This month, we have chosen Alicia as our Volunteer of the Month. Alicia has been a familiar face around the shelter these past few months, coming by nearly every day to walk, dote upon, socialize and basically give lots of t-l-c to the shelter dogs.
Alicia's creativity can be seen in her prolific blog posts, her handmade kerchiefs for her favorite dogs, her flattering photographs of dogs in action, and her sweet signs for dogs who need a little extra minding when out on a walk with them.
Unfortunately, we will be losing Alicia to New York soon, so it seemed appropriate to honor this devoted volunteer for all the time, energy and love she has given to help our shelter dogs feel a little more comfortable in their new environment, and ultimately, to make them become more adoptable. Here's to you and all you have done, Alicia!
Q.: Did you grow up with animals, and if so, what kind?
A.: I grew up with several really sweet cats, three hamsters, fish, and a whole gaggle of chickens (which was pretty eccentric since we lived in the suburbs). Even though my family didn't have a dog until I was 16, when I was younger my grandmother had an amazing rescue-dog-turned-service-dog named Bobo who I adored. I've always really loved dogs, and the more time I spend with them the more I realize they are such amazing, wonderful animals.
Q.: How did you hear about the volunteer program at the shelter?
A.: I was driving down University and saw a big poster calling for BACS volunteers at the bus stop at the corner of University and Shattuck, to be extremely specific! It took me a year and a half to call, but I'm so glad I finally did.
Q.: What do you like best about volunteering?
A.: There are so many things I love about volunteering that it's really hard to narrow it down to just one. I guess my favorite thing is just working with the dogs. It's amazing to be able to get to know them and their individual personalities, to be able to help them learn basic commands or practice what they already know so they'll be more adoptable, and to see them come out of their shell while they are at the shelter in the care of such dedicated staff members and volunteers. It's been so inspirational to be part of such a great community of animal lovers, who are all so dedicated to the welfare and well-being of these animals. That is another thing I've really loved about volunteering at BACS. And, lastly, I've discovered I really like writing blog entries!
Q.: How did Clementine help change your mind about pit bulls?
A.: Clementine is an amazing dog who will always hold a special place in my heart, and she was also the very first pit bull I ever interacted with for any length of time. Before volunteering here, I had heard plenty of crazy rumors about pit bulls and had based my opinion of them entirely on that. I had come to believe that pit bulls were extremely dangerous and unpredictable animals who could snap at any moment and maul someone. I had never come into contact with a pit bull at all, despite loving all types of other dogs, and I would literally cross the street or hug the curb whenever I saw a pit bull and their owner coming my way. (Which in hindsight was probably extremely rude behavior. Oops.)
So when I started volunteering, I was really excited to work with all the dogs except pit bulls, and it was my plan to just avoid all the pitties like the plague. But as we all know, when you're walking by a dog's kennel and they look up at you with the sweetest expression on their face, it really tugs at your heart and it's hard to just walk on by. And that's exactly what happened with Clementine. Go to http://bacs-doggies.blogspot.com/2010/04/oh-my-darling-clementine.html for Alicia's blog entry about this special dog.
I had just started volunteering and I walked by her kennel and she looked up at me with these enormous, terrified eyes. She seemed sweet and gentle but paralyzed by fear, and it really touched my heart. I wanted to at least interact with her a little bit to see if I could ease her fear at all. The first time I went into her kennel was extremely awkward, for both of us I think. She was terrified of everything and everyone (probably based on a really hard life before BACS) and cowered in front of me and seemed to believe I would attack her at any moment. And I kept thinking that at any moment this shy, gentle dog would morph into a rabid lunatic and attack me.
So. . . really awkward. But it quickly became apparent that Clementine was one of the sweetest dogs I had ever known and she really needed some encouragement to come out of her shell. So I just kept visiting her and taking her for walks. It was one of the most rewarding things to see her gradually begin to overcome her fear and to enjoy her walks, to see her completely happy and relaxed when she was frolicking in the grass like a big goof, and to help her learn some commands like "sit" and "down," which she picked up so quickly it was kind of astounding. She was even eventually able to rise to the occasion and do pretty darn well at her first BAD RAP class.
I think it would be impossible to work with such a sweet dog like that and still harbor prejudices against pit bulls. And after Clementine got adopted, as I've gotten a chance to interact with more great pitties - Miss Tulip, Mikey/Buster, Sam, Boots, sweet little Clementine, and pitties I now pet on the street (like Soldier, a completely gentle giant who was out for a walk with his owner on Hearst St. yesterday) - it's just continued to show me that pit bulls are really loving, goofy, loyal, smart dogs. They seem to be their own best good-will ambassadors, and I think it's hard to actually spend any time with them and hang on to negative stereotypes. Or at least that has been my experience.
Q.: When you settle down, what does your ideal animal family look like? (ie: cats, dogs, breeds?)
A.: Well, right now my husband and I have an awesome cat, Madame Lucha (aka The Madame!!), who we adopted six years ago. She is like our child, albeit a pretty surly, insane child, and I can't imagine our household without her. She brightens every day with her weird, wonderful personality. I also definitely see us having a dog in the future, but we'll wait for a few years until we're both done with grad school and our lives are more stable. At that point I'd love to adopt a shelter dog, probably a smallish dog as we'll be living in a tiny NYC apartment. And if the dog has the personality to enjoy it, I would really love to take him/her through the therapy dog certification process so we could do volunteer work together, maybe at a hospital, nursing home, or school.
At some point I would also love to adopt a pit bull or some kind of pittie mix, but that probably won't be for a long time as I'd want to wait until we were living somewhere with a fair amount of space so the dog would have enough room to roam around. But who knows what the future holds? I feel like sometimes animals just find us, so I will keep my mind open and see what happens. :)
We wish you the best, Alicia as you make the transition to your new city. Thank you for all your hard, heart-filled work on behalf of the homeless dogs of Berkeley. The homeless dogs of New York will soon have a new guardian angel in their midst!