Friday, March 15, 2013

Why I Volunteer: Nick

And Why You Should Too.

Without a doubt, animal rescue is a morally righteous hobby. It is hard to disagree when you look at the state of animal welfare in our society, from general overpopulation, punitive training techniques, to puppy mills. But everyone finds their way into activities in different ways, and mine was purely self-serving.

I grew up with a family dog. After doing much research, my family purchased a Bichon Frise from the most reputable breeder we could find. Neither of my parents had grown up with dogs, so this was largely uncharted territory. After taking our hamster to the vet for an ankle injury, my parents finally gave in to our pleading. And so Casper joined the Iordanis family.

My two sisters and I with 2 year old Casper.

I have two older sisters, so adding another male to the bottom of the totem pole was great for me. Casper and I definitely saw each other as brothers. He slept at the foot of my bed, and we ate lunch together most days. As much as Casper and I were brothers, he absolutely loved my grandpa.

Casper, hanging out with the oldest people he could find.
When we told my grandpa we were getting a dog, he offered to build a doghouse for “it” to live outside (what he was accustomed to in our native Greece). Little did Grandpa know, in the following years when he would babysit Casper, the little dog would sleep in his bed—kicking Grandma out to the spare bedroom.

The love Casper had for my grandpa (it became mutual) got my mom to certify him as a therapy dog with St. John’s Ambulance. While he had a great time at Sick Kids’ Hospital, what he really wanted was a retirement home.  Seniors were Casper’s “speed.”

Casper on the couch with Andrea. He does kids too!
I moved away from Pickering for four years to go to university. I noticed how much I missed the companionship of a dog, but I was pretty busy trying to balance my textbooks on top of my case of beer. Casper would freak out when I came home for a weekend but then would remember, hey, you left me, and would give me the cold shoulder for a while. Unfortunately, Casper passed away at the age of 14 the summer after I graduated from university.

About a year later, I conceded that I needed—not just enjoyed but needed—a k9 in my life. However, at this point in my life I am not really in a position to own a dog. So what’s a guy to do?

Well, why not volunteer? I know there are some dogs out there who could, at the very least, tolerate my presence. So I interviewed with TAGS and haven’t looked back since. In my time at TAGS, I’ve learned a lot about dog behaviour, which is critical when volunteering in rescue.

Buttercup, a dog I helped socialize and ultimately helped get adopted.
Read my blog post about Buttercup here. 
I have found great inspiration in these rescue animals. Many of these dogs are abused and have had horrible lives, but they do not hold that against me—the next human in line holding their leash. When they first come into the program, there can sometimes be an Oh boy, this one’s going to be tough to get adopted feeling. Then we get pictures from adoptive families with their dog, and the dog doesn’t even resemble its former self.

Boomer, the TAGS dog I am helping socialize right now.
He is still available for adoption!
The best feeling in the world for me is seeing a dog at the dog park after it has been adopted. My personal favourite is when the dogs see their family start to leave, and they bolt toward the door as if to say, “I’m coming, I’m coming. Don’t forget me! I want to be in this family!”

Many people say that they would have a hard time volunteering in rescue because they would want to keep them all. To that I say you are missing the whole point. When you volunteer in rescue, you are not trying to save one dog—you are trying to save as many as you can. So while that may mean seeing some of your favourites get adopted, it also means that there is another soul out there who is down on their luck and needs some help.

Casper volunteering at a retirement home.

Saving one dog is better than none, but saving 90 dogs (amount of adoptions by TAGS in 2012) is considerably more rewarding, and that’s why you should volunteer in rescue too.

Casper, looking under a canoe.
Casper Iordanis 1994 - 2008


  1. Well, sheesh. This is just an all around great post! It gave me such a warm feeling, and then when I continued on to the post about Buttercup the warmness came out of my eyeballs. Oops.

  2. This why I tell people, adopt, volunteer, foster, in memory of a animal that changed your life; that you loved.
    You can keep their memory alive by paying it forward and helping the endless animals that have no one.
    Its easy to talk about loving animals, its quite different when you decide to pick up the torch and give them a voice.
    TAGS started 26 years ago, because my first dog Rex who was only 4 at the time had opened up a world to me that I never knew.
    I waited so long to get a dog and the pleasure and the lessons he taught me will never be forgotten.

  3. Awesome entry. You are a great writer, Nick. I'm sharing this on fB.

  4. This is very touching, Nick. Very well written, and very well said! =).

  5. Great story Nick. The work you did with Buttercup and continue to do with Boomer is amazing. It's volunteers like you who make a difference. Keep up the great work!

  6. I just realized, Casper's birthday is March 16th, how fitting.

    Thank you for all of the kind comments. I never really thought it would be a story worth sharing.

    There is no better way to honour a lost pet than to volunteer in their name.

  7. Thanks so much for sharing Nick. Your have totally inspired me to step it up. Look forward to working with you more often.


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