National Volunteer Week: Celebrating our amazing CPSV Volunteers

As The Cat Protection Society celebrate National Volunteer Week (16-22nd May 2022), we wanted to extend a heartfelt thank you to our amazing Volunteers who selflessly dedicate their time and shared passion for animal welfare to ensure we can care for and rehome vulnerable cats and kittens in need.

Regardless of their role; whether it be providing a short term loving foster home, looking after laundry and cleaning, assisting with administrative tasks or spending time playing with and cuddling the cats in our shelter, each and every one of our volunteers plays a vital role in helping a cat find their happily furever after.

And for this, our team at The Cat Protection Society and community of cat-lovers are so very grateful.

Pam, Ann and Bianca are just three examples of our amazing Cat Protection Society Volunteers.

You can learn more about Pam, Anne and Belinda’s Volunteer experience at our Society and their motivation for wanting to help below.

And if you too would like to express your interest in Volunteering at The Cat Protection Society and help improve the plight of some of the most vulnerable cats and kittens, we would love to hear from you.

Lifelong supporter Pam returns as a volunteer 50 years after adopting her first kitten

When Pam Aitken adopted her first kitten from the Cat Protection Society, little did she know she’d be returning 50 years later as a volunteer. These days she dedicates her Tuesday mornings to volunteering at the Society which is unrecognisable to the Shelter that she visited all those years ago.

“I remember travelling to Greensborough from our home in Pascoe Vale,” she said. “The Society was a little white house, with big wire cages and up to a dozen cats in each cage. It is hard to believe that now when you look at the Society’s wonderful new Shelter with its individual cat condos that are so clean and even temperature controlled.”

Pam always knew that she would volunteer once she retired and as an animal lover it was always going to be for an animal welfare organisation.

“I’ve always loved and been owned by cats! I have fostered cats along the way too. When I retired there were three organisations I was looking to volunteer at and to be honest I landed with the Shelter as it was easy for me to drive and park there. Since my first visit I’ve always been a supporter and even left money to the Society in my Will.”

“I started volunteering in May last year and I now work at the Shelter for three hours on a Tuesday which I love, and I find really manageable within my week,” she said.

A typical shift at the Shelter might see Pam helping out in the laundry and kitchen as well as her favourite activity which is providing cat and kitten enrichment.

“It is great helping the cats. I love watching all the different personalities they have and how they all react differently to you. I love watching the kittens who are desperate for love and attention and like to be patted. I also enjoy watching the staff interact with the cats and I’m always amazed by how they find the perfect homes for cats with all sorts of quirks and special needs. It’s clear to me how much the staff love cats and only want the best for the cats in their care,” she said.

When asked if there is a cat at the Shelter that has particularly stolen her heart she responds.

“They are all gorgeous. There was a bonded pair of kittens that I remember fondly that weren’t siblings but had found comfort in each other. One of the kittens had little sight but didn’t let that get in her way and I liked watching her happily run around her condo. I was sad to see them go but it was so lovely to know they had found a permanent home.”

Pam thinks it is important that those thinking about volunteering at the Shelter realise that aside from the cat cuddling which is a wonderful reward there is physical work required too.

“There is support work needed as a volunteer such as helping in the kitchen and laundry. It isn’t all just cuddling cats you do need to put in grunt work too,” she said.

Before volunteering at the Shelter, Pam did a couple of years fostering with the Lost Dogs Home.

“The last cat I fostered decided she was staying put. She was a skinny little thing with cat flu and an infected eye. She decided she was staying at my house and luckily for me hasn’t left since. She has now ruled me for over seven years and her name is Lexie. Like all cats Lexie has a sixth sense and always knows when I’m not 100 per cent or feeling myself and will give me extra cuddles on the couch.”

Pam has said that luckily Lexie has assisted her in the one hazard of being a volunteer at the Society; constantly wanting to bring cats and kittens home.

