Volunteering Does Pay

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It’s never too late to follow your dreams.  Time is a resource we all have, and utilizing it to the max opens the way to breathtaking experiences.  Wonders truly reside in the challenges of undiscovered horizons.  There is so much to life, often much more than people realize. 

We all have hidden talents, yet so of us few realize it, or allow our mysterious, whimsical sides to be revealed to the outside world.  Human nature is comfortable with the known; however, there is much to be had in those uncharted territories.

Just imagine yourself as an octopus . . . you have this body with all these legs to reach out and discover different things and places.  If you don't use them to explore, your potential to witness many sights and situations will never become a reality.

No one should cut themselves short in life!  In those moments when we pause and ask ourselves . . . “I wonder if I could do that?”. . . we should not stop there, but instead embrace the challenge, expend the energy, and find out what life is like upon our next achievement.  Our life journey is what we make of it, and the more we strive the more previously unimagined feats prevail. 

I grew up with all species of family pets.  I was that kid who found creatures and brought them home as pets:  turtles and crayfish, salamanders, etc.  I’ve always deeply loved animals and all living creatures.  

Not surprisingly, early on I wanted to become a veterinarian.  So I obtained a BS in Animal Science, and went to work with a veterinarian for the experience, to help determine if this was my future career.  The small animal veterinarian I worked for was very kind, but not a strong communicator.  I could see that clients were frustrated and fearful in trying to understand his medical jargon. 

Soon I lost heart with this and ventured on to participate in animal research at the local medical school.  I had the opportunity and enjoyed assisting in two manuscripts on physiology.  During this time a professor suggested I apply to medical school to become a physician.  I listened and cautiously considered the idea, but a little voice in my head said, “You’re not smart enough to get into medical school.”

My late father was a great optimist, and a favorite expression was, “You’ll never know if you don't T-R-Y it.”  This was accompanied by bits about learning from our mistakes, that if we didn’t try new things we’d never make mistakes, and therefore learn or grow.  He championed the idea that we must always T-R-Y and pursue adventures in life.  Otherwise, we’ll never know everything we could and can do.  

So, guided by my father’s words, I applied, was accepted into and completed to medical school in Wisconsin.  Wanting to practice in a beautiful area, I moved to the Pacific Northwest and practiced pediatric medicine for nearly 20 years.

I married a native Oregonian and we have a daughter, along with our extended furry family members and a box turtle.

Three years ago my then eighth-grade daughter chose to work at an animal shelter as part of a required project.  Parental accompaniment was required, and while the time commitment was a stretch I believed in volunteering and knew it would strengthen our relationship, which of course it did.  We worked in the cattery at Multnomah County Animal Services eight hours per month, learning about this new world, playing with cats and helping potential adopters find their perfect match.  We enjoyed the experience so much we’re still volunteering there today.

It’s a known fact that helping others evokes happiness, and not only do I get complete satisfaction from helping others, but also from my memories.  My experiences from volunteering with my daughter were so wonderful, today I volunteer at two animal facilities.  Shelters have a tremendous impact in our community, and the experience has immeasurably boosted my happiness in life.  I wonder at how both of these volunteer experiences brought me back full circle to my true love for animals, which fills me with a magical happiness words can’t fully express.

Denise Kinstetter accepting the 2011 "New Best Friend" volunteer award (shown with Sharon Harmon)

Denise Kinstetter accepting the 2011 "New Best Friend" volunteer award (shown with Sharon Harmon)

Sometimes I wonder about the animals’ stories — who and where they were before arriving at the shelter.  And while my heart aches to see them homeless, it fuels me to give them security, comfort and safety while working to find them forever loving homes.

My heartfelt commitment and satisfaction in helping animals and people is endless.  My main volunteer hours are now devoted to the cattery at Oregon Humane Society and its Spay & Save program, which enables low-income individuals to obtain spay/neuter services for as low as $10 per surgery.  The program not only prevents unwanted litters, it helps us save cats' lives by helping decrease unwarranted euthanasia rates.  Spaying and neutering not only addresses the cat overpopulation crisis, but it also promotes longevity for owned cats by eliminating many known potential cancers.

