Loretta Kelley on Volunteering with Small Animals

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!

Carri Lucas – Transport Volunteer

Ducklings ready for transport.

After 14 years of volunteering in the ACC vet room and walking dogs, Carri Lucas is a “newbie” again. When she read a message about the need for transporters, she decided to expand her volunteer efforts to transporting animals from SFACC to other shelters and rescue organizations.  SFACC receives many types of wildlife that folks bring in to the shelter or are brought in by the Animal Control Officers responding to emergency calls. Pigeons, seagulls, and other birds, mice, raccoons, skunks, opossums, and other mammals that are injured and orphan babies that can’t survive on their own are often transported to WildCare in San Rafael or to the Peninsula Humane Society & SPCA in Burlingame. (PHS/SPCA is one of a handful of animal shelters in the country that rehabilitates wildlife.) But SFACC doesn’t always have staff resources to do the transfers so they rely on volunteers to help out.

Carri didn’t know what to expect and the first week she ended up doing three transport trips (two  birds and one dog). She was given clear instructions for the drive, the main one is to be silent in the car—no talking or playing the radio. The idea is to keep human sounds and interactions with wildlife to a minimum, so that the animal isn’t stressed and so it doesn’t become connected in any way with humans. This practice is important for the goal of eventually releasing a healthy wild animal.

Transporting domesticated animals—cats, dogs, rabbits—to rescue organizations or fosters is a different kind of trip. Carri recalls one time she took a small terrier named Scrub to a foster home. Scrub was pretty shut down at the shelter. He wasn’t available for adoption and the Fetch volunteers (specially trained dog volunteers) couldn’t get him to leave his kennel and go to the play yard because he was very shut down. All they could do was sit in his kennel with him and throw treats in his direction. DogZone Rescue, an SF-based organization offered to take him and a transport was needed to get him to the foster home in Newark. Carri answered the request and SFACC care attendants got Scrub into a crate and into Carri’s car. At the beginning of the drive to Newark he was whining and barking frantically. Carrie had read that dogs respond to music and that it can calm them, so she started singing Silent Night. “It was the only song I could remember that was fairly simple and quiet. After I started singing to him he settled down and was quiet and calm for the rest of the trip.” Carrie sang the Christmas hymn over and over all the way to Newark (~38 miles).

When they arrived, Carri stayed and observed how the foster couple, who had a large yard, put the crate on the lawn and opened the door. Then they ignored the crate and sat on the opposite side of the yard, talking quietly. The couple had fostered dogs three times before so they knew how to approach Scrub’s transition. Slowly he came out and soon he responded to their calling him, wagged his tail. He wasn’t ready to be petted but clearly was starting to relax and trust his surroundings. “Seeing Scrub’s transformation from being so scared he couldn’t move in the shelter, to wagging his tail and running around the grass was so heartening. Meeting foster parents and learning about all the amazing rescue organizations that partner with SFACC is very heartening.”

Carri shared that her transporting trips offer an immediate gratification: “I’m making a difference in a very direct way, taking these animals from the shelter to a more comfortable place, whether a specialized wildlife care center or a foster home.”

SFACC is expanding their range and the need for more transporters in the driving pool is growing. The group of dedicated transport volunteers who have been doing this for a long time would welcome reinforcements. The area for the trips is usually local (Marin or Burlingame) but can be further, like the East/South Bay, Half Moon Bay, or beyond. One recent need was to transport chickens to Sebastopol, for example.

If you’d like to become an animal transport volunteer, you must first attend a volunteer orientation (sessions are held twice a month). To sign up call (415) 554-9427 or email acc.volunteer@sfgov.org.


Nathan Andrews – Animal Control Officer

Nathan Andrews has been on the job as an Animal Control Officer (ACO) for SFACC since March. A native San Franciscan who grew up with a variety of pets in his household, Nathan got an early start in the animal shelter environment at 17, when he began working at Pets Unlimited (later the SFSPCA), a vet hospital and adoption center.

