Interview with CASPCA Volunteer Coordinator Kaicee Robertson

Kaicee and her Therapy cat Hardy
Kaicee and her Therapy cat Hardy

This week I’m excited to feature an interview with Charlottesville-Albemarle SPCA Volunteer Coordinator Kaicee Robertson! Kaicee’s the star who manages all the volunteers who make their way through the shelter, and she’s also incredibly passionate about Pet Therapy. Read below to get to know her and all she’s done for CASPCA!

 

1. Can you tell me about your position as Volunteer Coordinator?

As volunteer coordinator, I’m the point of contact for anyone who volunteers with the SPCA – for dog walkers and cat socializers who come in weekly, for groups who want to do one-day service projects, for junior and adult volunteers. We’re lucky to see so many volunteers here with such different backgrounds and experiences!

2. How did you come to this position at CASPCA? What’s your background?

I actually went to school for and received a Master’s Degree in Elementary Education. I moved to Virginia after I graduated, and I began to volunteer at the SPCA. I soon realized that I loved it here so much that I couldn’t see myself leaving, so I applied for a position as an adoption counselor. That was 4 years ago, and I’m still here!

3. How many volunteers does CASPCA have? What’s their age range?

The SPCA sees about 1,200 volunteers a year, ages 14-92! We also have much younger volunteers who volunteer with their parents. Our current youngest is 4-years-old, and she loves volunteering with the kittens.

4. What is the most rewarding part of your job?

Definitely being around people who are as passionate about animals as I am!

5. What’s the hardest part of your job?

Not having enough hours in the day and stopping myself from taking some many wonderful animals home!

6. Why should people volunteer at CASPCA? What makes it unique?

There are so many different ways to get involved with the SPCA! From volunteering with the cats and dogs to becoming a pet therapy team, from helping at our Rummage Store to helping in our clinic, from volunteering weekly or only volunteering for special events… there are just so many options! We also have many great opportunities to combine passions – if you love gardening and outside work, we have a Flora and Furries gardening group. If you love children, we have camps and birthdays and tours and school visits. We have photography volunteers and volunteers who help market the animals. Like I said, there’s something for everyone. No matter what you do or what you love to do, you can find a way to help animals in the community with that passion.

7. Are there certain types of people more fitted to volunteering at CASPCA? 

There are definitely more types of people better fitted to certain aspects of volunteering at the SPCA, but there are so so many different volunteer opportunities available here. A wide range of people can find somewhere to volunteer at the SPCA where they’d be the most comfortable.

8. Can you tell me about the Pet Therapy program? How did you become involved?

The Pet Therapy program is my baby – I love it! There’s always been a big need in our community for this. The SPCA was constantly getting approached by nursing homes and schools to visit with animals. But how to make sure the animal you’re bringing is the right animal for that situation? Some animals are spooked by large groups of children, some have never seen a wheel chair, and that’s 100% ok – they’re still lovely, amazing animals, but at the same time we wanted to be very careful not to set animals up in situations where they wouldn’t succeed. About 10 months ago we really started researching pet therapy, and we worked on reaching out into the community – who was interested, who was already registered, who wanted to become registered but just needed guidance? We began matching teams with facilities, and setting up visits. It’s been a huge success, and it’s allowed us to make some wonderful connections in the community!

9. Why do you think Pet Therapy is important? For what circumstances is it best suited?

We really focus on areas where there’s the most need. Schools and nursing homes are our biggest push. Having an animal visit can help with depression, motivation, and emotional support in seniors. It brightens their day and gives them something to look forward to and talk about. With all of our teams, the handlers are just as engaged as their animals are. So they really talk to nursing home residents – just asking someone how they’re day is going can really lift spirits. We also focus on mainly elementary schools and visit struggling readers or students who have had no animal experience or negative animal experience. While reading is obviously a huge component, we’re also looking to build a future of more compassionate, more aware, and more empathetic children who will value and cherish animals for the rest of their lives.

10. What does the training entail?

There’s a saying that therapy animals are born, not made. There are certain innate qualities that we look for in both handlers and animals – it’s really a team effort. So we look for handlers who are outgoing, can talk to a wide range of people, are comfortable in all kinds of situations, and most importantly can support their animal and really look out for what’s best for their teammate. For animals, we look for “bomb proof” animals. By this I mean animals who can be in a variety of situations and remain calm and happy. Animals who are ok with clumsy petting and sometimes improper handling, who enjoy going to new places and meeting new people. First and foremost, the animal has to enjoy this work – not every animal has to be a therapy animal. There are many perfect animals out there who wouldn’t enjoy this kind of work, and there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that! There are a few different groups who register therapy animals, and they handle the evaluations. All of their evaluations are a bit different, but they all focus on innate qualities and skills that can be taught (like sit, down, stay, etc.). We have therapy dogs and a cat from Pet Partners, Love on a Leash, and TDInc.

11. I know you have a cat that you participate with, what other animals have gone through the training?

Yes, Hardy and I are a registered therapy team! I’m only registered with Hardy, but we have about 15 other teams who have therapy dogs. Right now Hardy is the only cat, and while he doesn’t mind all the fame that comes with it, he’d be happy to share the spotlight! All sorts of animals can become therapy animals, and we’d absolutely love to add some fabulous feline or other animal teams to our group.

12. How many people are apart of that program? Where do you go volunteer your time?

We have people at all stages in our pet therapy program. Some are just learning about therapy work and are preparing for therapy evaluations, while others are already registered and visiting. We currently have about 12 registered teams who visit on at least a monthly basis. We focus our volunteer times at nursing homes, schools, and libraries. We also do special visits – for example, we visited Greer Elementary for their national reading week. Some of the places we visit are below:

  • Brunley-Moran Elementary School
  • Cale Elementary School
  • Central Library
  • Crozet Library
  • Gordon Avenue Library
  • Martha Jefferson House
  • Mountainside Senior Living
  • Northside Library
  • Rosewood Village
  • The Golden Living Center
  • The Heritage Inn
  • Woodbrook Elementary

13. How can others get involved?

Give me a call if you have a registered therapy animal! I’d be more than happy to start setting visits up. The community response to this program has been astounding – schools and nursing homes are so grateful, and we’re so fortunate that we have the support to fill this need. If you have an animal who you think might be a good therapy animal, I’d be happy to get you started or meet you and your animal. I’d also be happy to help you meet an SPCA animal who may be a good therapy animal. I met my therapy cat Hardy at the SPCA!

Are you interested in getting involved at CASPCA? Go to their website or email Kaicee at volunteer@caspca.org

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