Shari Bitney grew up around dogs and cats, but when she was almost 40 she came across her “heart dog”. This dog helped her “understand how important animals are to humans and how they can make us better people if we let them into our lives.” She started to meet other dog people, and one day a friend asked if her wanted to go to an organizational meeting with people who were interested in starting a dog rescue group. That meeting, ten years ago, was the birth of Nebraska No Kill Canine Rescue. Shari has worn many hats with NNKCR from graphic designer to board president.
ALLISON: What skills do you bring to a group? In what ways do you volunteer?
SHARI: I’ve always been interested in technology and graphic arts. NNKCR’s website was outdated and hard to use. I worked with a great person at Firespring and redid our website. I think the new site is much easier to use, and it’s now a source of information about topics related to dog ownership. I also work on our Facebook page and our Instagram account. We now use Pawlytics, a software program to organize our records. (Shout out to Lizz Whitacre!)
became board president last May. As board president, I try to keep our meetings organized and on-topic, which is tough when you have a group of impassioned dog-lovers. There are so many dogs in Nebraska that need help of some kind; it’s hard to set priorities. Most of the work in our rescue is done by four people, so we have to be careful not to over-extend ourselves.
ALLISON: How much time per week do you volunteer?
SHARI: I volunteer with Nebraska No Kill. NNKCR is a foster-based dog rescue. I’ve been involved with the group on and off and in various capacities through the years. When I retired from teaching in May of 2018, I had more time and became a board member. We have a small, working board. Currently, I put in about 10-15 hours a week!
ALLISON: Share some memorable or touching moments
SHARI: It’s the BEST feeling in the world every time you match a dog to a good forever home, it makes all the work worth it. There’s a lot of work leading up to an adoption: finding a foster for a dog, assessing and meeting the dog’s needs (which might be medical or training or both) working with the foster, checking in regularly and delivering food, posting the dog on our website and social media, answering questions about the dog, processing applications, arranging for a meet and greet with the applicant, finally, delivering the dog to their new home. Knowing that at the end of all his work, the dog now has people who will love and care for it, and so this dog will have a happy future is incredibly moving.
ALLISON: Share some embarrassing or funny moments.
SHARI: Well, I had some things to learn about transporting dogs. There was the time I drove a dog to its new home in Columbus. It was a pretty big dog, and I assumed it would ride in the back seat, which is set up for dogs. Shortly into the trip the big guy let me know he would ride shotgun, and lick my face the whole way. That was when I learned to tether dogs for trips in the car!
ALLISON: How have you grown in your volunteer abilities?
SHARI: I have a more thorough understanding of what’s involved in running a rescue, instead of just one or two parts. At first, I did home visits for prospective adopters or worked in our booth at events. With time, I learned about other faucets of the rescue. That put me in a good place to become more deeply involved when I retired and had more time to give.
ALLISON: What have you learned about animals from being a volunteer?
SHARI: I have learned that people have to be the voice for animals. Unfortunately, there are still a lot of people out there that mistreat companion animals. Every day I hear about dogs that need help getting out of bad situations, or recovering from bad situations. Situations that humans put them in. Sometimes it feels overwhelming, but if we don’t try to help, who will?
ALLISON: What have you learned about people from being a volunteer?
SHARI: I’ve learned that it’s important to clearly communicate with fosters and other volunteers, because everyone has different levels of experience working with dogs. We want our fosters to feel good about the experience, so it’s important they feel supported. All volunteers should feel that they’re an important part of our mission.
ALLISON: Give a tip to future volunteers.
SHARI: I would say to realistically assess the time you have to give. Can you give a couple of hours twice a month? Can you give an hour or two each week? Let the group know exactly what you’re capable of giving in terms of time and energy.
Find out all you can about the organization you’re interested in. Find a group that addresses your interests and has volunteer work that matches what you’re able to give. For example, at NNKCR, we have a variety of needs, from being a foster home, to helping with the day-to-day tasks of running a rescue. We tend to need volunteers who have an hour or two to give each week, as opposed to 3-4 hours at monthly events.
ALLISON: Why should others volunteer to help animals?
SHARI: I truly believe animals make us better people. We share this world with animals. Humans might be the top of the food chain, but we aren’t the only creatures who think and love and feel. We have a lot to learn from animals, and we should advocate for their welfare for their best lives and for ours.