“It is just as well Lexie has made it clear to me that she won’t share me with anyone else as otherwise I would find it way too tempting to keep bringing cats home,” Pam said.

The Society’s Chief Cat Cuddler, Anne becomes an official volunteer

“I have cuddled too many cats to count; it would be thousands.  I love thinking of them in their new homes with their new families.” Anne CPSV Chief Cat Cuddler and Volunteer

 Anne has been visiting the Cat Protection Society for 10 years providing countless cuddles to hundreds of cats and kittens awaiting their forever homes. As Chief Cat Cuddler she recently earned the very well-deserved title of an official volunteer of the Society.

“Coming to the Cat Protection Society is an integral part of my routine and I miss it if I can’t go. My weekly visit is the most meaningful part of my week,” Anne said.

“I enjoy being with the cats.  And I enjoy the social contact with staff, visitors and of course the cats.  It is my favourite day of the week,” she said.

Just like the love Anne has given to the kitties they have returned this tenfold by providing her with support to help her in her recovery journey following a transport accident in which she sustained serious injuries.

Ultimately it was Anne’s passion for cats which was what opened the door to her weekly visits and recovery.

“It was my love of cats, and the social interaction that coming to the centre gave both me and the cats that I get to spend time with,” said Anne.

“I have always loved cats.  My mum used to breed Siamese cats, so I grew up with cats and kittens. Our main breeding girl was called Jade and she was a Seal Point Siamese with a gorgeous temperament.  When I was a teenager I had a Seal Point Siamese called Celia who snuggled me every night. I love how cats can be very cheeky and are very affectionate, and all have different personalities,” she said.

Anne treasures her now weekly volunteer sessions which she attends with her support worker who assists her as needed. Through her stays she has come to know and love many of the Shelter’s long-term and short stay residents.

“I remember so many of the really cuddly and friendly cats over the years.  I especially remember a beautiful tortoiseshell girl who was extra snuggly and cuddly and just loved being patted and groomed,” she said.

“The cats are different each week, with some long stayers that you get to know well and understand their needs and wants.  I also love seeing the staff and visitors interacting with the cats and with each other.”

In the ten years since Anne has been visiting she has seen a lot of changes at the Society.

“The new shelter is great, the condos are larger, and the cats are more mobile.  It is great to see the cats enjoying the extra space and they love it!”

“The shelter has vastly improved over the time I have been visiting with all the new facilities.  The staff have always been wonderful ever since I started coming,” she said.

Anne is honoured to have been named a volunteer.

“It feels really good to have been made an official volunteer; I feel honoured and the recognition is gratefully accepted.”

She encourages anyone who is thinking of becoming a volunteer to just go for it.

“Do it!  It is very rewarding for both you and the cats. Offer the cats as much love and affection as possible and they will return it,” Anne said.

A normal volunteering session at the Society can see Anne spread her love between up to 20 cats and kittens.

“On a typical visit I enter the facility and wash my hands and say hello to all the cats before starting my grooming routine.  I groom, pat and socialise the cats and talk to visitors and ask about certain breeds or types of cats that they may be interested in.  Each visit I would usually spend time with about 20 cats, depending on numbers on any day,” she said.

“I have cuddled too many cats to count; it would be thousands.  I love thinking of them in their new homes with their new families.”

“I hope that they all get adopted and go to loving homes; they all deserve that,” Anne said.

Anne’s Occupational Therapist, Victoria Leckey, who has been working with Anne since 2008 (as part of the Transport Accident Commission’s community-based rehabilitation program) initially set up Anne’s weekly visits. She has seen over the years how her visits have greatly benefited her and helped her recovery.

“Volunteering at the Cat Protection Society and visiting the shelter has enabled Anne to participate in an activity that is meaningful to her and to develop and feel a sense of connection.  Anne’s involvement with the Shelter has been a key element in supporting her mental health wellbeing and very importantly, having a regular activity to look forward to which is something we all value” Victoria said.

