NEGAUNEE - From school children making luminaria for an upcoming holiday event to older ladies knitting warm cozies for kittens to folks willing to walk a dog, volunteers are essential for the continuing success of the Upper Peninsula Animal Welfare Shelter, its manager Lareina Van Strien said.
"We're a non-profit group with a devoted but small crew of employees," she said. "We rely 100 percent on our volunteers. They make this (shelter) a home. They make the animals loved. They make them happy.
"They make us who we are."
Northern Michigan University student Ashley Mattice walks Fred the dog along Snowfield Road in Negaunee Township, just outside the Upper Peninsula Animal Welfare Shelter. Mattice volunteers at the shelter as a practicum for her university studies and because she loves to spend with the animals. Happily, Fred was adopted two days after this photo was taken. (Journal photo by Renee Prusi)
Volunteer Carol Pence hugs Pork Chop the cat as she helps care for the felines at the Upper Peninsula Animal Welfare Shelter earlier this week. Pence, who is retired, said she enjoys spending time with the animals at UPAWS. (Journal photo by Renee Prusi)
UPAWS manager Lareina Van Strien sits with Dukie, a dog who's waiting for his forever family. Van Strien said while the shelter has a great staff, it's volunteers who are key to making UPAWS one of the most successful animal shelters in Michigan. (Journal photo by Renee Prusi)
Who they are is Michigan's Outstanding Shelter (medium size) for the third year in a row. UPAWS received the honor recently at the Michigan No Kill Conference.
Some 1,900 animals went through UPAWS doors last year, with 96 percent of them saved, meaning they found new homes or were returned to the home from which they strayed.
Those interested in being volunteers for UPAWS will find myriad tasks from which to choose, Van Strien said.
To get involved:
If you are interested in helping homeless pets through volunteer work with the Upper Peninsula Animal Welfare Shelter, contact UPAWS at 475-6661 or write to Upper Peninsula Animal Welfare Shelter, P.O. Box 968, Marquette MI 49855 for a volunteer application form.
Youth volunteers (17 and under) need to have a permission form filled out by a parent or a legal guardian, and need an adult volunteer scheduled to work with them at all times.
To learn more about the volunteer opportunities at UPAWS, visit upaws.org/volunteerpositions.php
"We have kitty cuddlers and dog walkers," she said. "We have people who clean the kennels or come and clean up the yard. We have a 'worker bees' list for people who are skilled at things like carpentry who will come here to build for us.
"There are many, many ways to volunteer."
Anyone who is interested in volunteering is invited to visit UPAWS during its regular hours to find out more. And don't be surprised if Van Strien and Co. put that volunteer right to work.
"If you're here, we'll find something for you to do," she said with a huge smile. "We'll show you right on the spot what to do. And if you express interest in a certain project, we're always looking for more help with those."
Anyone 16 or older can sign up to volunteer and those under 16 too can help at the shelter with an adult guardian present.
Carol Pence of Ishpeming was volunteering at UPAWS Tuesday morning, working with the cats who are anxiously awaiting their forever homes.
"I decided to volunteer here when I retired," Pence said. "I like animals. We came here to adopt a cat and I ended up volunteering, too.
"I have three cats at home so if I get any more, I will be a crazy cat lady," she said with a grin. "This gives me a chance to help other cats and dogs, too."
Pence feeds the cats, walks the dogs and helps in any other way needed while she's at the shelter. But she volunteers off-site as well.
"When UPAWS does its fundraiser at Jubilee (Foods), I go there to help," she said.
These off-site opportunities are another way for volunteers to help, Van Strien said.
"Some people might not be able to come here because of allergies or another reason, but there are ways for them to help. They can put up posters, work at fundraisers, recruit other volunteers. They can collect cans for us or buy things we need."
Another huge task volunteers perform is providing foster homes for animals waiting for adoption, Van Strien said.
"Foster homes are a huge part of why we're successful. They take in animals who are young, sick, old or nervous about being in the shelter and give them a place to be until they find their forever home," Van Strien said. "They are essential to us saving as many animals as we do."
Other volunteers, like Ashley Mattice, are unable to have pets where they live, so time at UPAWS allows them to enjoy the company of cats and dogs.
Mattice, a Northern Michigan University student majoring in psychology who resides in the dorms, volunteers for UPAWS and is using the experience as a practicum for school.
"I really wanted to work with animals and to be a volunteer here," said Mattice, who hails from downstate Shelby Township.
She enjoys all the animals at the shelter, but one dog in particular has become her favorite.
"His name is Fred and he's a 9-year-old German shepherd-Great Dane mix," Mattice said. "He won my heart over. He's such a sweet dog. He likes taking walks and playing.
"Some people might be afraid of him because he's a bigger animal, but Fred's a good, good dog," she said. "I hope someone adopts him soon."
That's the hope all the staff and volunteer at UPAWS hold, not just for Fred but for all the animals at the shelter.
And happily that wish came true for Mattice's favorite pal: Thursday, Fred
was adopted by a local family.
For more information, call UPAWS at 475-6661 or visit the website, upaws.org.
Renee Prusi can be contacted at 906-228-2500, ext. 253. Her email address is rprusi@miningjournal. net.