Students share stories of animal shelter assistance

Briana Haguewood

Allie Bender can still recall the conversation that first inspired her to create a club for students to assist homeless animals and animal shelters in the Ames area.

Bender, senior in animal science, founded the Students Helping Rescue Animals club during her junior year at Iowa State after talking with her roommate, Allyson Caldwell, senior in chemistry and treasurer of the club, about her many plans to help animals in the future.

“She asked me why I didn’t want to just start a club right then,” Bender said. “And I thought, that’s not a bad idea. The club was approved by the school a few months later.”

“I told Allyson I was amazed at people my own age who were making their dreams come true right now, and I had decided to wait since I figured I was too young,” Bender said. “So I was talking with her about how if other people can make a difference now, I should be able to as well. But I didn’t know what to do. She suggested starting a club that helps shelter animals.”

Bender said that when she was 14 years old, she decided that she wants to open an animal shelter someday.

“When I was 10, I remember getting a brochure in the mail from Best Friends Animal Society,” Bender said. “I believe they are the largest no-kill shelter in the world. I thought that was the coolest thing ever.”

Bender said that to this day, she has no idea exactly how she came to the decision that she wanted to open a shelter.

“I think it was partially that brochure I had received a few years ago, and I had just gotten my dog, Bear, from a shelter,” she said.

Bender’s love for animals shows in all aspects of her life.

“I just kept doing more and more things with animals,” she said. “Once I got my driver’s license I started volunteering once a week at a local shelter, and all of my jobs have been animal-related.”

For any student with a passion for animals, Student Helping Rescue Animals works to help local homeless animals and shelters through volunteering, education and fundraising. Since February 2010, Iowa State’s Student Helping Rescue Animals club has been “helping animals, one paw at a time.”

“The club does a lot of different things,” Bender said. “We send volunteers up to five times a week to animal shelters such as the Boone Area Humane Society, Story County Animal Shelter and Jewel Animal Hospital.”

But the club doesn’t just volunteer in the shelters.

“We’re also starting to do adoption events, and we work on advertising for established animal rescue groups,” she said. “We do all the planning for adoption events so that the shelters can focus on other things that they need to.”

“It’s a great club to be involved with because we’re helping animals who can’t help themselves. It’s not their fault they’re in the situation that they are,” Caldwell said. “It’s great for any student to take a break from everything else going on and do something actually real like this.”

Andrea Birkeland, junior in animal science, was recently elected to president of Students Helping Rescue Animals.

“It’s a good thing to be involved with not just to put on your resume, but it’s also just so rewarding. I mean, who doesn’t miss their pets from home when they’re at college?” Birkeland said. “And you’re helping the community immensely. It’s one of the most rewarding clubs you could join I think.”

“My favorite part is volunteering at the animal shelters,” Birkeland said. “It’s wonderful just to be with the animals and to know that you’re making a difference in helping them to get adopted.”

After the club was approved, Bender needed to decide which aspects of animal shelters’ needs the club should focus on. She and other members decided that public education, money, and volunteers were all in greatest need at local shelters.

“Public education, especially, is something I’m really passionate about,” Bender said. “It’s because I believe that most problems with homeless animals wouldn’t exist if the public knew more about issues such as overpopulation or the abuse of animals.”

Students Helping Rescue Animals has set up booths as a part of their on-campus fundraisers with information to give to students about issues such as why to adopt pets from animal shelters, or how to stay safe when dealing with animals.

Bender said that the group brought in Tom and Josh Colvin, representatives from the Animal Rescue League of Iowa, for an education event in March about breed discrimination.

The Students Helping Rescue Animals club heads to local animal shelters several times throughout each week during the school year.

“We typically do pretty much whatever the shelters ask us to do- anything from helping to clean the shelters to moving boxes,” Bender said. “Mostly, though, we get to interact with the animals, since the staff at the shelters are too busy with other things to do and it’s so important.”

Sue McCaskey, director of the Story County Animal Shelter, said she appreciates the club.

“It’s a really good group of students. Everyone is more than willing to jump in and help as needed,” McCaskey said. “It’s a learning, hands-on experience. It’s a good club that’s led to a lot of good things, and has been very beneficial to us.

Students Helping Rescue Animals put on a “Be My Valentine Adoptathon” at Ames Animal Shelter, where the club also sold baked goods and valentines to raise money Feb. 12.

The club also held a Feral Cat Education Day on campus in March.

In addition to adoption or fundraising events such as puppy chow bake sales outside of the library, SHRA’s first annual 5K “Walk for Wet Noses” took place this year. The event was April 2 and raised $200, to be split directly between several local animal shelters.

During VEISHEA Saturday, Students Helping Rescue Animals held an adoption event on central campus. Similar to previous adoption events put on by the club, students and members of the Ames community were able to stop by to meet and play with animals from local shelters that are available for adoption.

The club is hoping to put on a dance next fall to raise funds, and possibly to pair with the ISU Swing Club or another dance society to do so. The members also have plans to host raffle fundraisers in the future, in addition to bake sales.

Currently, there are approximately 70 active members of Students Helping Rescue Animals. Bender has great hopes for the future expansion of the club.

“My personal goals for Students Helping Rescue Animals would be to become a bigger presence in the community, to have more members participate in events and to be able to donate more money to shelters,” Bender said. “I’d love to be able to send out more volunteers and to give more education not only at Iowa State, but also throughout the entire community of Ames. Just kind of to be a bigger name.”

Bender encourages students of all ages and majors to join, not only animal science or pre-veterinary majors. No prior knowledge or experience is required, only a dedication to helping homeless animals, she said.

“We have a huge variety of people coming through the club. The one thing we have in common is just that we love animals and want to do everything we can to help them,” Birkeland said. “The club is a good community. We’re all very passionate about the cause, and are all really close because of it.”

“The tangible aspects of helping local shelters are so rewarding,” Bender said. “We can help them with things they’d love to do but don’t have the time or resources for. And just today, I was able to drop off a $445 donation to the Story County Animal Shelter. That’ll buy a lot of dog food.”