Do pets have a higher purpose?
by Kaitlin Seebruch
Mission Advancement Intern
People are often quick to label themselves as either a “dog person” or “cat person.” Salvatorian Sisters Virginia Honish and Liz Christensen fit the labels, but not the stereotypes.
Sr. Liz is not a crazy cat lady and Sr. Virginia enjoys the company of a bird just as much as a dog. Since they share a passion for animals, they both volunteer a few hours each week at the Wisconsin Humane Society in Milwaukee.
Sisters Virginia and Liz both enjoyed growing up with all varieties of animals. Sr. Virginia did not have a dog of her own, but she always made sure she was around to care for her neighbors’ dog Taffy. She recalls, “My mother thought that it was a great setup, because I could have all the interaction with a dog that I wanted without the mess.” Although she didn’t have a dog of her own, Sr. Virginia did have a pet squirrel and spent her Saturdays horseback riding.
Sr. Liz also had a variety of family pets. “We always had a cat when I was growing up, occasionally a dog, but that never seemed to last long, and my mom had a canary.” Sr. Virginia also had canaries as pets. In fact, when she served as principal at St. Pius X School in Milwaukee she had a canary in the office that the students named Pepper. When she made announcements over the loudspeaker, the bird would sometimes begin singing and drown her out.
The expense, allergies, and time constraints prevent the sisters from adopting pets of their own. Sr. Liz explains, “If I could have a pet in the community, I would, so the next best way to get my ‘cat fix’ is to volunteer as a cat socializer.” She enjoys the diverse personalities of cats that range from aloof to cuddly. “Cats are definitely more independent, but they can also be very cuddly. There are ‘lap cats’ and there are cats who prefer not to be touched. Some people want a cat just to keep mice away and have no interest in having much interaction. The cat needs to be matched to the human.”
While Sr. Liz spends most of her volunteer time with animals, Sr. Virginia primarily works with prospective dog owners. She describes herself as a teammate who guides people through the process of adopting a pet. She says, “I enjoy working with the customers and with my three-person team. Our work is about 99% customer service. We are the first people a customer meets when they enter the doors of the Humane Society. It is very fulfilling to help someone think through what kind of pet they’re looking for and help them understand the adoption process.”
One of Sr. Virginia’s greatest joys is helping elders navigate the Humane Society’s web page. Many of them do not have computers or access to the Internet, so looking at the wide array of animals online is a new and exciting experience.
With all the joys that come with volunteering at the Humane Society there is another side. At times, Sr. Liz has a hard time letting animals go and for good reason. She says it’s easy to tell when an adopter may not be the best fit for an animal. She stresses that new owners should do their research, and have a clear understanding of how to care for a new pet before making the decision to adopt.
Many of the adopters that Sr. Virginia works with are already experienced owners. She likes to think of the difficulties she encounters as rewarding challenges. More often than not, she’s able to witness a loving person or family go home with a new family member. She says, “Some people come in and want the oldest pet we have or the pet that has been here the longest. Other people have seen a one-eyed dog, a dog with three legs, or a blind or deaf dog on our website and that is their choice! We also see the goodness of people who donate money, food, blankets and toys to help the Humane Society care for the pets.”
Volunteering with the Wisconsin Humane Society has given Srs. Liz and Virginia a renewed appreciation for God’s creatures and all that we can learn from them. Both are eager to share lessons animals can teach us.
“We humans can learn so much from dogs,” says Sr. Virginia. “They are usually extremely loyal and love ‘their human’ unconditionally; they don’t judge others, and if they’re treated with care and compassion, they are usually willing to forgive.”
Sr. Liz starts out by saying animals set a good example for us. “When you play, really play. When you sleep, sleep.” She also sees God’s greater purpose for animals.
“Father Jordan talked about using all ways and means to make God’s love known. For me, that means ALL of creation, not just people. I am concerned about our earth. I do my thing by recycling and also by picking up trash when I go for walks. And I care for God’s creatures through my little bit of volunteering. God gave us these creatures and we need to care for them as God’s own. They don’t really belong to us. And we’re learning that they are not just ‘dumb animals.’ Research that has been done showing dogs sniffing out not only bombs, but cancer, seizures, and insulin reactions are great examples of that.”