///Getting “High” on Rescue

Getting “High” on Rescue

with lots of help from my volunteer friends

Beth and PugslyIt’s called “helper’s high,” that exhilarating feeling volunteers get when they realize they’ve made a difference. It’s a sensation shelter volunteers feel deep in their hearts every time they watch a frightened dog or cat gain confidence and get ready to fly. And with April being Volunteer Appreciation Month, I think it’s the perfect time to celebrate what it means to “get high” on volunteering…and changing a homeless animal’s life forever.

I cannot begin to count the thousands of glorious “highs” I’ve experienced as a volunteer — rescuing, fostering, and finding homes for cats and kittens of all kinds — helping them heal, grow strong and confident, and become the best felines they can be.

DeloresEach rescue is powerful and life-affirming, but some really stand out. For instance, I will always cherish this image of sweet foster Delores (left) basking in the sunshine that pours into her room. This gentle soul was born a perfect kitten, then handed over to a life of misery about 14 years ago. She spent those years living a dark life in a dirty bodega in New York City. A huge-hearted customer was aware of Delores and pleaded with the owner to let her take her to a vet. Well, Delores will never go back to that life. She’s safe with me now thanks to the wonderful woman who helped her and then reached out to me.

X-rays, bloodwork, and a complete checkup show that Delores is not well. She was not fed properly all those years…and was never spayed! (She is now!) She has severe abnormalities in her internal organs, most likely from multiple traumas. From the second she arrived, she’s been clinging to us, just wanting to be touched and loved for the first time. She devours her healthy wet and dry food and has not one mean bone in her frail little body. Just after Delores came to me, the bodega got a new kitten who is petrified and hiding. I don’t know how to stop this ugly cycle, but at least Delores is safe, and she is the perfect reason I volunteer.

Just after Delores came to me, the bodega got a young cat who was petrified and hiding. Well, thanks to a lot of collective effort, that kitty is now in my home and his name is Kiwi. He’s just two years old and is super sweet and likes other cats. The bodega owner has promised us no more cats, and we will be checking often. Delores and Kiwi embody all the reasons I volunteer.

Kiwi Before
Kiwi After

Kiwi, before and after: No more dirty bodega for him!

When I first moved to New York City, living the hectic life of a young model, my profession sometimes felt shallow and unimportant. I’d always loved animals and knew being around them was therapeutic for me. Then one day, I was doing a charity fashion show at North Shore Animal League America (NSALA). As I carried a puppy down the runway, I realized how wonderful that connection made me feel. It was early on in my volunteering work, but I knew that my passion was deep and that nothing felt more fulfilling than lending my energy and life to helping innocent souls be rescued and healed. I am so grateful to my husband for helping me have the kind of life that allows me to dedicate all my time to being a volunteer. It is my passion and my bliss.

And when I say “bliss” I mean it! Researchers have determined that doing good for others produces endorphins in the brain that create a mild version of a morphine high. In fact, studies show that volunteering benefits both our mental and physical health, giving us a sense of purpose while lowering blood pressure and getting us physically moving. Volunteering for animals is especially powerful because interacting with them generates chemicals like oxytocin in our system that promote feelings of calmness, contentment, and empathy. So, it’s a win/win.

A moment of bliss with Jessica Stern.

A moment of bliss with Jessica Stern.

Another benefit of volunteering is it brings you into contact with others who share your passion. Sometimes you can feel alone with your concerns for animals, and stories about animal cruelty can feel so overwhelming. But once you decide to act — to volunteer and give of yourself — you feel less helpless, and you encounter people just as committed as you are to saving these precious lives. When we act for others, we also help ourselves. Some people call this “selfish altruism,” which is an interesting way of looking at it.

I’ve met so many incredible volunteers through my foster work. There’s Janine who is a very important person in the NSALA foster parent community as well as my friends Lisa and Dave Lande who foster senior cats in their home knowing they most likely will be with them for the rest of their lives. Another friend, Susan, helps me when my house gets totally full and there’s simply no more room! Sometimes it takes a whole community to assist with one little kitten’s journey to a forever home, including the many dedicated volunteers at NSALA who give so much of themselves. I am so very grateful for each and every one of them!

