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Posts Tagged ‘Lincoln Animal Ambassadors

In December 2013, my husband and I adopted a one-year-old tortoiseshell from Hearts United for Animals. Cinder has taught us so much about cats that it seemed proper for her to have her own advice column.

QUESTION: How should one introduce a new cat to their home?

Ah, I remember my first day with my new owners. Even in that one room to which they initially restricted me, there was so much to see. There were so many objects to sniff! There were so many places to climb! I needed to bound here and there, everywhere.

When my owners left me alone and closed the door behind them, I felt kind of weird. It was so quiet. At the shelter, I had been in a room with 20 other cats. I loved my new place. I hated my new place. I didn’t know what I think.

My owners returned with food. I gobbled it up. I had to finish before another cat tried to take it. Then I remembered there were no other cats.

I felt grateful for my new owners giving me a place of my own. I head-butted my owners and sniffed them. But I also missed having cats around to play with. It was so quiet! I could hear my own purr.

The way I felt is the same as any cat will feel in a new home. Here are some things you can do to help us adjust:

  • Put us initially in a small confined area by ourselves.
  • Furnish the area with necessities: food dish, water dish, and litter box.
  • Initially, continue feeding us the same brand of food that we were given at the shelter/rescue we came from. Gradually, shift to a new brand of food, if desired.
  • Let us approach you. We’ll be nervous for a while. Let us adjust to you at our own pace. Give us alone time. We need time to adjust to our new situation.

In my next column, I’ll tell you about my next adventure. Please keep watch for it!

Reprinted with permission from Lincoln Animal Ambassadors Pet Talk. This article is original in content and not to be reproduced without permission. Copyright 2017.

If you walk into our local Petco on a Saturday, chances are you might run into Jeanie Imler. One of her volunteer duties with Lincoln Animal Ambassadors is to inform the public about what the group does and how one can make use of or donate to the group’s services. Earlier this year, I visited Jeanie at Petco to interview her and to watch her in action.

Jeanie has always had a soft spot in her heart for stray and homeless animals. She told me, “When I was five, my parents and I adopted a stray neighborhood cat. Fluffy was with us until I was a sophomore at the University of Nebraska.” To this day, Jeanie still adopts homeless animals, considering them to be the “best and most grateful”!

Her love of animals led Jeanie to Lincoln Animal Ambassadors. When she and her husband moved back to Lincoln in 2007 after living in Cozad for 33 years, Jeanie wanted to find a volunteer organization with which she’d feel truly be comfortable. Her mother gave her an article from the Lincoln Journal Star that featured a lady who had been walking her dog on a clothes line because she couldn’t afford a leash. The article featured LAA’s president, who had donated a leash and (probably other items) to the lady, and tugged at Jeanie’s heart. Not long after reading it, she made contact with LAA.

I have always enjoyed talking and interacting with people–being a French teacher at Pius with 130 students of course reinforces that belief!

Since 2009, Jeanie has been volunteering at an information table at the South Petco monthly for two hours on most weekends. Her table is regularly stocked with brochures about LAA and its affiliates, The Cat House and Cause for Paws.

Whenever customers walk by, Jeanie will smile and try to catch their eye. If she does, she’ll extend her hand and start to chat with them. Conversation will naturally revolve around LAA’s services, the low-cost neuter-spay program and the Pet Food Bank, but Jeanie will also talk about pets, jobs, and any other topic that might make a connection with customer. At all times, making the customer feel comfortable is of prime importance.

It is delightful and unbelievable the stories that I’ve heard over the years, too many to even mention.

Jeanie told me that over the years, many people have shared with her not only stories of their own pets, but also have talked about their experiences with homeless pets that they’ve fostered for various organizations in Lancaster county and beyond. “These stories are heartwarming and rewarding; anything I can (and have done) to help these selfless people is truly the best.“

Jeannie with customer. Permission granted for photo to be taken.
Jeannie with customer.
Permission granted for photo to be taken.

After I had observed Jeanie for about an hour, she then encouraged me to try my own hand at sharing information. Unlike Jeanie, I’m an introvert. Whereas she’ll naturally jump into a conversation about the cute dog tugging on its leash, I tend to immediately launch into a memorized speech about LAA’s services. And whereas she’ll easily fill in moments of silence, I’ll awkwardly ramble about the weather or some other mundane topic. Yet with some practice and lots of encouragement from Jeanie, I did find myself relaxing as the time passed. I became comfortable enough to share some interesting tidbits about myself, such as: I am from Canada, I teach with Lincoln Public Schools, and my pets have included guinea pigs, cats, and dogs. Before the two hours were over, I had also even begun to promote LAA Pet Talk, and to think that maybe I could add this to my volunteer repertoire.

