Volunteer of the Month: Hali B.

So much of the life-changing and life-saving work Cat Town is able to do is because of our volunteers. Whether it’s transporting a cat to the vet or simply helping with laundry, every task adds up to making a big difference in the lives of vulnerable shelter cats in Oakland. And what better way to kick off Volunteer Appreciation Week 2018 than by celebrating our April Volunteer of the Month, Hali B. 

Hali is a rockstar volunteer who helps out in so many ways; working as an adoption counselor, fostering kittens, and assisting with planning Cat Town’s upcoming fall event, to name a few. She’s also been one of our generous donors, supporting our organization and its continued growth.

I talked with Hali about why volunteering at Cat Town is such a rewarding experience, and why she's supports our mission, with her time and with her donations.

  Hali helps 6-month-old Bozeman burn off his kitten energy at Cat Town.

Hali helps 6-month-old Bozeman burn off his kitten energy at Cat Town.

Larissa C.: You’ve volunteered at other animal welfare organizations in the past. What draws you to helping animals?

Hali B.: Animals have always been a part of my life. I grew up with horses, cats, dogs, rabbits, hamsters … even birds for a bit. I feel like they give so much and ask little in return. Animals need us to be their voice.

LC: Have you been a cat person your whole life?

HB: I have pictures of my family’s two cats in my crib before I was even born. I grew up with cats, and rescued my first cat in second grade when a fluffy little calico followed me and my sister home from the school bus stop. We begged our mom to let us keep her, and she said if she was still around in the morning, she would consider it. When we ran outside the next morning to check the little box we had set up for her, we were devastated that she wasn’t there. Then we heard this little meow and out came our little lady from under the flower bushes, and she became part of our family.

My cat now, Lily, was abandoned in our complex because her previous family moved to an apartment where they couldn’t have pets. They didn’t take her to the shelter because they were afraid that with her medical condition, she would be euthanized...Another neighbor was feeding her, but couldn’t take her inside because she had [another] cat. She asked us if we would consider taking her in. I was afraid because I knew she might be sick and I didn’t want to fall in love with her if we were going to potentially have to make a tough decision. But one night it was raining, and she was sitting outside on our patio. My sister opened the door and she came running in, jumped up on the couch next to me, rolled over, and showed me her belly. That was it! She was my cat. Luckily her medical condition is not a big deal and she will live a long, happy life.  

LC: How did you get involved with Cat Town?

HB: I had read an article about Cat Town when the café opened and thought it was such a cool concept. Shortly after I moved to Oakland I was exploring my new neighborhood, and I saw the sign for Cat Town—just two blocks from my house! I took it as a sign I had been meant to be there. I made a reservation to visit, and then shortly after that, I signed up for a volunteer information session.  

  Hali's former foster kittens, Cheyenne and Mars, enjoying playtime.

Hali's former foster kittens, Cheyenne and Mars, enjoying playtime.

LC: What is/have been your role(s) at Cat Town?

HB: I’ve done a little of everything. I started as a Cat Zone attendant. Then I received a note from Ann that said Cat Town was looking for urgent help to foster a couple sets of kittens temporarily because a cold was going around—I took in Mars and Cheyenne for a couple of weeks. After a week, I figured out they had come down with ringworm, so I quickly learned how to take care of ringworm kitties...I had them for about three months while they recovered.  

I trained as an adoption counselor (AC) and have been doing that for a couple of years now. I’ve also trained to work in the Studios (in the expanded adoption center) and to handle Forgotten Kitten Project (FKP) kittens, too. I spend most of my shift time filling in where ACs are needed. Being around the corner from Cat Town makes it easy to jump in when needed.

I also helped run the 2016 Saving Pets Challenge fundraising campaign, and now I’m working on the event planning committee, helping to plan our upcoming fall event.

LC: You volunteer in so many ways. What’s your favorite and why?

HB: Even though I haven’t had as much time as I’d like to, I love being able to help with socializing our Forgotten Kittens. When I fostered Mars and Cheyenne, they were so timid at first, hiding whenever I came into the room.  And then just spending time getting them to come out, little by little, playing with them, getting them to take treats from my hand. It’s like that with the FKPs, too. Seeing them get to a place where they begin to enjoy contact with humans is very rewarding. Every time one of those little ones start purring, I melt.

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LC: Tell us about the event you’re helping plan for Cat Town! Can you talk about all the volunteer work that’s gone into it, and your role in helping the event take shape?

HB: We’re working on creating something that will be our signature event each year, so a lot of the planning so far has been around developing the theme. We want to be sure it will be a way to engage more of the community, creating enthusiasm to participate each year in supporting Cat Town’s mission. Now I’m moving into building out the program for the evening and creating a schedule for the event. We want guests to be entertained and have fun!

LC: Do you have a favorite memory or cat story from all your volunteering?

HB: My favorite cat story is Elsa’s story. I remember when she arrived at Cat Town, and she would just hide in the Tribune Tower, never allowing contact. There was just something about her face, and how she peered out of that hole. I remember talking about her with Ann, and Ann saying how she wondered if Elsa would come around, if pulling her for Cat Town was the right thing. I said I truly believed there was a sweet cat in there, down deep somewhere, and it would just take the right person for Elsa to become the cat she was meant to be. Elsa went to a foster, and I was so hopeful, but then she came back to the Cat Zone and I felt so bad for her, thinking she just wasn’t given a chance. But something had changed: Elsa began to explore. And play. And take treats from volunteers. We started to see her blossoming. Then Cathy (a Cat Town staffer) decided she had to bring Elsa to her forever home, and there she became that loveable little kitty loaf I knew was there all along. I love seeing Cathy’s posts on Elsa’s Instagram, watching Elsa be fabulous. This is exactly what Cat Town does—they take chances on cats who aren’t an immediate win and allow them to blossom.

LC: What would you say to someone interested in volunteering with Cat Town?

HB: I would tell them it’s been one of the best decisions I’ve ever made! I’ve had so many wonderful experiences with the cats, but I’ve also found a supportive network, and made some great friends, too.

  Hali and other volunteers catch up during our annual Winter volunteer party.

Hali and other volunteers catch up during our annual Winter volunteer party.

LC: You’re not only a volunteer, but a donor. What’s your own personal reason for supporting Cat Town?

HB: I’ve seen the incredible work that Cat Town does firsthand, and how the organization is dedicated to giving every cat a chance to live a happy life. Every time we pull a cat from the shelter, it becomes a team effort to make sure the cat finds the right home situation.  I want to do everything I can to be sure Cat Town continues to thrive.

Interested in joining Team Cat Town and helping us save Oakland’s vulnerable cats? Ask about our volunteer roles, like transportation, outreach, fundraising, working with the Forgotten Kitten Project, and more! You can start with completing a volunteer application form or emailing info@cattownoakland.org to see how you can get involved.

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