A crucial member of any successful rescue team is a good veterinarian. I am lucky to work with many, several of whom have become close friends, and each is a treasure. I’m in awe of the skills vets have — skills that save lives every day. And it’s not an easy job. In fact, it can be super stressful and disheartening.

Imagine having to deliver devastating news to people who sometimes blame you for not being able to perform miracles. And besides saving lives, veterinarians are the only medical professionals, in this country at least, who have the sad and difficult task of helping their patients leave this world. It takes courage and compassion to support pet owners as they make this dreaded decision…and then actually perform this last act of kindness for animals they may have known for years.

Tiny Timmy in the gentle hands of Dr. Alex

Tiny Timmy in the gentle hands
of Dr. Alex

And then there is the burden many vets face having to euthanize healthy pets in overcrowded shelters or those surrendered by irresponsible or callous owners. Most veterinarians are brave, idealistic people who are there for us and for our pets. No wonder these skilled professionals have a high rate of depression and even suicide! So, I hope on April 29, World Veterinarian Day, you will do something special to thank your vet…a card, a bouquet, a simple note, a box of candy to share with the staff…just to say you recognize and respect everything they do.

Another upcoming holiday of note is National Cat Lady Day, on April 19. Honestly, the stereotype of “the crazy cat lady” is just plain ridiculous. Some say my high profile is helping to change that notion, and if that’s true, I feel it’s a good thing. But cat rescue takes tons of planning and a well-developed sense of responsibility. No way can you be irrational about this, if you’re going to do it right. As for the word “lady,” I wonder if there really are more women than men involved in cat rescue. Sometimes it seems that way. But then I remember the many men who dedicate their lives to feline rescue, from New York to Florida and beyond. So really, there ought to be a “National Cat Man Day,” too, and Howard could be the face of it! I could never do everything I do without him!


Howard with our blind and beautiful Bella.

Howard with our blind and beautiful Bella.

P.S. I want to introduce three pets who are waiting for their heroes at NSALA.

LanaPerfectly imperfect Lana is especially meaningful to me. When she arrived as a kitten about a year ago, she needed our medical expertise to sort out her cerebellar hypoplasia, which has impaired vision and led to seizures. But she remains determined, loving, and charming. Our vets have created an effective plan for her and now all she needs is a family with kids over 10 years old and previous cat experience who will continue her care. We recently added this gorgeous girl to our Pet Sponsorship Program, which provides lifelong medical care for pets even after they’re adopted. If you live in the area and are looking for a dazzling new family member, I hope you will consider Lana. She’s a gem!

OliverThree-year-old Oliver is also a member of our Pet Sponsorship Program. This handsome guy arrived in late 2022 through our partnership with Paws4Life in Louisiana. It breaks my heart to think of all he must have endured in his short life. Fortunately, our behavior team has worked with him to ease his anxiety and make him much more comfortable. He was also diagnosed with epilepsy and needs daily medications. All he needs now is a loving home of his own. Check out Oliver’s profile to see a playful video to introduce him. 

MontaukNine-year-old Montauk arrived last year from an emergency situation. My colleagues at Bianca’s Furry Friends have given him all the time he needs, and he is gradually revealing himself as a quiet guy who loves the company of other cats. I’m told that at times, relearning his feelings about humans has been a struggle for Montauk, but each day he opens up a little more, and in the right hands I know he will flourish! Visit Montauk’s profile to learn more, about this loveable cat.

Giving Day WooftopIf you’re looking for another way to help the animals at North Shore Animal League America — and have fun at the same time — then save Friday, June 9, and RSVP for our Giving Day Wooftop Party at The Standard Hotel, one of the hippest spots in Manhattan. To learn more, visit animalleague.org/GivingDayWooftop.

By |2023-05-13T09:25:03-04:00April 11th, 2023|