A partygoer experiences the joy of a bunny cuddle. Thank you to SFACC staff and volunteers who brought our small animals to the Oct. 24 celebration: Kirby Counts, Mandy Covey, Loretta Kelley, Perry Matlock, Diane Pignari, Michael Reed, and Sofi Sylve. The block party with SFSPCA honored the 30th anniversary of working together as partners.

by Lisa Stanziano and Loretta Kelley

Loretta Kelly first learned that the shelter had small animals for adoption when she came to ACC and saw them; she left with two guinea pigs. She made a New Year’s resolution in 2004 to volunteer with the smalls it and has been volunteering ever since. I asked her to describe what it’s like to be a small animal volunteer at ACC…

“Our training program for small animals is less formal than those for dogs and cats. Several of us are trainers. Katheryne (ACC staff) gives our contact information to new volunteers. We schedule an initial training session and send them a copy of our small animal handbook. Then new volunteers work with an experienced volunteer until they feel confident coming in on their own. Our newbies range from “never touched a rabbit but would like to learn” to very experienced. All of our socialization takes place in Room 225, except for yard time on Thursday and Saturday afternoons. We have a variety of animals and volunteers choose which ones they want to work with. The rabbits and rodents generally get lap time or they can run around in pens we set up on the floor. Some of the volunteers work with the birds or reptiles. Mainly we give the animals exercise, enrichment, and socialization both to make their lives better and to improve their chances for adoption.

We also make them “burritos” which is a flat lettuce leaf wrapped around some herbs such as cilantro or parsley and a small piece of carrot. We stuff this into a toilet paper roll so the animals face a challenging task which entertains them and improves their problem-solving skills. Best of all they get to eat some fresh veggies. They love it!”

Loretta has a flexible schedule and started volunteering with the small animals on Friday afternoons “to start my weekend a few hours early. Most of the time I was the only volunteer in room 225. I would set up the pens and hold one of the animals in my lap. I found that whatever was going on in my personal or professional life was left outside the door. I belonged completely to the little ones. It was a quiet and restorative interlude in an otherwise hectic life. Coming here became an important part of my life.”

Now Loretta usually comes in on Thursday afternoons because that’s when volunteers have the dibs on the shelter yard for the rabbits. (Note: the new SFACC shelter will have a dedicated small animal yard—no sharing with dogs!) “The yard time is fun for them and for us. We have a great Thursday team and I enjoy spending time with them. I always say that working with wonderful animals is the second-best thing about volunteering at ACC. Meeting with and bonding with the other volunteers is the best thing.”

After years of volunteering with the small animals, Loretta has been surprised that so many people are willing to surrender such wonderful animals. “I know sometimes there are good reasons for this, but far too many people consider animals expendable.” Loretta grew up around animals and they were always considered family. She often told her mother that if she had pampered Loretta the way she did her dogs, she never would have left home. “We always had at least one dog, rabbits, fish, even a gerbil which is legal in my home state of Texas. When I lived on my own in apartments, I had four cats, although not all at one time. My grandmother always had a lot of animals, everything from dogs and cats to a duck and a fish pond. She was forever adopting strays. She lived near a university and once someone told her about a student there who wasn’t treating his dog right. Grandma found out where he lived, knocked on his door, walked inside, scooped up the dog, and took it home with her. I guess she was running her own rescue group.

For Loretta, the most memorable adoptions are the animals she has adopted herself. “When I first started volunteering someone had brought in a hamster who they said bit all the time. She was so sweet and I adopted her. I have adopted many small rodents since then but I don’t have anyone at the moment. I’m always open to someone who needs a home.”

When she began working with the smalls, Loretta was trained by someone who left shortly thereafter.  “Some weeks I would be the only volunteer who came in; at most there were one or two others. I was traveling a lot on business then and I felt so guilty when I had to miss a week. Now we have volunteers in every day so the animals never miss being exercised. Right now, every small animal volunteer was trained by me, or trained by someone who was trained by me, and so on. You get the picture. …Seeing this change has been rewarding.”

Thank you, Loretta, for your 15 years of dedication and love you’ve given to SFACC’s small animals!

Loretta Kelley on Volunteering with Small Animals