ASPCA Field Investigations and Response (FIR) workers travel across the country to animal fights, puppy mills, disaster zones and other locations where animals are in immediate danger, often working 20-hour days, typically outside in extreme weather with few breaks. But one of the most amazing parts of FIR work isn’t the job—it’s the people who do it: Nearly 25% of these 1,700 emergency responders are over the age of 50.
These responders don’t measure their job satisfaction in terms of money, workplace or the nature of their position. The true rewards are the smiles, the wags, the licks and the purrs of the animals they save. In this special post, we’re shining a spotlight on ASPCA FIR responders who prove it’s never too late to do what you love—and to make a difference while doing it.
“It’s a lot of hard work, from the minute you hit the ground until you go to sleep,” says Jason Oneail, 52, a former sergeant major and Iraq war veteran who lives with his wife and two teenage daughters in New Hampshire. Jason considers his 30-year career in the army the best training for deploying as a volunteer ASPCA responder. Although he suffered a hip injury in Bosnia in 1995 during an explosion and a mini-stroke upon his return from Iraq in 2010, Jason deploys up to two weeks at a time— he spent last year’s Fourth of July helping care for 70 former fighting dogs in western Virginia. But Jason says this work with the ASPCA brings him closer to the career he wanted while growing up: a veterinarian. Jason’s also volunteered for ASPCA cases in New York, Indiana, and Florida, among other states, and was named “Volunteer of the Year” in 2014 by the Animal Rescue League of Bedford, New Hampshire.
Joanne Smith, 52, also grew up wanting to be a veterinarian. The sixth of eight kids who also shared their home with two foster children, she started working right after high school, getting a job in the insurance business before starting a home day care center when her daughter was born. But when the opportunity arose to work with animals as a veterinarian’s assistant, and later as an animal cruelty officer, for the Elk County Humane Society in Pennsylvania, she jumped at the chance. In 2008, Joanne became its Executive Director, even enlisting ASPCA’s help in a 2010 hoarding case that resulted in the seizure of nearly 400 cats. She joined the ASPCA team in 2012.
Now as an animal control officer for the town of Ridgway, Pennsylvania, Joanne finds each ASPCA deployment a valuable learning opportunity. Last May, she organized a search party for a missing Great Dane after the town experienced major flooding. “I used every skill I learned from the ASPCA’s behavior team—patience, proper body language, no eye contact—to catch that dog,” she recalls of finding “Ozzy” and reuniting her with her family.
Nebraska native Barb Davis, 66, traveled to New Orleans in 2005 after Hurricane Katrina with another humane group, working in the Lower Ninth Ward to trap and rescue dogs who were running in packs. She rotated in and out every two weeks while working for her husband, a land surveyor, when she was home. After her husband died in 2008, Barb began deploying full-time. Her first experience with the ASPCA was a cat hoarding case in Jacksonville, Florida. “It was extremely rewarding. One lady fell in love with a double positive [FIV and leukemia] cat and adopted him. That was a highlight for me,” Barb recalls.
Since then, she has worked in a wide range of crises, from hoarding and animal fighting cases to disasters like the tornados in Joplin, Missouri, and Moore, Oklahoma. “After seeing what the ASPCA could do, I said, ‘I want to be part of that organization,’” Barb says of joining the ASPCA. “I’m where I should have been many years ago.”
We are so thankful to FIR Responders like Jason, Joanne and Barb for inspiring us all—and for their unwavering dedication to animals in need.To learn more about the ASPCA’s Field and Response Team and the rescue work they’re doing on the ground, please visit www.aspca.org/FIR.
On any given day, the ASPCA Adoption Center and the ASPCA Animal Hospital are home to hundreds of animals. Caring for so many dogs and cats takes a lot of work, and none of it would be possible without our incredible, dedicated staff of volunteers. In honor of National Volunteer Week, we want to recognize one of those volunteers, Adoption Counselor Stephen Q., by sharing the story of “his best adoption ever.” Here’s what Stephen had to say:
On what started as a typical day volunteering as an ASPCA Adoption Counselor, I met a couple who came in looking to adopt a pair of adult cats. Delighted, I took them through the shelter showing them each of several bonded adult pairs, and while they enjoyed meeting each pair, none were quite right. As luck would have it, I must have saved the best for last. I said to them, “Well, we have one more bonded pair I can show you, please come with me.”