Indeed, thanks to my two hours with Jeanie, I’ve since found the courage to make myself a more visible presence at LAA at fund-raisers such as I Love My Dog Expo and Tails and Trails. In doing so, I discovered the truth of Jeanie’s advice that “with just an introductory sentence or two, you’d be amazed at how many people ‘open up’ and really want to share their beloved animal stories.”

The more I volunteer for LAA, the more I realize what a difference just one person can make in the lives of not only pets, but pet owners as well … Many times the people I’ve talked to have friends or know of someone who needs our neuter/spay assistance or food from the Pet Food Bank. When I give them our information to give to their friends, they’re so grateful. This is truly a “win win” situation for everyone!

Have a passion for animals? Like to talk? Maybe you would be the perfect person to volunteer to help at information tables. And if the idea of talking to strangers makes you shake, that’s okay too. Animal welfare groups can use volunteers in kinds of areas. As long as you’re interested in helping those who have no voice in their lives, Jeanie advises, “just pick your strength and LAA will go from there!”



Jeanie’s love for homeless animals extends beyond her volunteer work. She’s also an influence on her family and friends. For a recent birthday, her five-year-old grandson asked those invited to bring donations for LAA’s Pet Food Bank. Avery agreed to answer a few questions of mine about this generous act:

Q: What pets do you have?

A. We have Harley, our English bulldog, and Sammy and Sophie, 2 cats from the Humane Society. (The family pets were adopted from the Omaha Humane Society five years before Avery came along, and are still happy and healthy companions.)

Q. Why did you donate your birthday money to Lincoln Animal Ambassadors?

A. Because I know my grandma volunteers for LAA and gives them food.

Q. What do you like most about your pets?

A. I love my pets because they are so much fun to pet and play with. Both of my cats snuggle in bed with me at night and keep me warm.

Q. Why should others help pets?

A. Other people should help pets because they are so much fun to be with and they are such good friends. We don’t want any animals to be lonely, sick or hungry

Reprinted with permission from Lincoln Animal Ambassadors Pet Talk. This article is original in content and not to be reproduced without permission. Copyright 2016.

What comes to mind when you think of ways people can make a difference in an animal’s life? I bet helping to hold garage sales and write for a newsletter didn’t make your list. Mindy wanted to help homeless cats, but her work schedule made it difficult for her to commit to the most-needed position at The Cat House, that of cleaning crew. Instead The Cat House found other duties that better fit her schedule, namely helping with its famous garage sales and writing articles for its quarterly newsletter.


Mindy is the owner of two cats, Fleur and Lee, both of whom were adopted through humane societies in Nebraska. “I’ve had Fleur longer, and I can say with 100% certainty that she chose me…. I didn’t’ choose her! I still remember sitting on the floor of the interaction room at the west Lincoln Humane Society location. Fleur rubbed her head on my leg and then trotted over to the door to look out the window. Her tail was straight up in the air, I’ve never seen her hold her tail like that since then. It was straight as a flag pole. She glanced out the door and then came back to me and presented her chin for me to scratch. She then looped her tail around my wrist and I knew she had claimed me!” Mindy adopted Lee two years later because she thought Fleur needed a friend. When she brought Lee home, she opened up the cat carrier and he jumped out.” He sat down in the middle of my living room floor and, apparently, hasn’t moved much since. ;-)”


One day while driving to her bank, she saw cats in the window of a building. This is how she first discovered The Cat House. When she got home, she Googled the organization and was inspired to volunteer her time with them “because of the good works that they do for the homeless cats of Lincoln.” Her own cats bring her so much joy that she wanted to “help cats that were at the shelter while they waited to choose their person.”

Unfortunately, as I mentioned above, Mindy wasn’t able to commit to joining The Cat House cleaning crew due to a sporadic work schedule. Unwilling to be deterred, Mindy searched for other ways to help. Others at The Cat House suggested that she could help with its garage sales and its newsletters, and Mindy seized both opportunities.

The garage sale was a unique money-raising opportunity for TCH. I was always amazed at just how many donations we received from the community. The baked goods that were donated were always top notch! I got to know a lot of the wonderful volunteers by doing these activities.

CatHouse_LogoYou might have noticed that my two first volunteer profiles have been of individuals who help at The Cat House. Given that this month at Pet Talk I’ve been mostly talking about cats, I thought it would be appropriate to focus first on ways to help our feline friends. When I asked Mindy why she would encourage people to volunteer with The Cat House, she responded that not only do you sometimes get to hang out with cats that are awaiting their forever homes, you also get to spend time with “some of the nicest people on the planet!” Moreover, The Cat House will work with you to find an opportunity to contribute that suits your needs.

