Volunteers touched by time spent with shelter animals

Date Published: 
February 14, 2014

Coastal Point • R. Chris Clark: Sweetie Pie, a 7-month-old female cat, rests her head on something soft at the Delaware SPCA in Georgetown.Coastal Point • R. Chris Clark: Sweetie Pie, a 7-month-old female cat, rests her head on something soft at the Delaware SPCA in Georgetown.Those who are thinking about adopting a pet to add to their family may want to take the time to visit the Delaware SPCA in Georgetown to consider adopting one of the shelter’s many animals.

“Currently, the shelter has 56 cats, 61 dogs and eight horses,” said Jeannie Jannuzzio, assistant shelter manager and animal care manager.

The Delaware SPCA is a private nonprofit organization dedicated to the elimination of animal cruelty, neglect and overpopulation by providing services for people and their companion animals.

Jannuzzio said that not all of the adoptable animals are at the Georgetown shelter, as many are being fostered by shelter volunteers.

“We give the fosterers all the supplies they need until the animals can be adopted out,” she explained. “Those are the best times. That’s why we’re all here. None of us are here for the paycheck. All of us — every employee here — has either fostered and/or adopted. I wasn’t here two weeks before I had my first dog out of here.”

The shelter has nearly 200 volunteers, many of whom spend their time in the cat room, giving each feline at least 10 minutes of one-on-one attention and love.

“It’s just so rewarding. It’s very therapeutic,” said Carole Pizzillo, a retired teacher who has been a volunteer at the shelter for six years. “We get something out of it to. The cats give us love. There’s nothing more comforting, I think, than holding a cat and getting it to purr and feel comfortable, and finding its personality.”

Jannuzzio said that, without the many volunteers visiting the shelter on a daily basis, the animals would not be able to stay so healthy, mentally and physically.

“Having as many cats as we have in here, for one person and staff to keep an eye on their health, it’s a huge, monumental task. Without these ladies handling each cat on a daily basis… They can come back and tell me, ‘This one is sneezing,’ ‘This one doesn’t look right.’ They’re my eyes. I’d kind of be lost without them,” she said. “We have a good rapport with them. We definitely appreciate our volunteers.”

She added that the shelter’s dedication to volunteerism led her to start volunteering.

“That is one thing I can tell you: what got me to volunteer was our volunteers here,” she said, noting she now volunteers for the Center for the Inland Bays and the Marine Education, Research and Rehabilitation (MERR) Institute.

“I’d never volunteered a day in my life. I started working here two years ago and would see these people — here they are, coming in every day, doing what I get paid for. Because these guys showed me it takes just a little bit of time, but so much can be done.”

Pizzillo said that the volunteers get just as much out of volunteering, if not more, than the animals do.

“It’s really important for people to have a pet. They can do so much for longevity, for a reason to get up in the morning, a reason to keep going. And they just give love unconditionally,” she said. “They’re all special.”

Jannuzzio said that, for those interested in adopting pets, the SPCA offers a low-cost, high-quality spay/neuter clinic that helps control the pet population.

“Spay/neuter is key,” she said. “It’s so important.”

Although not every kitty in the shelter is perfect, each has its own unique qualities that could make them a loving pet.

“Some are quirky, some are shy, some scared, and some have an imperfection or a health issue that hold them back when potential adopters visit. What they need are people with big hearts,” said Sally Griffin, another volunteer.

Griffin volunteers at the shelter multiple days each week and already has three adopted cats who were once in need of the kind of good home sought for the cats still at the shelter.

Coastal Point • R. Chris Clark: ‘There is nothing to see here, move along,’ states Sami, a one-year-old female cat, as she bathes herself. Sami is just one of 56 cats housed at the SPCA.Coastal Point • R. Chris Clark: ‘There is nothing to see here, move along,’ states Sami, a one-year-old female cat, as she bathes herself. Sami is just one of 56 cats housed at the SPCA.“Summer and Dandelion came home with me two years ago, after my old cat passed away. I wasn’t a volunteer then, but I found two beautiful cats to share my home with. Summer is a dilute calico that had been returned to the shelter.”

Griffin said she believed Summer was returned to the shelter due to her less-than-perfect appearance and health.

“She has a permanent limp caused by a broken leg that healed on its own. She has some arthritis in her hips and is missing a few teeth… Dandelion is a cute orange-and-white tabby who came to the shelter pregnant and hit by a car. It turns out she had been shot with an air gun, and I later had the pellets removed from her leg. She is a bit shy around strangers but is a total lovebug with me.”

Griffin adopted her third cat, Twiggy, after she began volunteering at the shelter last year.

“Twiggy arrived at the shelter as an injured stray, when she was 1 year old. She had been at the shelter for more than half her life: for one year and three months. She had entropion, and her eyes were often infected. And on a white face, the weeping looked terrible,” said Griffin. What a difference a year, a new home and some tender loving care make.

“Her eye infections have been cleared up, her surgery was successful, and she is adapting well in her new home, playing with her toys and chasing Dandelion around the house. She will always have weepy eyes, but I just wipe them with a wet cotton pad each morning and she is fine.”

Griffin said that, while many people take a pause before adopting a cat with health issues, she can attest that the rewards for the pet and its new owner are tremendous. The challenge is getting the right person to come in and spot that potential perfect pet.

Kirk, a big orange tabby, is gentle and shy, and likes to stay on the highest perches in the shelter’s roaming cat room. Griffin says most shelter visitors are unable to see his sweet personality.

“When he comes down, he’s really nice. You feel like you get rewarded because he’ll deem to come down. He’ll get a couple treats, you’ll pet him,” said Griffin. “You’ll feel like you’ve accomplished something.”

“Kirk will have been here for two years. He’s 7 going on 8,” added Pizzillo. “He needs someone who will build trust with him. He needs consistency and love. He’s so shy. He really needs someone with a tender heart for an underdog. If nothing made him an underdog, he certainly has that persona.”

Another kitty, Oodles — a orange-and-white female feline — is very loving and friendly, but Griffin believes she has yet to be adopted because she only has one eye.

“She is very loving, and if you sit down in the free-roaming room, she usually hops right up into your lap to be petted,” she said.

“Benji is a handsome tabby with beautiful green eyes and asthma. He has been waiting at the shelter for almost a year for his forever home.”

Griffin added that the cats arriving at the shelter who have tested positive for feline immunodeficiency virus stay at Purr-Fectly Thrifty in Rehoboth instead, living in the store’s free-roaming cat room while waiting to be adopted.

FIV is a communicable disease among cats that attacks their immune system, but most FIV+ cats can still have a long life with few symptoms. To avoid transmitting FIV to other cats, they’re recommended to be the only cat in a home or to live in a home where all the cats are already FIV+.

“It’s nice in that they don’t have to be segregated,” Griffin said of the cats at Purr-Fectly Thrifty. “They can walk around and interact with the other cats.”

Griffin said she hopes more people will not only volunteer at the shelter but realize the value in adopting animals there — especially those who may be a little shy or need a little more attention.

“They’re all wonderful, unique cats,” she said. “They just need that special forever home.”

For more information on the Delaware SPCA, visit www.delspca.org. For more information regarding volunteering at the shelter, email joanne@delspca.org. The Sussex County SPCA is located at 22918 DuPont Boulevard (Route 113) in Georgetown. Their hours are Mondays through Fridays from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Sundays from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.