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Stepping Up, Pitching In

A day-by-day look at HSUS volunteers who have made a difference

Caring for homeless cats following a deadly storm. Serving as a leader for animals in a congressional district. Helping to pull off a free vaccination event for pets in Philadelphia, Atlanta, Chicago or Los Angeles.

There are myriad ways to help The HSUS provide care and protection for animals. In honor of National Volunteer Week, we're spotlighting six volunteers who are making a difference.

  • Melinda Ellwanger loves being an HSUS volunteer because she gets tools and support, but also "the freedom to explore and see where do I fit in." Photo by Melinda Ellwanger

Melinda Ellwanger

A new mission

By Tanya Mulford

Volunteering with The HSUS after Hurricane Katrina "taught me what I was meant to do," says Melinda Ellwanger.

While helping animals after the catastrophic hurricane, she also saw the effects of manmade problems, such as pet overpopulation and dogfighting. Ellwanger took home to Iowa a new life's mission—and six dogs. (Five were reunited with their owners. She kept the unclaimed sixth, a Chihuahua named Beau who'd lodged himself in her heart.)

Now an HSUS district leader volunteer, Ellwanger tackles animal advocacy with energy and tact in a state shaped by its reliance on industrial agriculture. She's exhilarated by the progress she's made educating neighbors and legislators: Many are now talking about inhumane confinement of farm animals, animal cruelty and other issues. Iowa is even making changes. Recently, Ellwanger successfully helped lobby for a state law regulating commercial dog breeding facilities. Next up: pushing for a roadside zoo ban—and so much more.

Join us in our mission to celebrate animals and confront cruelty. Search for volunteer opportunities by state »


  • Jaime, an avid rock climber, also signs a lot of online petitions to help animals, people and the environment, calling it "a part-time job." Photo by Hueco Patrick

Natalie Jaime

A rock star for prairie dogs

By Ruthanne Johnson

What do coffee, prairie dogs, rock climbing and music have in common? Natalie Jaime, of course. She’s a rock-climbing barista who's married to a musician. And she loves prairie dogs. "They're cute, intelligent and funny," she says. "I love when they make the 'all-clear' yip."

After moving to Colorado in 2011, a Google search connected her with the Prairie Dog Coalition, an HSUS program that works on conservation of these keystone species. She’s worked to help prairie dogs in northeast Colorado, gathering signatures for a petition and attending protests. And she's worked to relocate an imperiled Boulder colony, helping rescuers trap and release prairie dog families to protected land. The highlight, she says, was driving them between locations in her truck. "It feels good to fight for the little guys."

Her current task is procuring silent auction items for the coalition's annual fundraiser. Asking for freebies is a challenge, she says, "but sometimes, it's those you least expect [who] come through."

Thinking of volunteering? See how you can get involved »


  • From kittens to bobcats to this bear cub, Mike Cannone pitches in wherever needed. Photo by Mike Cannone

Mike Cannone

“Willing to do anything”

By Michael Sharp

Mike Cannone figures this all started with a litter of five kittens. He and his wife agreed to take them in temporarily, and within days, he was smitten.

His newfound passion for animal care led him to volunteer at The Fund for Animals Wildlife Center, an HSUS affiliate in Ramona, California, where newcomers often start by helping care for a colony of cats rescued from San Nicolas Island. He's since volunteered more than 1,000 hours there over the past two years. "He's always willing to do anything," says Christine Barton, wildlife care manager. "He's just a really good sport."

Cannone's climbed 25 feet high to repair holes on the flight cage for rehabbing raptors. He's prepped enclosures for new arrivals. He's provided food and enrichment for the bears, mountain lions and other sanctuary animals, falling particularly fond of a grumpy bobcat named Harley. Once, on a long bike ride, he even helped corral an injured coyote who'd been hit by a car. "Knowing that I contribute to their long-term health and well-being," he says, "is reward enough."


  • It became tradition for Clancy (left) and Rodriguez to snap a selfie with each dog they transported. Photo by Michelle Clancy and Whitney Rodriguez

Michelle Clancy and Whitney Rodriguez

Bonded by a bust

By Sarah Kowalski

If not for "the 367," Michelle Clancy and Whitney Rodriguez might never have met.

The HSUS helped rescue 367 dogs during a multi-state dogfighting bust in August 2013, and thus began a massive sheltering effort to rehabilitate the dogs in preparation for adoption. Over the next year, hundreds of volunteers cycled in and out of the Florida shelter where the dogs were held.

Clancy and Rodriguez each worked more than 15 volunteer stints at the shelter, becoming fast friends in the process. They have since deployed together on other dogfighting and puppy mill rescues, and both volunteer at their local animal shelters (Rodriguez in New Jersey, Clancy in the Chicago suburbs). But both say the 367 have had the biggest impact on their lives, and that the most rewarding part was transporting dogs to the rescue groups where they would begin their new lives.

"Every time I think of those doggie faces, my heart just bursts with happiness," Rodriguez says. "They gave me much more than I gave them."


  • Zohra Fahim is a whirlwind of energy when it comes to Meatless Monday—and most everything else. Photo by Zohra Fahim

Zohra Fahim

Plant-powered persuasion

By Catherine Hess

Zohra Fahim sends out advocacy emails as a break from studying. This college student makes every minute count and thinks of her volunteer efforts—helping large institutions incorporate more plant-based food options—as a business.

Fahim has persuaded San Diego's Palomar Medical Center, where she works in between classes, to participate in Meatless Monday, add vegan options to patient menus and introduce plant-based training for chefs. With coaching on strategy from HSUS employees Ken Botts and Kristie Middleton, she made a general Meatless Monday pitch to the center's CEO, then told the sustainability manager about the environmental advantages of a plant-based diet. Finally, with the food service director, she emphasized the health benefits of cutting out meat one day a week.

She recently helped Palomar Medical Center enact a Meatless Monday proclamation for the city of Escondido, and she plans to reach out to other areas of San Diego for similar proclamations.

Learning about factory farming turned this vegetarian into a vegan and launched her into volunteering for animals. Fahim says her new diet gives her the energy to juggle work, regular phone banking, caring for a boxer-mix dog named Marvin, classes and those dual-purpose study sessions.

Do it for the animals! See the ways you can get involved »

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