I would encourage volunteers to just get started! There is always a reason to not help or some chore that needs completed but volunteering helps not only the organization but you as well.

 Reprinted with permission from Lincoln Animal Ambassadors Pet Talk. This article is original in content and not to be reproduced without permission. Copyright 2016.

What comes to mind when you think of ways people can make a difference in an animal’s life? Volunteering at a shelter or rescue? Jodi has done that. Fostering or adopting? Jodi has done that too. But I bet hosting a crafts night didn’t make your list. I chose Jodi as the subject for the first article in this series about volunteers because of the innovative ways she is making a difference in the lives of animals.


For starters, Jodi is an art teacher. According to her, it was just something she was born to do.

I always loved being a leader as a kid with my brother, and I loved to learn. After I had worked in Graphic Design for a few years, I realized I wanted to do something that made a difference. I wanted to make the world better, and so, with my love of art I took the risk and went back to school for teaching. And I love it.

If you were to visit Jodi while teaching (something I hope to do one day!), you would see a very busy classroom. She teaches seven different grades every day, which means there’s a lot of switching out of students. A lot of little lessons on media and techniques are taught first, so students become comfortable creating art and showing their own ideas. According to Jodi, she wants her students to “make their thinking visible.” She doesn’t teach assembly design lessons, where each artist’s piece has a similar result, but instead she suggests ideas, shares stories, asks big questions, and has students respond through their art.

What, you might ask, does being an art teacher have to do with helping animals? In fact, I posed that very question to Jodi, who told me: “There is always an opportunity to give education on social issues.” She then gave me an example of a time when the class created origami cats: “I made sure all students drew claws on the cats and told them the importance of cats having claws.”

Here, she paused, and then explained that it’s more than just the lessons. She shared how one day the kids were talking about big cats at zoos: “I asked how they would feel if they were taken away from their family and put in a small room and stared at all day. I didn’t say it was wrong or right, but just put the question out there for students to reflect on. I also mention the positive side, like how there are wild animals that need rescue such as big cats and places like sanctuaries exist.”

What inspired Jodi to become an artist? She loves the process of creating. “I love getting lost in a painting or clay and having it become something. It almost takes on a life of its own when I’m in that process. I just love it.”

To train to become an artist, Jodi got her Associates and her Bachelor of Arts in Commercial Art and Graphic Design, which took her about four years. As part of her studies, Jodi took several courses in all types of art-making. Watercolor was an early favorite. Later, she also discovered clay. “Surprisingly, I only took one ceramics class during my art training. The first summer [that] I was not either working part time or in a graduate school I took a clay class. And. Fell. In. Love.”

What, you might wonder, does being an art teacher have to do with helping animals? I posed this question to Jodi, who shared: “I see a HUGE need for animal education in our society. I started noticing this after a few years at The Cat House. I knew I could teach and tie in education. I also wanted to contribute.”

Cats and Crafts night started four summers ago. Jodi creates a flyer for each event, which she shares in the PAWS PAGES for the Lincoln Journal Star, on the TCH website, and Facebook. Flyers are also available at most informational and/or fund-raising events attended by The Cat House volunteers. At one point, the kids’ night was the most popular, but now the adults love the crafting nights too. Jodi donates all her own art supplies, with all proceeds going straight to The Cat House. Over $3,000 has been raised since Cats and Crafts started four summers ago.

To date, I have attended three such nights. Two were held on separate years just before Christmas, during which time I created greeting cards, gift bags, bookmarks, and name tags. Some attendees also made ornaments. There were oodles of supplies: card stock, cutouts, stickers, and so much more. I enjoyed customizing cards for family members and friends.





At another event, held just before February, participants brought a donation and a piece of glassware to paint. Pictured below are some samples that Jodi displayed. Stencils and drawings were provided, along with brushes, sponges, paints, and again oodles of other supplies.



I spent most of the evening decorating a champagne bottle to give to my husband as an anniversary gift. By the time I got to my vases, so much time had passed that I decided just to go for an abstract look.


Ever since I started looking for ways to help animals a few years ago, and discovered that traditional ways weren’t always going to work for me, the dilemma of how exactly to be of service has been on my mind. As you can see, right now I’m using my love of writing. I hope Jodi’s story will inspire you to find your own path too.

If you can help, then help. It’s what we should do as humans, help one another if we can and when we can. If you can’t help, and not everyone can, at least don’t harm.

Reprinted with permission from Lincoln Animal Ambassadors Pet Talk. This article is original in content and not to be reproduced without permission. Copyright 2016.

