By Erin Ellis

At the Humane Society of Truckee-Tahoe, we have always strived to have an inclusive volunteer program. We know that we can find the perfect role for anyone interested in lending a hand to our organization. 

In 2008, we decided to lower the minimum age for volunteers to 8 years old so we could include even more of our community and broaden our educational reach. At that time, youth volunteer programs at animal shelters were practically unheard of, but we didn’t let that stop us.

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Education has always played a significant role in HSTT’s mission, and what better way to educate the community than by allowing young kids to learn about animal shelters in a safe, hands-on fashion? The reality is that the youths of today with grow into decision-making adults. If we can influence decisions that make a positive impact on animal welfare, we’ve done our job. Whether it means they choose to adopt, take on a career in education or animal welfare, have their pet spayed or neutered, or simply have the knowledge of how a shelter operates, we are grateful for the opportunity to teach.

At HSTT, we had no idea when we began this journey of involving youths as volunteers what exactly the future would hold. Our hope was that these kids would learn that a shelter is not a sad place, that it’s not a place where only animals with “issues” are brought, but a place where pets feel safe and are loved and just need someone to take a chance on them — to see who they really are and help them find their new person. The reality is that you never know when you plant a seed how that seed will grow. Sometimes it grows just a little, and sometimes that single seed grows into a flower that eventually grows into a field of flowers. Children are our future, now is the time to get them involved and inspired.

Kids have been a part of HSTT’s volunteer program for nearly 15 years. All the children who started with us back in 2008 are now adults. So we thought we’d reach out and find out how their experiences here as volunteers have helped shape who they are today and the impact we had on them when it comes to pets. Here’s what they had to share:

WHERE IT ALL BEGAN: Aldana Fernandez was one of the first kids to go through HSTT’s Edventure Summer Camp, at which she decided her future would include working with animals in some capacity. Her journey has come full circle after joining Town of Truckee Animal Services, which shares the same building as the humane society.

Aldana Fernandez was one of the very first kids to go through our volunteer program in 2008. Like so many kids at that age, she wanted to grow up and work with animals. Little did she know at the time that her passion and what she learned at HSTT would take her on a journey to find her purpose and career. Here’s what Aldana had to say:

Throughout my years volunteering with HSTT, I got the opportunity to meet so many incredible animals and see them find their forever homes. I was able to foster animals, help with events, and even adopted my first cat from HSTT in 2014. When I think back on my time volunteering, I have so many great memories.

As life moved forward and I entered college, I knew I wanted to do something with pets. At first, I wanted to be a vet, but quickly realized I wanted to be more hands-on with animals. What I really wanted to do was play a role in helping them find their forever home. During college, I took any job that would let me work with animals. I worked in doggie daycares, animal boarding, dog training, and even as a dog groomer.

In July 2021 I started my new career as an animal caretaker with the Town of Truckee Animal Services. Eleven years later, I came back to the place that let me first work with animals. (Animal Services is located in the same building as HSTT.) Now, being able to care for them every day, train with them, and see them get reunited with their families or find their new forever homes, gives me purpose and fills me with happiness and joy. The younger me would be excited and happy to see what I am doing every day, what I have learned, and what the future has to hold.

SUMMER LOVIN’: Emma Costa was a youth volunteer at the Humane Society of Truckee-Tahoe when she helped create the Edventure Summer Camp program. Her experience as a camp counselor put her on the path to becoming a teacher. Courtesy photos

Emma Costa was another young volunteer who started with HSTT back in 2010. Her experience led her not only to adoption, but also to a career path spurred by her time as a summer camp counselor. Emma had this to say about her time spent at HSTT:

I always loved animals, but we weren’t allowed to have any because my mom was allergic, so we started volunteering together so I could be around animals. We volunteered together for three years, going roughly once a week. After she passed away, my dad started volunteering with me and it didn’t take long for us to adopt our first dog, Chance. This was about the same time Erin Ellis, volunteer manager at the time, asked me if I would help create an HSTT summer camp program. I worked with a group of other volunteers and teachers to create what is now HSTT’s Edventure Summer Camp. 

Being part of the Edventure Camp team was what sparked my interest in wanting to be a teacher. Fast forward several years and I am now currently a student teacher! I also have never lost my passion for adopting (adopt, don’t shop), and that stemmed from volunteering.

HSTT Edventure Camp not only educated so many kids in the area and their families but also taught me so much about overpopulation and the problems surrounding shelters everywhere. This information has stuck with me since the first year I was a counselor, and I have continued to share this information with my peers throughout college. After talking to my college friends about the shelters in their towns, I have learned that HSTT is really doing it right. The staff and volunteers care so much about the animals and the community, and the animals are able to feel comfortable and safe while they wait to find a forever home. I am a proud forever supporter of the Humane Society of Truckee-Tahoe! 

HSTT has always placed a high value on our young volunteers, so when it comes to creating some of our programs, we want them to be a part of that planning process, we want their help at our events and value their ideas and opinions. At some point these young kids will become the future of animal welfare, that is why their input now is so important.

FUREVER CHANGED: Natalie Lang Ree started volunteering at the Humane Society of Truckee-Tahoe at the age of 8. Now a college freshman, she looks forward to the day when she can adopt a pet of her own.

Natalie Lang Ree became a volunteer when she was 8 years old. She and her older sister and mom would spend time with our cats and dogs, cuddling and providing love and comfort to those little fur-balls. Here’s what Natalie shared about her experience with HSTT:

I always loved going to the humane society. It was stress-free and welcoming. When I was younger, I was very shy, so spending time with animals eased the pressure of communicating. I absolutely loved playing with cats. My favorite part was when a cat curled up on my lap. You would feel sort of chosen. 

Not only did we spend time volunteering at the shelter, but our family also fostered. We eventually adopted two amazing cats, Comet and Butter. Those two cats played a big role in my life thanks to HSTT. They were rescued from a hoarder, and I am so grateful we could provide them with a safe and loving forever home. I am currently a freshman at Carleton College and although I can’t have animals here, I know I will someday in the future. My volunteer time at HSTT has taught me how important adoption really is. I will always choose adoption because I know how many animals are in need of a home and someday I want to be that forever home for a pet in need. 

To find out more about HSTT’s volunteer and foster programs, please visit hstt.org/how-to-help/volunteer/.  

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