It’s an engine of good intentions, fueled every year by 100,000 hours of volunteer service. It’s the Animal Humane Society (AHS), and, this summer, it’s going into fifth gear.
Deb Balzer is a happy cog in that machine, one of the proudest of AHS’s 200 paid employees, but her position as Marketing Manager is no mere job, nor even a profession: It’s nothing less than a mission.
According to Balzer, “Our mission is to engage the heart, hands, and mind of the community to help animals, and I am fortunate enough to work at an organization that has a mission I live and breathe with passion and energy. I spend a great deal of my time personally transporting animals to various media outlets in attempts to get these wonderful animals a new audience.”
That audience is composed primarily of potential pet owners…but not exclusively so. Another niche reached by Balzer is a virtual hive of volunteers.
“When we talk about our staff at Animal Humane Society, we cannot do so without talking about the vital roles of our 1,500-plus volunteers that assist at our five locations,” Balzer insists. “As the largest animal-welfare organization in the Upper Midwest, we help more than 36,000 animals a year, and that takes a great deal of people power. One of the unique volunteer opportunities is that of foster parents—people who take in sick, pregnant, young, weak, frightened, animals that need special care before they are available for adoption.”
One of those unique volunteers is Lavender writer Heidi Fellner, who declares, “Taking a sick or unsocialized animal into my home, and helping it recover and become adoptable, is one of the most rewarding experiences I have ever had. Part of our jobs as foster parents is to care for these animals in a loving way, as so many of them came to the shelter from homes where they may have been neglected or even mistreated. So, really, you aren’t just a baby-sitter or a caregiver. When I have foster animals in my house, I make sure to spend time interacting with them, and getting to know them and showing them affection. It’s not a hard job, as all animals are inherently lovable.”
But doesn’t all that affection guarantee a separation anxiety—for parent and pet?
Not necessarily, Fellner shares: “I always get attached to my fosters. The trick is not to mind letting them go when your time is up, and just be grateful to have gotten to know them. I need that lesson just as a human being. I think we all do. To be honest, sometimes, I have more of a connection with some than with others, but I am always a little sad to see them go. Yet I am so happy that I have been able to help them. It’s still an overwhelmingly positive experience. And if you ever get so attached to foster animals that you can’t bear to let go, you can always adopt them.”
That’s the voice of experience. Fellner owns a pet rat named Mickey who started out as a foster.
“Mickey is a great ambassador of his species,” Fellner relates. “He’s quite the charmer, and smells like fruity dryer sheets.”
Balzer, who sees such stories repeated every day, remarks, “There is true joy in seeing a connection, and witnessing a family come together. Moreover, at Animal Humane Society, we support all families. GBLT or heterosexual—it is about love and compassion. That is, in my humble opinion, what makes a family.”
Animal Humane Society
845 Meadow Ln. N., Golden Valley