This holiday season, I’m reprinting a series of inspiring articles about volunteers in the animal welfare world. To kick-start the series, enjoy my essay about what I’ve learned about being a volunteer.

I don’t remember a time when I haven’t been involved in volunteer work. Yet in 2008, after I got married and moved to Lincoln to be with my husband, I found myself struggling to figure out how to fit into the volunteer world. This struggle led me on journey of self-discovery as a volunteer.

huskercats_logoWhen I started to research local non-profit organizations, I hit unexpected roadblocks. Some groups, because of the expertise needed for their volunteer roles, demanded a lot of training hours. Being just three years out of graduate school, and in a job where my contract renewal depended on X amount of hours of employee development training, I wasn’t ready to put myself back into a classroom environment. There were groups I could start with almost immediately, but they still required a year-long commitment of a fixed number of hours per week. Being relatively new to my teaching profession, I didn’t feel capable of committing to a second rigorous schedule. Finally, there were groups that didn’t require a lot of training or a big time commitment, yet presented the biggest roadblock of all: they wanted me to talk to stranger. Being an introvert, I felt this was a deal breaker. And so, for the next few years, I had no outlet for my desire to serve my community until I discovered my niche with Husker Cats and Lincoln Animal Ambassadors.


While I love working with these two groups, this article isn’t about them. Rather, it’s about what others have taught me about being a volunteer. You see, several months ago, I decided to try to make the volunteering process easier for others who might like me end up wondering if they actually have anything besides money to offer. And so I talked to animal welfare volunteers about how they got started, what individual skills they brought to the table, and their advice for aspiring volunteers. This article collects what I’ve learned into one place.

  1. Volunteers are essential.

Despite the time it might take to find an organization where you best fit, you shouldn’t give up. As various members of LAA told me, their programs depend on volunteers to survive. Donna Kavanaugh stressed that LAA wouldn’t be able to grow without volunteers. “The more volunteers we have, the more we can do.  There’s never a shortage of things to do.” And, as Mary Douglas pointed out, “We’re all in this together.” Or, in other words, it takes a village to accomplish the goals of volunteer groups.

  1. Start with a need.

When I began to volunteer with Husker Cats, I felt that writing educational articles would be the best way to help. When that didn’t pan out, I considered quitting the group. Yet I felt intrigued enough by feral cat colonies that I took a stab at being a caretaker. Because I was open to filling that need, I discovered the great joy of having cats show up at the feeders because of their dependence on me for food and water. I also had the great privilege of opening up our home to a feral cat and seeing her learn to adapt to indoor life and to the companionship of people.

One of the first volunteers I interviewed, Mindy Peck of The Cat House, recommended for prospective volunteers to just get started. “There is always some chore that needs to get completed.” And one of the last volunteers I interviewed, Ron Stow of LAA, responded tongue-in-cheek to my questions with the comment: “What qualifies me for throwing 50-pound bags of food around?  Well, I went to the gym in my younger days.  I’ve been an avionics mechanic in the Air Force and a mechanic at home.  I’m really just trying to fill in where there seemed to be a need.” Both Mindy and Ron are happy with the niches they’ve filled. As for me, I don’t even want to imagine what my life would’ve been like if I’d refused to simply “start with a need”.

  1. Find your passion.

The beauty about starting with a need is that you might end up igniting a new passion or rekindling an old passion. Through Husker Cats, I found a love for feral cats, which in turn reinforced my love of all cats. Kim Ostermann of Second Chance Pups emphasized, “Get involved. Dig deep and find out what inspires you. What makes you motivated to volunteer? You have to do it without expecting anything back. You have to be motivated enough to do this even though you’re not getting any recognition.” Husker Cats is relatively quiet about what it does, but boasts many dedicated cat lovers.

  1. There’s room to use your strength.

In talking with me about the ways that Nebraska No Kill Canine Rescue can use volunteers, Holly Harpster said: “We do have volunteers with special skills. One takes care of our website and will be training a couple of us how to also do that part. Others are skilled in photography and take pictures of our dogs and are able to bring out some of their personalities in the photographs. Some have baked home-made dog cookies to give away or sell at events. Others find a super deal on something dog related and ask us if we want to buy the item(s) and resell them at an event.”

Years ago, when I lived in Beatrice, I used to help out at Hearts United for Animals. Andy and I spent the occasional Saturday helping to socialize the dogs and the cats. As we became more comfortable, we also sometimes groomed them and even took dogs out to the play areas. Then one year, Hearts United for Animalsdecided to develop an educational curriculum, and I was asked to create plays to package with their lessons. As a side note, those plays are what alerted Mary Douglas of LAA to my creative talent, which eventually led to my becoming their blogger.

