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For the past five years, Donna Meador has volunteered at The Animal Haven walking dogs and training volunteers. (Photo courtesy of Donna Meador )
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Donna Meadors and her golden retriever, Shane, spent years taking a daily two-mile walk. When Shane died of cancer, Donna was devastated by the loss and missed the joy he brought to her life.
“I made a personal decision not to take on another dog in my home, but I wanted to try to make a difference and find fulfillment as a volunteer to pay the joy I had with Shane forward,” says Donna. “There was such a void, especially remembering how much he loved the walks.”
Five years ago, Donna began researching how to get involved with a shelter. Though she lives in West Haven, when Donna came across The Animal Haven in North Haven, she knew she found the place she was looking for.
“It had more to offer from a volunteer standpoint and I was able to contribute more,” says Donna. “They run a terrific shelter and people respect them. Everything they do makes you want to be a part of. I wouldn’t want to volunteer at any other rescue because I don’t think I could top Animal Haven.”
In the past five years, Donna has dedicated her Saturdays to visiting the shelter, walking the dogs, and training new volunteers. As a volunteer trainer, she works with incoming volunteers on shelter etiquette and guidelines, as well as how to handle the dogs.
After the orientation, dog-walking volunteers accompany Donna on a walk and when they are ready, they take the lead with Donna’s guidance. Once the training process is complete, the volunteers are ready to take the dogs out on their own.
“There’s a certain process and a way to take the dogs in and out of the kennels—we get new dogs all the time so it’s for the wellbeing of the animals and the safety of our volunteers,” says Donna. “It usually takes volunteers about a month to feel comfortable because it’s an intense environment in the kennels. The dogs don’t want to be there. They want to be with people. We just want to make sure they have proper rules to make sure nothing happens.”
Donna notes that most of the dogs in the shelter typically have come from a bad situation and they often have no training. The staff often has no history of a dog’s background. While the volunteers walk the dogs, their job is not training or disciplining—that is left to trained staff.
“Our goal is to be ale to socialize the dog with people and interact with them so they can become adoptable,” says Donna. “We’re volunteers and we don’t get involved in decision-making or training aspect.”
Having volunteered for so many years now, Donna has gotten to know many of the animals at the shelter. She and the other volunteers get to know the dogs’ personalities and enjoy following the adoption stories that are posted on The Animal Haven’s website and social media pages.
“I miss them if I can’t make it. When they see you coming, they can’t wait for you to open up the door and be with you,” says Donna, who has two rescue cats at home. “You do get attached, but it’s a blessing when they get adopted and you know that another is coming in. The goal is to get them adopted and bring in another that can be saved. We miss them, but we’re grateful that they’re adopted.”
Donna not only enjoys seeing the dogs, but the staff and the volunteers as well. She has made several friends through her volunteer work and has seen how hard the staff and volunteers work.
“The people here are just fantastic,” says Donna. “I made the commitment that I’d put myself out there to volunteer and I’m so glad I did. It’s win-win all the way around—it helps the staff, it helps the dogs, and it helps me.”
Donna is also grateful to have seen the many improvements that have taken place at The Animal Haven over the past three years. Its renovation and expansion project began in 2017 and included installing a new HVAC system, sealing of the floors and walls, and installation of more sound-absorbent ceiling tiles to help reduce the noise level, making the environment calmer for the animals.
The dog kennel area was also upgraded with larger kennels with glass doors. The project concluded with the completion of a 1,500 square foot cat wing, which includes special rooms to isolate sick animals.
“When I first joined, there were a lot of issues with animals getting sick and [Animal Haven President] Linda [Marino] and her team were able to get grants to update the buildings, bringing it up to a state-of-the-art level,” says Donna. “The renovations have taken over two years so it’s been very challenging, but the staff knew the end result would be great.”
Donna works full-time as a technology manager for a Cromwell-based company. When she decided to volunteer, it was part of a 10-year plan to her retirement. In addition to paying it forward through volunteering at The Animal Haven, Donna explored another passion: raptors.
On Sundays, Donna volunteers at A Place Called Hope in Killingworth, a rehabilitation and education center for birds of prey. Donna has always been interested in birds and after joining the Connecticut Audubon Society, she learned about A Place Called Hope. While volunteering, she cleans and learns to handle the birds.
“I want to continue to learn and grow and do as much as they’ll allow me to do,” says Donna. “It’s important to be educated about conservation and raptors, what we’re doing to our wildlife and our environment—plastics in our waters, lead in [hunting ammunition]—those things kill our wildlife and all that wildlife has a purpose in our lives. I had set a 10-year goal to go more hands on with both after I retire. That’s where I want to focus my time, those areas that bring such joy.”
For information or to volunteer at The Animal haven, visit theanimalhavenct.org. For information on A Place Called Hope, visit aplacecalledhoperaptors.com.
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