Q&A with Erin Sharkey

Isabel Tuisl, Reporter

Erin Sharkey ‘18 volunteers at the West Suburban Humane Society, located in Downers Grove, and answers questions about her experience working there.

Q: What are your tasks at the Humane Society? Explain a day in your life at work.

A: I begin by changing the water in all of the rooms and cages. Some of the cats I work with need medication, so I take care of that too. Then I give them their canned food and make sure their dry food bowls are full, and then clean the cages. Usually there is time left over and I get to spend it with the cats which is the best part for sure. At the end, I go into the “isolation” room for new and sick cats and repeat that whole process.

Q: How did you hear about the Humane Society’s volunteer work, and why did you want to volunteer?

A: My mom and I were at a pet store and we met a Humane Society volunteer who said that it’s a great place to volunteer and they are always looking for more help. My family and I have had great experiences with all of the pets that we have rescued, so we’ve always wanted to help take care of animals in shelters. To become a volunteer, we called the volunteer coordinator at the shelter and then had to attend orientation and training sessions.

Q: What are the advantages and disadvantages you see working at a shelter?

A: There really aren’t any disadvantages other than the fact that it can be hard to see some of the animals in there month after month not getting adopted. It’s a lot of work during the first hour we’re there, but the second hour after we finish all the cleaning is so much fun. That’s when we get to play with the cats and make sure they get enough love and attention. Every week I get to spend an hour sitting in a room with 10+ kittens climbing on me. It doesn’t get much cuter than that. The older cats are super loving too. The best part is starting the day at the shelter and seeing that a bunch of the animals we’ve been taking care of have found homes.

Q: What is your opinion on animal shelters? What is the difference between shelters and pet stores? Similarities?

A: You can find great pets at both shelters and pet stores, but when you adopt from shelters you’re saving an animal who might not otherwise have a chance. From what I’ve read, many pet stores use puppy mills which encourage mass breeding, and that mistreatment is really unnecessary because there are already so many animals who need homes. West Suburban Humane Society is a no kill shelter and takes in animals from other shelters who are going to be put down. They vaccinate and neuter every animal to make sure they are healthy and can’t have more puppies or kittens who may then have to go back to the shelter. If for some reason an owner can’t take care of their animal anymore, the Humane Society will take the animal back so it doesn’t end up in the streets again. Their main goal is to keep animals off the streets which I think is really important. Animal shelters also microchip the animals in case they turn up anywhere else, and they check to make sure that owners are able to responsibly take care of their pets to decrease the chances of them being returned or mistreated. So essentially, I support shelters a lot more because everything they do is to save the animals.

Q: Where do the animals at the Humane Society come from? What happens to them if they’ve been there a long time?

A: They are sometimes surrendered to us by their owner, coming from high kill shelters or dropped off at the door. If they’ve been there for a long time, the shelter does everything they can to adopt them. Sometimes they’ll do “long term foster care” to help the animal find a home. This is where the shelter pays for all the food and vet appointments while someone keeps the animal at their house, so it doesn’t have to stay in the shelter for the rest of its life.