When Barbara Kohler retired from her job as Coordinator of Institutional Research at Sonoma State University in 2005, she knew she wanted to spend some of her free time giving back to the community. Shortly after, she saw information about a volunteer orientation at the Rohnert Park Animal Shelter. Given her love for animals, it seemed like a natural fit. She attended the orientation, signed up to volunteer in August, 2005, and has been going strong ever since.
“It [the Rohnert Park Animal Shelter] is probably the only shelter I could ever work in,” says Kohler. “I’m not the type of person who can go to a shelter without crying because I see all the animals. So, for me it was very emotional to go in and say, “I can do this.” “The animals are treated like pets, they’re not kept in kennels all day long. It’s just a real pleasant place to work and you just feel like the animals are well cared for and they’re happy. I’ll probably be there until I’m too old to do it!”
In her dozen years volunteering at the animal shelter, Kohler has done just about everything, including working in the front office, handling adoptions and interfacing with the public, inputting microchip data and decorating the shelter. She has cleaned, hauled, mended, done loads of laundry, picked up food donations, assisted at outreach events and helped intake and discharge animals at the fix it clinic (spay/neuter) program.
“I’ve done enough laundry and dishes for a lifetime!” jokes Kohler.
Kohler is also a “foster failure” – a person who willingly accepts an animal into their home who cannot be in a shelter environment until they are properly socialized, cared for and/or trained, but who then usually ends up adopting the animal. To that end, she has taken in and ended up keeping a dog and a three-legged cat.
About nine years ago, Kohler decided to join the Board of Directors of the Animal Shelter League (ASL), an all-volunteer run fundraising and community outreach auxiliary to the animal shelter. The ASL helps bridge the gap between the funding the city provides the shelter and the additional funds necessary to provide optimal services. The ASL also provides animal welfare education and community outreach to children and adults in the Rohnert Park/Cotati area.
For the past five years, Kohler has volunteered as Secretary of the Board and has helped the ASL further its mission of supporting the shelter. Most recently, she has taken on the coordination of the ASL’s “Silver Paws” Program, which assists seniors with the veterinary care needed for their pets.
“The Silver Paws Program is really near and dear to my heart, because I am a senior citizen,” says Kohler. “It’s for low-income seniors, who live in Rohnert Park or Cotati who are 60 years of age or older and have pets that need medical care.”
The Silver Paws program is being funded by an endowment left in the will of a previous volunteer, Suzy Melvin, who started the Silver Paws program several years ago. Funding had run out and the program had stopped, until the endowment allowed them to restart the program. Silver Paws provides, free-of-charge, items like veterinary office visits, dental care, minor surgeries and blood panels and urinalysis of animals for senior pet owners.
“I just love working with all the veterinarians in the office,” says Kohler. “All the veterinarians in Cotati and Rohnert Park participate. They have to be willing to adjust their fees downward a little bit, to help us as a rescue organization and the patient who is low income. Almost all of them will give us a good discount, so that we can work with them. It’s been very rewarding. It’s so nice when someone calls you and says ‘my pet is doing so well, thank you so much’. It’s really heart warming to me when they can save their pets.”
When asked what she would recommend to young people about getting involved in their communities and giving their time to help others, Kohler responded that, “Nobody in this life goes through it alone. Everybody needs help sometimes, including animals. I think if you can share part of yourself with whatever your passion is, it fulfills you as well as helping someone else.”
Kohler urges others in the community who are interested in giving some of their time for animals to either come to a volunteer orientation at the shelter, or consider volunteering for the Animal Shelter League board of directors, which meets once a month. For more information, visit http://animalshelterleaguerp.org.