Friday, February 1, 2013

What’s a Community Adoption Counselor?


By Kaitlin Hiliniski, Community Adoptions Counselor

My job isn’t like other jobs. 

Sure, some people work with the public; they have to smile, shake hands, and be “on” for hours at a time. Some people work with animals; they have to clean up potty messes, soothe nervous or excitable critters and be ever-vigilant to potential stressors in the environment. Some people work with corporations; they have to have a professional phone voice, lighting fast email responses, and a respectable social media demeanor.

As Animal Friends’ Community Adoption Counselor, I do all of these things and more. I work with local business owners and community leaders to get adoptable animals to their events. I select animals from our shelter who have to be able to handle, kids, other animals, hectic environments, and the occasional firework. No, really.  Fireworks are not just for the Fourth of July! Just ask Stash, the bunny.

I teach people about positive reinforcement training that encourages a dog to work with you as opposed to learning to fear you. I have to know how to properly fit a Sensi-Harness or Gentle Leader, because when someone is willing to give up a painful prong or pinch collar for a gentler option, I want the transition to be as smooth as possible.

I show children the proper way to approach a dog they do not know. Our Education Coordinator taught me this valuable skill over a year ago and I pass it on as often as possible. Few things make me smile brighter than seeing a child offer a dog a sniff before gently petting it on the shoulder. I love to pass out Animal Friends stickers to kids and adults alike. Everyone loves stickers!

I explain to people how spaying and neutering helps make their pets healthier, happier and safer.  I teach folks the difference between stray and feral cats, and about what a difference Trap-Neuter-Release programs can make in their communities. 

I educate the public about and fight prejudice towards misunderstood breeds like Pit Bulls, Rottweilers, and German Shepherds, not to mention Daschunds, Chihuahuas and Jack Russell Terriers.  I share the sad realities of commercial breeding facilities. I offer suggestions on how to rescue any breed of any companion animal – from pot bellied pigs, to fancy rats, to ball pythons, and everything in between – they all need to be rescued.

Not to mention I load and unload vans packed with donations from the generous community that supports our work. I bleach kennels and hold frightened kittens. I lay down newspaper and put out hay for the bunnies. I cut toenails and brush out mats (only on the animals!).

I train volunteers and direct questions to other departments. I provide a sounding board for ideas, and plan my calendars months in advance with other folks doing just as much as I am. 

I feed my fish, check my email and get ready to do it all again.

This is my job.

I come home at the end of the day exhausted, sore and smelly.  Some days I’m more tired than others and I consider if it’s really worth the aching muscles, sore feet and bruised ego. Then, my own rescued cat gives me a dusty and incredibly loud meow.  She’s deaf, so she shouts everything she says… Everything.

When that old lady cat shrieks her appreciation for a bowl of food and a scratch on the cheek, she reminds me of all the animals I have helped to save over the past year. I may not be pulling strays off the streets, but I am telling the public where they can go to get their animal spayed or neutered affordably, and therefore reducing pet overpopulation. 

I’m teaching people to bring their dogs inside in cold weather, and that there are better options for pullers than shock or choke collars. I’m finding homes for dogs that are fearful, demanding or have special needs. I help our PETCO volunteers with our satellite adoption center in Bethel Park. I’m educating people about just now smart bunnies are, and that they need so much more than a pet store cage or an outdoor hutch.  I’m helping people solve litter box issues and therefore giving pet owners the keys to a happier, healthier cat.

So yes, my job is not like other jobs. It’s demanding, tiring, and emotionally draining. It’s also uplifting, inspiring and the most rewarding thing I can think of to do with my career. I’m so proud to work for Animal Friends and help carry out our mission: To ensure the well being of companion animals, while ending overpopulation, abuse and unwarranted euthanasia.

Keep an eye out for me at your local pet supply store or community event. I’ll be the one passing out Animal Friends stickers with a smile!

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