She has witnessed how volunteering has given Anne a real sense of purpose and belonging in one of Anne’s areas of passion.

“Anne’s role as a volunteer has given her the opportunity to utilise her background and skills in animal welfare and pet care to make a positive contribution to their wellbeing, and to feel a sense of belonging and contribution through being part of something she values as being important.  Anne looks forward to her visits and her volunteering is a key focal point of her weekly routine,” she said.

Overall, she can see the benefits of volunteering not just for Anne but for her other clients too and the community as a whole.

“Volunteering provides us with the opportunity to engage and connect with others and to feel part of a community, which can enable people to feel a sense of purpose and belonging, assist in building self-confidence and promote positive mental health wellbeing, particularly through reducing levels of social isolation.”

Volunteering opens the door to some pawsome opportunities!

When mother of two, Belinda Palladino, attended the Cat Protection Society of Victoria’s Open Day last April, she didn’t expect to leave as a volunteer. She also didn’t imagine that as a cat lover her volunteer gig would later land her a dream job at the Shelter.

“I started volunteering at the Shelter in June 2021. My family came to the Open Day and there was a stand set up asking for new volunteers and foster carers. Since I have always loved cats I decided to put my name down for both,” Belinda said.

“After volunteering for almost a year an opportunity came up to apply for an Animal Attendant position. At the same time a job in Reception also became available and due to my strong administration background, we thought that the Reception position would be a better fit,” she said.

Her family has also benefited from her volunteering with them taking on the role of foster carers during this time.

“We started fostering when our vet team were looking for a short-term home for a kitten. He had some issues with his eyes, and they needed to assess why it was happening. We had him for five weeks and we enjoyed it so much we put our hands up to continue fostering,” Belinda said.

“My family enjoys fostering. I have two girls aged 8 and 4 and they are learning so much through fostering. Some cats have required medication, so they have watched me administer that and they help to feed and clean the area where we keep them. They love watching them grow from hissy, spitty kittens to kittens that can now be adopted into a loving family,” she said.

It is not just the humans in the house that have enjoyed this experience.

“I’ve always owned at least one or two cats. At the moment we have one cat of our own and a dog who loves meeting all the foster cats that I bring home,” she said.

It is the behind the scenes access that Belinda has enjoyed most about being a volunteer.

“I loved learning so much about what goes on behind the scenes. All the things we wouldn’t normally see. Getting to watch how shy cats grow into more confident cats just from the enrichment given by the staff at the shelter and just how lovely and helpful everyone at the shelter is,” she said.

A typical volunteer shift at the Shelter saw her work on a number of different tasks.

“I would do any tasks that were required on that particular day. Sometimes I would spend time in the laundry cleaning and folding the towels/blankets, I would clean bowls and tidy up in the feed room. As I grew more confident I would start to clean empty pens and restock the adoption room with more blankets and towels and bowls. Then I progressed to helping in quarantine and the intake and adoption rooms cleaning pens and helping to feed the cats under supervision of the staff. I also enjoyed doing enrichment with the cats,” Belinda said.

“Volunteering was so rewarding. It is not always glamorous, but you do learn so much from the staff.”

It has surprised Belinda how much she has learnt in the last year while being a volunteer.

“I’m surprised at how much more I have learnt about cats in general and the different techniques you can use in calming cats and how to read the personality of the cats better,” she said.

A few cats have really touched her heart.

“My first foster kitten Tyson is particularly special as I got to know him at the shelter and then in a home environment. I also fondly remember two bonded boys, John and Sammy, who were in the shelter for a very long time before they found their furever home,” she said.

“The great thing is, that now that I work in Reception, I do get to see some of the cats come back when they come in for their vet checks.”

On behalf of the thousands of cats that Pam, Ann and Bianca have cuddled, groomed and cared for over the years and the incredible support each have provided our team, we would like to thank Pam, Anne and Bianca from the bottom of our hearts for their loyalty and dedication.