By Stacey Wang
It takes a special volunteer to work with rescue animals. Someone who won’t succumb to the whimpering and the sad puppy-dog eyes. Someone who can ignore emotional tugs brought on by that Sarah McLachlan soundtrack. And someone who, above all, is willing to help critters in need.
After spending only a few hours at the Pasadena Humane Society & SPCA, even this writer left with an urge to adopt the shelter’s entire animal population. Yes, the lonely alligator, too.
Shelter volunteer Georgiann Manzo knows that feeling.
“I’ve been here so long that I get attached,” she says.
Her Eagle Rock residence is home to six shelter animals.
Manzo is among hundreds of volunteers who undergo hours and hours of specialized training to help the hundreds more animals that come through the doors of Pasadena Humane. Beginning her animal altruism in 1998 with her daughter, the 65-year-old has become one of the society’s most well-known volunteers.
“So many dogs come in. Most of them (that) I worked with last week aren’t here today,” Manzo says.
The volunteer program receives ages 15 to 100, some of whom have developmental and physical disabilities. The nonprofit has accommodated special needs individuals in the past so long as they are able to follow directions.
“I just need people who love and respect animals. That’s it. The rest I can teach them,” says Sandy DeMarco, vice president of volunteer services at the organization.
Since its start in 1991, DeMarco has broken the volunteer program down to a science. Volunteers spend more than seven hours preparing for their job — most of that time is dedicated to learning about the organization and training to work with the animals. Then, if they desire, the helpers can take more training to handle animals with issues, such as peculiar behavior or timidness.
Even with the commitment required, finding help has never been difficult. In fact, it has been overwhelming.
The facility receives about 20 volunteers at any time on any given day to walk dogs, assist in animal training, answer phones and much more. Last year, volunteers clocked in more than 25,000 hours — equivalent to 12 full-time employees.
Volunteers are required to attend an orientation outlining volunteer rules and procedures. DeMarco begins the meeting with a 45-minute explanation on the shelter’s policy on spaying and neutering every animal that leaves the premises, as well as its policy on euthanasia.
“Those are the two big elephants in the room,” DeMarco says.
Ninety-eight percent of the shelter’s rescues are adoptable, but Pasadena Humane does get animals that are not, she says.
“We’re the last stop,” says DeMarco, pointing out that some prospective volunteers are not emotionally able to work with rescue animals. The many who decide to stay do so as long as they are willing to help. Some even become regulars like Manzo, who has developed a niche over the years.
“The worse they are, the more I like to work with them,” says Manzo, who spends her shifts playing with dogs that tend to shy toward the back of their kennel. “Those are my favorites. These are normally the dogs that wouldn’t get adopted.”
Manzo, like other volunteers, sits in the kennels with the dogs to get them used to people. Through her interaction, she finds out if the dogs have any issues and tries to help them work through it so they are more adoptable.
“The whole idea is to get the animal into a home,” DeMarco says. “That’s what it’s about.”
Pasadena Humane Society & SPCA, 361 S. Raymond Ave., Pasadena. (626) 792-7151, pasadenahumane.org
(Photos by Sarah Reingewirtz / Staff)