Pets Forever Needs Volunteers for This Summer!
Lauren Gould missed her pets when she moved to Colorado from California to attend Colorado State University. Pets Forever seemed to provide a good solution -- help people with disabilities and elderly Fort Collins residents care for their companion animals and at the same time get to hang out with some pretty cool cats and dogs. Gould, and many other Pets Forever volunteers, soon found that the pets were just the beginning of what has turned into many wonderful relationships.
Pets Forever began in 2008 with the mission of helping pets stay in loving homes, though their owners might no longer be able to provide 100 percent of the care they needed. Owners wanted to keep their companion animals, their primary relationship in many cases, but just needed a little extra help. Pets Forever volunteers walk dogs, change cat litter, and tend to basic care needs including brushing, administering medication, picking up pet food, and even transporting animals when needed.
While the intent of the program is to help at-risk populations maintain important human-animal bonds, students have found their lives enriched beyond the TLC and wet kisses they receive from their surrogate pets.
"I got involved with Pets Forever initially to get a pet fix," said Gould, who just completed her first year in the Professional Veterinary Medical Program and is a Pets Forever volunteer coordinator. "What I've learned by working with at-risk populations has definitely changed how I look at veterinary medicine. I've also learned not to pass judgment on someone based on age or special circumstances. You can be very similar to someone and not even realize it. Our clients have so much to offer and we learn from them every day."
Michelle Albright has found that many Pets Forever clients have become like surrogate grandmothers, and created many special relationships through the program. Lucy, a loving but shy Yorkie, and her owner in particular found a place in Albright's heart. Lucy's owner has faced multiple health challenges while a Pets Forever client, recently having surgery. Albright brings Lucy to her owner for visits while she is recuperating at a local rehabilitation center.
"Lucy's mom has very limited mobility and medication that makes her woozy, so Lucy wasn't really getting out for walks and didn't really trust anyone," Albright said. "I spent a lot of time just talking with her mom and getting Lucy comfortable with me. It was a little while before she would trust me to take her out for walks, but now she's just like any other dog and really enjoys her outings."
Dr. Lori Kogan, Director of Pets Forever, said students are always surprised by the connections they make with people they thought they had nothing in common with, as well as the skill set they develop.
"It's everything from becoming comfortable talking on the phone with new clients, to assessing a client and their needs in the home, to really establishing an emotional attachment not only with the pet but the client, too," Dr. Kogan said. "In many cases, the client actually becomes part of the student's support network - an extension of their family."
Laurel Guidry recently graduated from CSU with a degree in psychology and also is a volunteer coordinator at Pets Forever. She has been with the program for three years, and is impressed by the quality of student volunteers and the experiences they share with her as they go through the program. Students take Pets Forever for academic credit and are required to attend a weekly class as well as commit to four hours of volunteer time each week.
"I work a lot with our volunteers making sure we are getting our clients’ needs taken care of, students on the schedule, checking in with clients, and making sure we have a good match between the client and their volunteers," Guidry said. "I'm not with our clients in person as much as I used to be, but I'm still strongly connected to them. I love what I do here, and it really is a rewarding job all the way around."
Pets Forever is in need of volunteers! Pets Forever needs volunteers who can step in during the summer and holiday breaks to provide dependable visits to the organization's 80 clients (with more on a waiting list). Volunteers can be students who want to "bank" summer hours for when they register for the class in the fall, or community volunteers who just want to help out. Contact Dr. Kogan to learn how you can help keep pets in their forever homes, or visit Pets Forever to find out more. (my contact info? 970 491-7984 or firstname.lastname@example.org