MILAN — Carrie Crossen isn’t just making a difference by volunteering time, she’s also saving lives.
As a volunteer for the Quad City Animal Welfare Center, 724 2nd Ave. West, Milan, Ms. Crossen fosters cats and kittens, including many that are pregnant or too young to be adopted.
By providing a safe and quiet home, she acclimates the animals to human interaction, giving them a better chance at adoption.
Ms. Crossen began volunteering with the animal shelter in 2007 after she and her husband, Tony, adopted a golden retriever named Sandy. Now 12, Sandy lives with the couple in rural Milan. They’ve adopted two more dogs and a cat from the center.
“I was very impressed with the shelter. When we came to adopt our dog, the staff was so great and it was such a clean environment,” she said. “I started talking to the shelter about volunteer opportunities because I’ve always loved animals and I wanted to get involved.
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“The most rewarding thing is knowing we are saving lives, literally saving lives. There are a lot of animals that come in here. Some I fostered had a pretty grim future prior to coming through these doors.”
By fostering some of cats and dogs brought into the no-kill shelter, volunteers like Ms. Crossen often prevent many animals from going to another shelter where they could be euthanized.
“We only have space for so many,” she said. “When you have cats and kittens in foster care, we can help a lot more. Every cat we take is spayed or neutered, vaccinated, and put up for adoption.”
Ms. Crossen began her volunteer work with the Animal Welfare Center by serving on the finance committee. As an investment officer at Blackhawk Bank and Trust in Milan, she knew her financial expertise would benefit the shelter. “I was on the finance committee for about a year when a spot on the board of directors opened.”
Ms. Crossen served on the board for nine years, serving the maximum three terms of three years each.
Stacey Teager, community services director for the center, said volunteers like Ms. Crossen are “vital” to the mission of the shelter.
“We couldn’t make it without volunteers,” Ms. Teager said. “Last year, we adopted out more than 1,100 animals and more than 3,500 animals came into our wellness clinic. “We have to have volunteers in place to enrich the lives of the animals while they’re here, to help with tasks like laundry and cleaning, and to help us in our spay, neuter and wellness clinic. It takes a lot to run an organization of this size.”
Ms. Teager said the shelter has 20 employees, and 50 to 60 active volunteers, including the board of directors and committee members.
“We depend upon fostering. We would rather have pregnant mamas, kittens and puppies out of the shelter as opposed to in the building so they can get that tender loving care in a home environment,” Ms. Teager said. “They get better socialization in a home environment and it’s a lower chance of getting sick, too. When you’re in a shelter environment, there is more sickness. Having them in a home keeps them healthier. It’s also not as stressful.”
Ms. Crossen began fostering cats and kittens in 2014. To date, she has taken in more than 60 animals on a temporary basis. With three dogs and four cats of her own, she keeps the foster cats in an area away from the other animals to reduce stress and prevent conflict.
Cat care manager Amber Simmon said the shelter took in and fostered 400 kittens in 2017, more than double the previous year, with help from 20 volunteer foster families.
“We still have kittens coming in; we’re taking in another eight today,” Ms. Simmon said. “It’s really invaluable to have foster (volunteers) to come in on a moment’s notice and pick up these babies so they don’t have to sit here until they’re big enough for adoption.”
Ms. Crossen said she focuses her volunteer efforts on fostering. “Amber calls me and says, ‘Hey, we have a pregnant mama, or we took in a litter of kittens who are too small for adoption,’” she said. “I will take them home and care for them until they are ready to come back. Socialization is a big part of getting them ready for adoption We make sure they are used to people so they have a high adoption success rate coming back to the shelter. “It makes you feel good to know you made a difference ... I can have a really stressful day, go home, and I’m playing with kittens. Pretty soon, you’re laughing out loud. It’s the question of who rescued whom? That’s how I feel about this shelter.”
Ms. Teager said volunteers must be 16 or older to work independently. Children 15 and younger must be with a parent or guardian. Volunteer training is given at 5:30 p.m. the first Wednesday of every month.
“Because of Carrie’s compassion, we’ve been able to save so many lives,” Ms. Teager said. “It gives (animals) a nice soft place to live when they can’t be here because they are too young, too sick, or nursing their little family.”
Ms. Crossen said many organizations need volunteer help. “I think it’s really important for people to find their passion and do something. There are so many needs out here and so many places doing good work. I think it’s important for people to find their niche, roll up their sleeves,and pitch in. It’s good for your community, and it’s good for your soul.”