Have you ever heard the phrase, “Not all superheroes wear capes?” The sentiment applies closely to our volunteers at Voorhees Animal Orphanage (VAO). Our small, but mighty group of volunteers go above and beyond to save animals and make sure each one is safe, loved and cared for until they go to their forever home.
An example of the heroic effort at VAO is Eileen Stukas of Atco, NJ. Eileen first became involved with VAO in 1995.
“Although I had adopted from other shelters before, I never thought about volunteering,” says Eileen. “I walked into a pet supply store and a woman was sitting at a table with a cat for adoption. We started a conversation, she talked about volunteering and convinced me to give it a try. That woman was Linda Nichols, and we have been best friends ever since.”
When Eileen first started at VAO, the volunteer training program was almost nonexistent.
“There was no formal orientation or training, no ID badges, handbook or specific rules. For shelters at that time, mandatory spay/neuter requirements were unheard of, and enrichment was sporadic in the face of just providing the necessities.”
Shelters were little more than warehouses dispensing basic care for unwanted pets. Despite the best efforts of staff and volunteers, it would be many years before things progressed at VAO or anywhere else.
Now 24 years later, Eileen continues to volunteer with VAO and she has witnessed how far VAO and the animal welfare environment have come. Over the years, VAO has focused on enhancing their volunteer training, canine and feline enrichment, the adoption processes and humane education programs. In fact, shortly after joining VAO, Eileen created “Woofstock” an annual fundraising festival in its 23rd year!
As a shelter volunteer, Eileen coordinates the offsite cat care and adoption teams for four PetValu stores (Voorhees, Marlton, West Berlin and Hammonton), manages the quarterly “Pet Food Pantry” distributions and fosters neo-natal kittens, often just hours or days old. She also assists the volunteer coordinator in the volunteer training process.
With Eileen being so involved at VAO, it only made sense for her to take her passion for animals home – literally.
Eileen’s first VAO adoption was a shepherd mix named Spike. He was deemed “unadoptable” because he was very reactive to other dogs. After working with him, Eileen eventually adopted Spike in 1997. Although he was a challenge, he lived to be 15 years old.
There was also Toffee, a three-month-old puppy with separation anxiety who lived through two bouts of cancer and passed at age 10. Next was Cherokee, a very sick three-month-old pit mix who became a pet therapy dog and lived to be 11 years old.
Being able to adopt and care for her personal pets and volunteer at the shelter has made Eileen feel like something close to superwoman – and a superhero is nothing without a few sidekicks.
Eileen has a long list of current furry friends, including: Sundae, a fostered kitten (now grown cat) who has accompanied her on humane education visits and serves as a “welcome ambassador” to fosters; Mya, a surrendered nine-year-old purebred Himalayan; and Nora, a labradoodle puppy that Eileen affectionately calls “Naughty Nora.”
“Since VAO has lacked financial resources for so long, the team here has had to work harder and more efficiently than those who are fortunate to have more lucrative funding,” explains Eileen. “The spirit and strength of teamwork is essential for our success.”
For Eileen, the camaraderie and diversity of the staff and volunteers at VAO is part of the success.
“Our varied backgrounds and skills blend into an amazing team with a common purpose of going above and beyond to save the lives of the animals. We get to be a hero every day!”