication and impact.
Clare Kapner has been a volunteer fundraising manager and farmers market adoptions manager for ASCMV for over 6 years. She donates funds regularly for new equipment and kennels, and acts as the right hand volunteer to the Director.
Giving volunteers greater leadership opportunities is another way Jan keeps them engaged. Seniority in the ASCMV volunteer program is not determined by age, but by length of time with the organization and the contribution of each individual. Volunteers who have achieved seniority are incorporated into the decision-making process when it comes to new volunteer-related policies and programs. Jan finds this encourages these folks to act as advocates and community outreach educators. Since they have an acknowledged voice, they feel like an internal part of an overall team. They become leaders both within the organization and in the greater community.
"I love watching new volunteers, who were barely audible during orientation, taking charge of a situation," Jan shares. "Suddenly they are educating public groups of 10 to hundreds of people!"