We’re kicking off National Volunteer Week—and celebrating Global Volunteer Month—by featuring one of our HSUS volunteers who will share her story about how helping animals has enriched her life. But before we do so, it’s essential to acknowledge that volunteers are the backbone of our organization and, indeed, the larger animal welfare movement. It’s the passion and dedication of people who believe the world can become a better place for animals that keep us motivated in our own efforts. I am honored to be part of a family of organizations that, just last year, attracted 1,613 volunteers who served a total of 62,637 hours, working on everything from direct care to advocacy. Since 2020, we’ve depended on our Animal Rescue Volunteers to help us provide daily care and enrichment to animals at our Maryland rescue and rehabilitation center. Last year, nearly 300 of these volunteers traveled to our rescue and rehabilitation center in Maryland and other U.S. locations to care for animals rescued from large-scale cases of cruelty or neglect, as well as from dog meat farms in South Korea, giving 21,065 hours of service. We can only do all that we do for animals through this spirit of collaboration and devotion, so thank you. And here’s Brenda’s story:

Volunteers are the backbone of the animal welfare movement, and to celebrate National Volunteer Week, one of our volunteers, pictured here (center) caring for cats after a large-scale rescue in Mississippi earlier this year, shares how she got involved.
Lisa Wetherby/The HSUS

For years, whenever I saw reports on the news about large-scale animal rescues, I hoped that one day, once I retired from my full-time job in law enforcement. I could volunteer to help in cases like these.

My chance came when I volunteered with my local shelter—the Humane Society of Columbiana County, Ohio—and in the summer of 2008, I received a call from the local prosecutor for help with a large-scale dog neglect case. A woman had been breeding Manchester Terriers, but over the years the dogs had become mixed breeds and the situation had spun out of control. The woman’s daughters were desperate for a solution, but their mother had refused to seek help.

Such a sensitive and large operation required a lot of legs: We worked together to gather the evidence necessary for a search warrant, and ultimately, I reached out to the Humane Society of the United States for assistance. A team of people arrived in Columbiana County to be on-site during the serving of the search warrant and subsequent seizure of more than 130 dogs. In July, the HSUS was there with us, in Lisbon, Ohio, along with a team of local volunteers, three local veterinarians, and sheriff’s deputies, as we seized more than 130 dogs from horrific conditions. More than 50 dogs were found inside of the home, on the enclosed porch, main level, and upstairs, free roaming on a feces-caked subfloor, and in filthy crates. Seven more were found living inside of an old single wide trailer, filled with feces and trash. Approximately 50 more were living in sets of adjoining kennels containing as many as four dogs to a kennel. The kennels were filthy with feces and mud. Some had mounds made by rats who had tunneled into the kennels for food. At least one set of kennels had no doors on them, requiring the volunteers to climb over the kennel fencing and into the kennels, to capture the poorly socialized dogs and hand them over the fencing to volunteers on the other side. Some dogs were free roaming outside, including a momma and pups curled up inside of a makeshift doghouse. Over the following days we trapped another ten dogs on the property.

Brenda Austin (middle, front row) with other animal rescue volunteers from the HSUS and Red Rover.
Laura Miller/The HSUS

The day when the HSUS team rolled up to the horse barn we were using as a temporary shelter for the dogs with a semi-truck pulling a trailer filled with dog crates, bowls and other supplies will forever be ingrained in my memory. The HSUS provided a team of responders to supplement our local volunteer workforce who, without help, would have been overwhelmed trying to care for so many dogs.

That rescue was the first time I’d seen first-hand such large-scale need. I can’t describe the relief I felt at having the guidance and support from professional, experienced people, that was so desperately needed to make this operation a success.

Over the years, I’ve continued to acquire the knowledge, skills and experience to volunteer to help animals in the direst cases, and I’m proud to have been able to help with many more cases. In the fall of 2021, I reported to Muncie, Indiana, to help set up a temporary shelter for neglected cats from a seizure with teams from Red Rover and the HSUS. These people impressed me with their professional, can-do attitude and their focus on the mission at hand. We worked over the next few days setting up crates, and we worked hard to ensure everything was ready in time to offer the arriving cats an environment that was comfortable, and as calm and quiet as possible.

The most recent large-scale rescue I helped with was in January 2023, when I deployed with the HSUS to help care for neglected cats from a large-scale rescue in central Mississippi. By the second day, we were caring for 175 frightened felines. The ability to just “roll with it” is a must, and that’s one of the key things I’ve learned as a volunteer. While veterinary examinations were being conducted, we finally had a moment to rest, and it gave me the chance to bond with other volunteers and staff, from both the HSUS and Red Rover. Working alongside other like-minded people, sharing animal welfare stories and experiences, both frustrating and joyful, instilled a sense of camaraderie among the group. Friendships were fast forming. I’m happy to report that my recent deployment was as fulfilling as my first, and I’m looking forward to being on the ground again, when animals are in need, to help.

As hard as it can be to see animals in such poor conditions, it’s so heartening to be able to make a difference. The entire experience was very fulfilling and underscores the point that we are all stronger when we work together for the animals and people who need our help the most.

Learn about how you can volunteer to help animals.