In his current role as an ACO, Nathan enjoys the variety of species he interacts with on calls for assistance. “Working on wildlife cases is new to me and interesting, whether we’re responding to reports about raccoons, skunks, coyotes…there’s so much urban wildlife in S.F.” His most memorable case to date involved rescuing a skunk that was stuck in an elevator shaft of a construction site 12 stories high. It was his first skunk case and a tricky one, “like diffusing a bomb—no sudden moves.” He had to walk very calmly on wooden planks to get to the skunk, who was not about to move from its corner. Moving slowly and carefully Nathan was able to pick up the frightened critter, who thankfully didn’t spray him, even in gratitude.

Nathan’s advice for those considering becoming an animal control officer: “This job is very public-serviced focused as well as animal focused. Spend time in the animal welfare field. Volunteer and maybe do a few ride-alongs with ACOs if you can.” Nathan says his experience at Pets Unlimited taught him a lot about animal care and customer service, both skills that inform his current job, “the customer service aspect of my job is underplayed. Much of what I do as an ACO is public education, either related to caring for a pet or dealing with wildlife situations.” For example, suggesting ways to avoid unwanted critters from making their home in a basement or crawl space, or pointing out that keeping pets safe by not leaving food for wildlife is a good idea. He’ll have many opportunities to use those people skills at SFACC.

Welcome Nathan!

Josh Norem – The Furrtographer

Josh Norem, The Furrtographer, is one of the most amazing animal photographers around. He has that very special knack and ability to capture an animal’s unique traits and personality. Josh has used his gift for many years to showcase our shelter animals as the superstars they are. We’ve been so lucky to have him as part of the SFACC team, photographing animals as well as events for SFACC. So many of our shelter animals have found homes because of his wonderful volunteer service. Unfortunately for us, Josh has moved to the Sacramento area and is no longer able to work with us. We wish him the best of luck and will miss him terribly.
Thank you for everything Josh!

Here are a few of Josh’s portraits that helped these SFACC animals get adopted…

Alistair Callaway, Animal Care Attendant

Did you know that Pacific surfperch give birth to live young? I didn’t until I talked with Alistair Callaway. If SFACC ever decides to name a humane education czar, Alistair Callaway would make a great one. Alistair has been an Animal Care Attendant at the shelter since May of last year, and has a wealth of knowledge about caring for all kinds of critters, especially aquatic and exotics. Before coming to ACC, Alistair worked at Petco. on Sloat Blvd. for three years, and was instrumental in helping improve regional policy guidelines for the welfare of the animals at Petco. Committed to helping educate customers on animal care, Alistair became known by colleagues and repeat customers as something of an expert about the needs of the store’s critters. He spent extra time with potential customers, educating them about the fish, bird, or hamster they were interested in. “Sometimes when they learned how complex caring for a certain animal was, they changed their minds, but that’s ok and that’s better for the animal in the long run.”

Where did he get such a wealth of animal knowledge? For one thing, Alistair has a degree in zoology from SF State University, and has done extensive research on surfperch fish, working with biologists there, contributing to a body of data about a species of Dwarf Surfperch prevalent on the Pacific coast. Plus, he has extensive experience in maintaining his own salt water tank of finned BFFs, and is the proud guardian of Oliver, a 4-year-old Chinese Water Dragon, who he sometimes takes with him on excursions to Golden Gate Park (on leash of course). “These reptiles are arboreal–in their native habitat they live in trees and when we go to the park, Oliver looks for a tree to climb, and he’ll perch up there while I hang out and read.” Alistair loves rats too, and had three until recently–beloved Dagon and Bjorn have passed on but Loki is 3, which is like 90-ish, for a rat.

Alistair is passionate about the welfare of SFACC’s animals and the shelter’s mission statement–as many of us are. “The open-admission policy resonates heavily with me and is one of the reasons I wanted to work here. Seeing all kinds of animals come in–some in pretty bad shape–and then watching them evolve and blossom, and then go to new homes or other rescue or rehab organizations is gratifying.” …Every animal that comes to SFACC is given a second chance, and Alistair is often the one to personally do that–he has fostered baby rats and taken home an elderly hamster named Prudence for hospice. After chatting with Alistair, I feel fortunate, on behalf of the critters, that he left his native Southern California and adopted SF as his new home. Welcome Alistair!

Relaxing with Oliver, the Chinese Water Dragon