I've always been driven and thrive on experiencing the power of self-improvement.  Every time I volunteer at the cattery, I T-R-Y to adopt at least three kitties per shift.  Usually I not only meet but exceed my goal, sending three to six furry friends to loving homes.

Volunteering allows people to follow their passions and dreams, and to experience the reciprocal effects of giving many-fold.  Treasured stories and memories will be in my head and heart forever!  And while I've helped adopt out several hundred cats, there’s a handful that left an everlasting impression.  These amazing felines all needed to get out of the jail-like, entrapped environment and back to being themselves — basking in the sun in their favorite spot in a place called home.  

One of my first triumphs was with Sally, a six-year-old black and white short-hair with diabetes.  Sally was extremely sick on arrival and required care in the ICU.  Treatment and diet returned her to health, but she would require a strict dietary regimen all her life. 

There came a wonderful elderly couple ready to adopt after several months of grieving their beloved cat of 19 years.  They wanted to help a cat in need, one who would otherwise have a hard time getting adopted.  We talked about Sally, who had “earned” a longest resident ribbon.  I told them she would be a huge commitment with extra daily responsibilities.  They wanted to learn more and meet her, and ultimately it was a match made in heaven.  

Not only were these folks excited as they filled out the adoption papers, Sally was too!  She didn't want to return to her cage to wait.  I helped with the adoption beginning to end, and was ecstatic as I walked the couple to their car with Sally and her care packages.

Another momentous adoption was Scotty, a 14-year-old Tortie who arrived at OHS as half of a bonded pair whose person had recently died.  While many volunteers hoped they would be adopted together, they weren’t.  Buddy went home first, and shortly thereafter Scotty starred on an OHS telethon.

About two weeks later, a woman arrived who wanted a cat with special needs or who really needed a home.  She had two senior and one young adult cat and a big cat-friendly home.  I told her about Scotty’s situation, then introduced them.  The woman fell in love with this cat who was not just older, but also required a special diet to sustain her kidney function.  Their meeting was magnetic and touching.

After just 15 minutes, decision and preparation was made for Scotty to go to her wonderful new forever home.  This was a phenomenal adoption and sharing it with co-volunteers I shed joyful tears.  It's moments like these you feel your heart swell and know that others can see your joy.

Denise loving a kitty at OHS

Denise loving a kitty at OHS

In our very dynamic world today we all need to set tiny goals, achieve them, and savor the success and personal growth.  Being driven to master our beliefs means “we will do it” versus “we’ll think about doing it.”  Automatically we then set slightly higher goals . . . and watch our entire lives change and grow.  

I see these concepts thrive with co-volunteers, helping to facilitate the shelters’ success, manifesting continual noticeable growth and empowerment throughout the shelter, and the people within it.

Interestingly, recent statistics show that volunteers in Portland, OR rank second in the nation only to Minneapolis-St. Paul, MN.  Not surprising:  many people in the Northwest are down-to-earth proponents of change.  

As a volunteer member of OHS, I feel the unity between staff and volunteers at this state-of-the-art nonprofit.  I believe the cohesive meshing and networking at OHS possesses the necessary enthusiasm to successfully support its annual goals, set even higher standards, and follow the mission. 

Some say love and money bring happiness.  I say being happy is a CHOICE.  Our economy may be in crisis, but I see Portlanders evolving into a more compassionate species.  People out of work are volunteering, giving them not only something to do with their time but a more optimistic outlook on life and improved self-worth.  

Please don't let life pass you by without experiencing the intangible, priceless treasure of volunteering. 

You cannot lose by volunteering; it's a win-win phenomenon.  Remember my father’s words — you'll never know if you don't T-R-Y something.  Volunteering is a fabulous, hopeful, contagious addiction.  Expand your world, discover new horizons, and truly get more out of life!

It’s never too late to chase your dreams and passions, and you’ll live more fulfilled as you experience uncharted avenues through volunteering — avenues that promise true, enduring happiness.  

By Denise Kinstetter