Volunteering eases the pain of pet loss

Rear (l-r) Mary Caravella, Ginni Dornheggen; front (l-r) Connie Slusher holds Monica, a puppy ready for adoption, and Donna Eaton holds Shadow the cat, also ready for adoption.  

Photo credits: Shellie Smitley

Cutline: Rear (l-r) Mary Caravella, Ginni Dornheggen; front (l-r) Connie Slusher holds Monica, a puppy ready for adoption, and Donna Eaton holds Shadow the cat, also ready for adoption.  

Cutline: A litter of German Shepard puppies will be ready to adopt in approximately two weeks.

Cutline: Cats awaiting their forever homes, run and play on the patio designed for feline fun.



President Richard Nixon first established National Volunteer Week in 1974. Every president since then has signed a proclamation promoting the volunteer week. April became National Volunteer Month as part of President George H. Bush’s 1,000 Points of Light campaign in 1991. This month is a time for Lake Country to recognize the selflessness of its volunteers.

Many animal caretakers mourn after the loss of a pet. The Humane Society of The United States recommends volunteering at an animal shelter as one way to help cope with the grief. Three volunteers at the Oconee Regional Humane Society began volunteering as a way to heal after the loss of a pet. For Connie Slusher volunteering filled the void until she crossed paths with the right canine companion. She voluntarily walks, feeds and provides housekeeping services for the canine population at Oconee Regional Humane Society. Ginni Dornheggen is the nonprofit’s volunteer front-office person. She answers the phones, greets visitors, hands out volunteer applications and shows people around. She began volunteering after the loss of her cat.

Mary Caravella began volunteering with her grandchildren Braden and Ella. The children’s’ dog was getting up in years, and she wanted the youngsters to understand the process of losing a dog and gaining another puppy. 

The Oconee Regional Humane Society is a no-kill shelter. All three volunteers admitted they would feel uncomfortable if it were any other way.

“That would stress me out,” Dornheggen said.

“I would want to bring them all home just to keep them from dying,” Caravella added.

Chair of Operations Donna Eaton combined two passions when she began to volunteer six years ago; kittens and photography. She has worked in most capacities involving cats and spent several years on the board. She lost two cats during the time she has volunteered.

One cat checked himself into the shelter. Alone, Shadow was living outside the Greensboro shelter. He would make a quick dash whenever he was spotted by volunteers. It was assumed he was feral. After being fed for several weeks, he began to warm up to the cats playing out in the closed-in patio. One day, he allowed a worker to bring him into the shelter. After he was neutered, the staff assumed they would have to release him because of his feral state.

“The strangest thing happened. Shadow decided that he liked it here,” Eaton said. “He was like a guy that had just been invited to a party . . . he surrendered himself.” 

Time heals all wounds. Caravella ended up adopting Bunny, a Yorkshire-poodle mix, two months ago. Dornheggen adopted two cats, Jaguar and Bentley. Eaton adopted two kittens, Cici and Baxter, after fostering them for a short period of time. Shadow is ready for adoption.

The shelter, which survives on donations and fundraisers, is always in need of volunteers. Right now, volunteers 18 years or older are needed to help sort through and price donations for the treasure sale to be held on Sept. 22 and 23. They also need volunteers to help care for the animals or to work at the reception desk. Even one hour, one-day-per-week is valued. Donations of pet food and pet supplies are always appreciated.

“It’s a real community atmosphere and very friendly,” Dornheggen said of the shelter located in Greensboro.

A pet food drive will take place May 26 at the Publix Shopping Center. More information about the Oconee Regional Humane Society is available at Orhspets.org.


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