Broadening their perspectives

Teens learn life and job skills through the Humane Society's volunteer program

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It has been said that if one wants to broaden their perspective on life, volunteering is the way to begin. Several local teens are doing just that by making a difference in the lives of homeless animals.

Eric Hou, Malini Naidu and Julia Bedont, all of Camas, participate in the Humane Society for Southwest Washington’s teen volunteer program.

With only 30 spots available each term, and approximately 80 applicants, it’s a highly competitive process.

Hou, 16, was motivated to apply because of his love for animals.

“I have a dog of my own, so it really made me want to help animals who don’t have a home,” he said. “They really need love and attention.”

Naidu, 17, has been volunteering at the shelter for six months, mostly with the dogs.

“I love animals and this is a fun way to help out my community,” she said. “I love just taking the dogs out of their cages, sitting and playing with them. They get so excited to get out.”

Bedont, 17, has been with the program for nine months and sometimes volunteers up to four shifts per week. She serves as a teen mentor and helps train volunteers new to the program.

“I wanted to volunteer at first because I knew that I would be able to interact with dogs since I didn’t have any right now,” she said. “I later realized that the main reason why I volunteer is because I can help the employees and other adult volunteers with the things that need to be done every day, yet no one has time for.”

Michelle Borum, the volunteer program manager for HSSW, said volunteers are invaluable to the program.

“They are really important because they interact one-on-one with the safer animals,” she said. “They walk the dogs and socialize dogs and cats. They also do chores like dishes and laundry, and help with special off-site adoption events.”

For many teens, it is the first work experience they’ve had.

“A lot of them really seem to like it and take to it well,” Borum said. “They feel as if they are really making a difference in the animals’ lives. It helps prepare them for future jobs.”

She added that some of the volunteers have asked to do more, and the Humane Society has responded by increasing the scope of responsibility. Teens can now go through the same training as adult volunteers to work with the more challenging cats.

“We are giving them the chance to move up in the program and looking for ways that they can do more,” Borum said.

Two teens who went above and beyond are former volunteers McKenna Smith and Jennifer Ruthruff of Camas. The two have since moved on to college.

“They were a team, and totally unafraid to take on more than what was asked of them,” Borum said. “They really took the initiative to learn more.”

For example, the two worked as teen mentors, and helped select dogs that were well-behaved and safe for teens to work with. They also assisted with numerous outreach events.

Smith, with Ruthruff’s help, coordinated a transfer of 20 dogs from a California shelter as a part of her senior project. This work included organizing fund-raising efforts to help cover medical costs and assisting in finding them homes.

“They were wonderful and did such a great job,” Borum said.

She adds that Bedont is following in their footsteps.

“She is fantastic,” Borum said. “She really steps up and does what needs to be done.”

Volunteers Hou and Naidu also play important roles.

“Eric is now being trained as a mentor,” Borum said. “What stands out about him is that he is here a lot. He’s always on the go and doing something, a no-nonsense kind of volunteer.”

She describes Naidu as friendly and outgoing.

“She has been a great addition to our shelter, and has a good way with the animals,” Borum said. “We have great volunteers. If you set your expectations high and are selective, it works out well for everyone involved.”

The teens interviewed said working at the shelter has been a good experience so far, and that the volunteer program is well-organized.

“I really like the opportunity to work with a lot of different animals and meeting new people with the same passions I have,” Hou said.

Naidu sat on the floor with a long haired Chihuahua named Chai and played with her.

“This is my favorite part,” she said. “It’s a really good program and I feel more kids need to be involved in their community.”