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National Caregiver Month

Fighting Stress While Giving Back: Volunteering Can Help You Cope

Without a doubt, it is emotionally draining to face the challenges of the Coronavirus pandemic. We worry about our health, our loved ones, our community, and an uncertain future that’s on the other side of these ‘unprecedented times.’  It’s no surprise that more than a third of adults over 18 were showing symptoms of anxiety and depression in the first few months of the pandemic, and that number continues to rise, according to a survey conducted by the National Center for Health Statistics.

Some of the things we do to cope with stress – regular exercise, classes, entertainment destinations – are in short supply, too, as the pandemic shuttered gyms and shut down events. For Spectrum Health’s Danielle Gregoire, she continues to find relief and peace in her volunteer work at the Buffalo Animal Shelter. Here’s her story:

“My personal “therapy” during the Coronavirus pandemic is the time I spend at the Buffalo Animal Shelter volunteering my time to help care for the dogs. 

I’ve volunteered there for three years and it’s definitely good for my soul. What else is good? Seeing these dogs get adopted. Meeting the people who will happily adopt these dogs and staying in touch with them and seeing the love develop between pets and the owners. And the volunteers and staff have built up a rapport, too, so we have a Zoom meeting every Wednesday to stay in touch.  I’ve developed some great friendships.

COVID has taken its toll at the Shelter, too. Hours are restricted and the volunteers don’t have as many opportunities to interact with the dogs. I can only get there once a week now and it’s the highlight of my week to get these dogs out for a walk. They suffer from isolation, too, and they don’t understand why we can’t be there as much as we used to. We used to take them out more frequently and give them baths (some of these pups come to us in bad condition and it’s just sad. Baths not only get them clean but can help  them relax and soothe them, too.) 

Shelter dogs need care and attention. Some come to us as strays or some are surrendered by owners who can no longer keep them. Since the start of the pandemic, people who were isolating at home found they had more time to care for a pet or they need companionship. Still strays and unwanted dogs fill out shelters, waiting for the right family to come along. It’s encouraging that Time Magazine named Shelter Dogs the 2020 “Pet of the Year.”  Shelter pets can be overlooked, but they deserve a second chance in a kind and loving home.

My niece 11-year old niece Madison comes with me whenever she can, too. She’s a great future volunteer and the staff loves her. This lets us spend some time together, too, and it also teaches her responsibility, team work, and how to work with animals, the shelter dogs in particular. She also helps make “shakers” (empty cans filled with a few pennies then sealed and decorated) which we shake to distract the dogs from unwanted behaviors when they are around other dogs. 

For me, working with my fellow volunteers to help heal these dogs from whatever abuse or abandonment they may have suffered and getting them adopted into their ‘furever families’ helps me as much as it helps the dogs. It feels good to be part of their healing and seeing them become happy, healthy dogs in loving homes.”

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