As I opened the kennel door to show them this beautiful pair of cats, I explained that both were completely blind.
The couple started petting these two loving and affectionate cats (one with non-seeing eyes, the other without eyes at all) while I started talking to them about my own experience with my blind-from-birth cat, Jenny. I talked about how perfectly Jenny gets around, how she opened my heart to a new type of human-cat experience, that no challenge is insurmountable and that perfection comes in many forms. After 20 minutes of petting, listening and asking questions, the couple turned to me with moist eyes and said, “We’ll take them.”
It was my best adoption ever, and all the credit goes to a couple with an open heart—and to my little blind cat with the biggest heart ever, also rescued by the ASPCA.
Thank you to Stephen, and to all of our volunteers, for your hard work, dedication, and inspiring stories!
Great news: this week offers a very special opportunity to get involved and help animals in your community. National Volunteer Week, which runs from April 12-18, is the perfect time to make a difference. Here are three ways you can help.
Host a pet food and supplies drive. Animal shelters are always in need of basic supplies that can be found around your home or at your local grocery or discount store including food, towels and bedding, cleaning supplies, toys and other pet care supplies. Consider hosting a supplies drive to gather items from your friends and family members to donate.
Join the ASPCA Advocacy Brigade. Help fight for the passage of stronger anti-cruelty laws on federal, state and local levels by joining the ASPCA Advocacy Brigade As a Brigade member, you’ll have the opportunity to help pass important legislation for animals within your region.
At the ASPCA, we love our volunteers. These kindhearted people give their time and love to animals in our care, and we rely on them to help with many aspects of our shelter operations. Without our volunteers, we couldn’t do all the good things we do!
If you are in the New York City area and are interested in volunteering at the ASPCA Adoption Center in Manhattan’s Upper East Side, here are a few things to note:
All ASPCA volunteers must be at least 16 years old.
Volunteers must be able to commit to a minimum of eight hours per month for a minimum of six months. Due to the extensive training requirements, we are not able to accept short-term volunteers.
The ASPCA does not accept volunteers needing to fulfill court-appointed community service.
Some of the major volunteer opportunities available at the ASPCA include Adoption Counselors, Cat Volunteers, Dog Volunteers, Foster Caretakers and Veterinary Assistants. For active volunteers who demonstrate advanced animal-handling skills, other opportunities may exist pending further training. For detailed descriptions of each position, visit our official Volunteer page.
If you’re eager to get started, please note the ASPCA’s Volunteer Program accepts online applications on a quarterly basis (sorry, we no longer accept paper applications). The next application period will be from Monday, December 1 at 10:00 A.M. through Sunday, December 8—so be sure to return and apply in that time!
Not in New York City? Don’t worry! There are plenty of fantastic animal welfare organizations across the country that can use your help. Check out the shelter finder tool to locate the shelter nearest you. Good luck and happy volunteering!
If you volunteer or work at your local shelter or spay/neuter clinic, or are involved in rescue work to help animals in your community, we’ve got a couple of questions for you...
Q. When is a paper plate not just a paper plate?
A. When it’s a make-shift E-collar for kittens who’ve just been spayed or neutered! Time- and money-savers, paper plates are great for use in foster homes, where you may not always have access to E-collars (especially late at night!), and can be used in shelter clinics when a quick E-collar is called for.
Q. What can you put in a baby pool other than water?
A. Puppies! Easy to clean, disinfect and reuse, baby pools are perfect for use in a shelter setting as a safe and sanitary area to contain pups, as well as for providing mom easy retreat for some R&R.
Q. Does saving animals’ lives knock your socks off?
A. Baby socks can be used to keep paws warm while animals are under anesthesia and recovering from surgery, as shown here.
Seeing a common theme? These everyday items can make life a little easier for the homeless animals you help care for, and can go a long way to stretch precious dollars for your local agencies, many of which rely on volunteers and animal advocates in the community.
With a little help from shelters all around the country, the team at ASPCApro, ASPCA.org’s sister website for animal welfare professionals, has put together a downloadable guide that’s free for shelter and rescue staff and volunteers, and anyone else involved in helping their community’s animals.