Tuesday, April 23, 2013

How I Came to Be an Animal Friends Volunteer

Guest Blogger: Animal Friends’ Volunteer and Blog Contest Winner Andrew Lotz

Response: How I came to be an Animal Friends volunteer

Short answer: cancer and sadness. 

I guess I have to go into more depth. It started in late September 2009. My (now ex-)wife and I had just decided to get divorced. That very week I also had a doctor’s visit about strange patches on my face and skin, and got my biopsy results late on Friday. I was diagnosed with Cutaneous T-Cell Lymphoma, a rare type of cancer that affected the T-Cells in my immune system, causing them to invade my skin and cause plaques and tumors instead of staying in the blood stream like they should. 

The ex and I had two dogs, one of whom was an Animal Friends rescue from the old Strip District location. In all the confusion of the divorce while preparing for the treatments for my disease, we decided it was best that she kept the dogs. 

That was the right decision then, and it remained the right decision—even if it was hard for me to accept at times. As my treatments progressed, my schedule was utterly disrupted. Some medicines meant spending each morning getting an IV infusion, while others left me so exhausted and sick I would do nothing but lay on my bathroom floor. There was no way I could have kept the regular timings that a dog needs for proper care. Despite the hurt, it was better for any animal. 

Finally a treatment worked to arrest the disease. I’m still not “cured” or even in remission (I will likely never be in that state). But I had reached a point where the advance of the disease was at a glacial pace. I could take medicines which didn’t so dramatically interfere with my life. And I had to make an even harder decision: should I adopt again?

Ultimately, I decided that I could not adopt. Things were then and still remain too unpredictable. When every other month the check-up might change a course of treatment dramatically, it was important to recognize my limitations. To have adopted again would have been selfish—it would have been more about my wishes than about placing a dog in a good, sustainable situation. 

Yet I still felt the urge for connection with animals. So I looked up Animal Friends and submitted a volunteer application. And soon enough I was a trained dog walker going once a week to help out. 

That’s still not where I settled at Animal Friends, however. In thinking about “how I can help” I realized that there were a lot of less fun tasks that also needed doing. Maybe it’s because I teach political science, but I think John F. Kennedy’s words are particularly apt: “ask not what your country can do for you—ask what you can do for your country.” The same applies to a volunteer organization, I think. I spoke with the man who was the volunteer coordinator at that time and talked about the needs of Animal Friends. Plenty of volunteers would sign up and show up to walk dogs, but at that time they needed people to do the far less glamorous behind-the-scenes data entry work. I started doing data entry in the volunteering department, and was soon brought into development where I still help out almost every week. The one good thing about living in a state of perpetual readiness to have invasive medical treatment is that I keep a block of time open should I need infusion-style treatments again—which I have been able to use to help out with entering adoption data, fundraising data, and other computer tasks. 

And so that’s why the short answer to why I volunteer at Animal Friends is cancer and sadness. I can say that now because I’ve come so far. The long answer is so much more. My beginnings at Animal Friends come from a dark place. Yet I point at two things that have kept me going through struggles: my love of my professional vocation and the opportunities to volunteer at Animal Friends. That weekly visit, even if it’s more data than dogs, does so much good for me. 

So for me, the question of “how you came to be a volunteer” isn’t as interesting anymore. That’s stuff that is past—losses and pain that are squarely in the rear view of life. Instead, I’m just a volunteer now. How I got here is a lot less important than the fact that I am here. Like all the rest: my story is one of someone who cares about animals and does what they can to help a great organization support, care for, and place so many deserving pets.



Andrew, right, escorts Animal Friends' adoptable dogs to a fundraising event at the Fairmont Hotel


Andrew Lotz was the second-prize winner in our volunteer blog contest! Congratulations and thank you, Andrew!

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