Spending a day volunteering at a local animal shelter is a highlight I look forward to every month, and last week I had the opportunity to work with the fabulous staff and volunteers at the Arizona Animal Welfare League & SPCA (AAWL) in Phoenix – the oldest no-kill shelter in Arizona!
AAWL was founded in 1971 by Amanda Blake, best known as “Miss Kitty” on the television program, Gunsmoke. In the past 43 years, they’ve gone from adopting a handful of animals each year, to a full service animal welfare organization and leader in innovative behavior training, medical care, adoption, education, and community outreach programs. Today they care for more than 4,400 cats and dogs each year, and provide a permanent home for 45 exotic animals in their education department, which runs various children’s programs.
With a commitment to creating a world where there are no homeless dogs and cats, the folks here work tirelessly to provide loving care to their resident animals until they can find families of their own. It’s an amazing team that is striving to be the community’s leading source for pet adoptions, veterinary services, volunteer opportunities, humane education, and expertise in animal welfare.
My day started with a tour of their beautiful facility. From the welcoming lobby, to the indoor/outdoor dog kennels, to the multi-level condos and spacious community rooms in the cattery, to the numerous play yards around the grounds – the place feels more like a high-end pet resort than an animal shelter!
Our first stop was to meet the dogs, waiting quietly in their kennels for the staff and volunteers to take them out for a walk or to one of the yards for an off-leash romp.
From there, we made our way to the cattery, where the playful cats sprawled in their condos or amused themselves climbing and perching in one of the kitty community rooms.
We stopped by the on-site veterinary clinic, which provides low-cost services to the local community, as well as caring for all the shelter’s animals.
And then it was time to roll up my sleeves and get to work! I joined the dog walking team and got the pups out of their kennels for some morning exercise.
Long-time volunteer, Bobbi, showed me the ropes in the morning. She knows each dog that comes through the kennel and was particularly concerned about Jia, a 4-year old pittie that delivered a litter of 14 puppies just after arriving at the shelter. The pups had all been adopted, but Jia was still waiting for her perfect family and was starting to show some signs of depression. Bobbie wanted to give her some extra attention, to help lift her spirits, so we took her out to the yard for a game of fetch and some belly rubs. There really is nothing better than having a ball with a fun-loving dog!
The morning flew by as we took to the trail or frolicked in the yard with dog after dog, and before I knew what happened it was time to meet up with my lunch date, Pachino! His favorite neighborhood eatery is the hot dog stand just across the parking lot, so we walked over, grabbed a table, and got to know each other over franks and lemonade.
I can’t say enough nice things about this boy – he’s a spiffy dresser, has very nice table manners, and is extremely friendly and easy to talk to. I thoroughly enjoyed our date, and I’m confident you’d love spending time with him, too!
After lunch I connected with Dennis, another volunteer who works mostly with new arrivals. Dennis taught me about the enrichment activities they do with the dogs to keep them engaged, from reading to them, to working dog puzzles, to using aromatherapy to help relieve anxiety. Then we made a stop in the cattery for a little schmoozing!
Doobie’s ears immediately caught my attention … don’t those adorable tufts make him look like a bobcat?!
After a little kitty cuddling, we went to meet some of the dogs who’d just arrived at the shelter.
People say the Phoenix area has the 2nd highest homeless pet population in the country – only LA is said to be worse – and the Maricopa County Animal Shelter takes in an overwhelming 150 animals every day! Many of the animals at AAWL come from other shelters to help alleviate the burden on them. Grant is a perfect example … he arrived from the county shelter just before lunch.
He was out in the yard having a game of tug when I met him, enjoying the sunshine and acting like a gigantic puppy! This big sweetheart probably wouldn’t have survived the county shelter, and that alone is a testament to the difference AAWL is making for the animals in their community.
If you’d like to help AAWL reach their goal of no homeless dogs and cats – there are lots of ways to contribute! Not all of us are in the position to adopt another pet, but that doesn’t mean we can’t further the cause. Here are some ways you can assist:
Thank you to Liz Olsen, Volunteer & Special Events Coordinator at AAWL, for arranging my visit, and to Bobbi and Dennis for taking me under their wings for the day. I enjoyed it more than I can say. I also want to express my appreciation to Cloud Star and Quaker Pet Group for their generous participation in the Take Paws to Volunteer Program. The all-natural treats and fun toys they donate to the shelters we visit each month helps make these animals’ wait a little more pleasant.
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