  1. Develop who you are.

Once you find your place in the volunteer world, the next step is to develop your identity. As with any job, if you find that there’s no room to grow, maybe that’s a sign that you need to keep looking for another group. In contrast, everyone I talked with referred to ways that they’re using the skills they brought to the group and developing new ones. One of the greatest delights for me in being part of LAA is how much freedom they’ve given me with the blog and consequently how much I’ve been able to grow as a writer. In addition, I’ve begun taking on additional duties that include ones I used to think I couldn’t handle as an introvert.

The main thing is, said Dina Barta of Dog DB, to not compare yourself to others. “Let who you are develop. Do not try to be someone else. Do not copy a style that is uncomfortable for you.” Jodie Lee of The Cat House also encouraged, “keep creating and exploring new ways to create.” Their advice makes me think of my interview with Tina Lassley, of Dolly’s Animal Legacy Rescue, who came up with the fund-raising idea of offering pedicures to dogs. She used a skill she had as a pet owner and re-imagined it as a way to make money. As Holly Harpster of Nebraska No Kill Canine Rescue concluded when talking to me about volunteers, “It’s wonderful that people are always thinking about how to help these dogs and you just never know what they will come up with!”

  1. Helping animals is a rewarding experience.

This one is almost a no-brainer, but I can’t ignore it because animal welfare workers expressed this to me time and time again. One young volunteer shared, “Other people should help pets because they are so much fun to be with and they are such good friends.” Tina Lassley of Dolly’s Animal Legacy Rescue aptly noted, “You play an integral role in the life of a dog. You save a life!”

  1. Volunteering is a way to give back.

Lucy_WindowAnother reason for volunteering is that it’s a way to give back. In the words of Ron Stow, “At some point, someone has helped you out.  Help others!” Jenna Rifer further explained that animals give and teach us a lot and so she wants to give back to them. As for me, although I’ve been helped animals on and off my entire life, my first cat is the reason for now dedicating so many hours to animal welfare. Lucy loved me before I even knew that cats could show affection, and giving back is a way to honor her eight years with me.

  1. Volunteering is about helping a cause.

While your volunteer work will benefit you, it’s essential to remember that you’re helping for the good of the organization and its causes. As Melissa Ripley of Second Chance Pups pointed out, you’re not in it “for the glory or the credit. Don’t let your ego get in the way of the focus of the program! It isn’t about YOU, it’s about your program and about helping!” One of the youngest volunteers I talked with expressed this sentiment so wonderfully when he said, “We’re able to put the Big Dogs Huge Paws name out so people will know what and who we are so that they can hopefully adopt a big dog from us.”

  1. Know your limits.

All of this is well and good, but you also need to set boundaries. Otherwise, you might burn out. Tina Lassley of Dolly’s Animal Legacy Rescue will sometimes lessen or diversify her commitments. Kim Ostermann of Second Chance Pups suggested, “Focus on the positive. You’re there to make a difference and to make a better quality of life.”

  1. Volunteering will change you. Forever.

Volunteer_HandsAs I said at the start, I don’t remember a time when I haven’t been involved in volunteer work. Every time I’ve volunteered with an organization, I’ve felt that it was (in the words of Jeannie Imler of LAA) ‘a win-win for everyone! My most recent ventures might turn out like that of Kim Ostermann described her work with Second Chance Pups, “It was the last thing I was looking for, but here I am eleven years later. I love what I do.” Volunteering with Husker Cats and with Lincoln Animal Ambassadors wasn’t on my radar, but they’ve given meaning to my life and helped me feel part of the animal community.

Reprinted with permission from Lincoln Animal Ambassadors Pet Talk. This article is original in content and not to be reproduced without permission. Copyright 2016.

Allisons' Book Bag Logo

Summer Reviews

Books can take connect us with strangers, take us to unique places, and introduce us to new ideas. They can also offer hope in a chaotic world. And so I must share what I read!

Each week, I’ll introduce you to religious books, Advanced Reader Copies, animal books, or diversity books. Some I’ll review as singles and others as part of round-ups. Just ahead, there will be reviews of:

  • Joni: The unforgettable story of a young woman’s struggle against quadriplegia & depression by Joni Eareckson
  • The True Story of the World’s Most Beloved Animal Sanctuary by Samantha Glen
  • Brothers in hope : the story of the Lost Boys of Sudan–refugees by Mary Williams
  • The Inner Life of Cats by Thomas McNamee



Cat Writers’ Association
Artists Helping Animals


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