Feeding Kittens And Playing With Puppies: M.S.P.C.A. Brings Together Volunteers and Shelter Animals

Tugging on a blue leash, Eliza Sternlicht ’18 leads a dog on a peaceful walk around the 55-acre property. From the front of the Massachusetts Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (M.S.P.C.A.) Angell Animal Medical Center at Nevins Farm Animal Shelter, the atmosphere appears calm and tranquil, as visitors looking to adopt an animal interact with dogs, cats and birds in cages and glass pens.

Inside, however, the scene is hectic: staff members in blue shirts run around everywhere, some carrying beige cases with litters of kittens or scared dogs. Above the barks of the dogs, the hum from the industrial washing machines drones on. Gabriele Gucagaite ’17 offers spoonfuls of Meow Mix to a finicky cat named Neeley in between helping staff members do loads of laundry as staff members carry new animals in.

For the Andover students who volunteer there on Wednesday afternoons, common tasks include cleaning, feeding and playing with the shelter’s animals, which consists of cats, dogs, rabbits, donkeys, horses and pigs.

“It seems like a lot of time, from 1:30 p.m. to 4:00 p.m., but it really flies by. When you’re there, you’re not really thinking about homework or anything, you just focus on the animals,” said Ben Zhang ’17.

Gucagaite’s favorite part of M.S.P.C.A. is petting the cats after the chores are done.

“We had this one cat, Neeley, and on the first day, she was so angry, [she was] trying to scratch our faces off whenever we would try to pass the cage! A few weeks later, she was the nicest cat ever! The change is really heartbreaking, in a good way,” said Gucagaite.

Before working with the animals, students are trained in areas like recording an animal’s behavior and their energy level and health.

“Students who work with cats will make sure the cages are clean, make sure that the cage is in order or maybe even help brush the cat sometimes… they also have stables on the premises, so every now and than we have a student… helping clean the stable, and that is really hard work with a lot of shoveling,” said Chloe Epstein, Instructor in Mathematics and Statistics and a volunteer for the program.

The volunteers vary in their level of experience in working in animal shelters prior to working at the M.S.P.C.A. Some, like Zhang, had never worked at a shelter before.

“I’ve never worked at a shelter before. I have a dog at home… so, I wouldn’t say I’m inexperienced with dogs, but I definitely wanted to work with animals,” said Zhang.

Others, like Sternlicht, have years of experience in working with animal shelters.

“I worked at Greyhound Friends, Inc. for the past 6 years, and I have been all over the world working at animal rehabilitation veterinary clinics,” said Sternlicht.

“Personally, I really love animals. I saw the M.S.P.C.A. as an opportunity to help better the lives of rescued animals, and contribute to society. It was a really great opportunity, honestly. Seeing the reaction that a dog will have after you take them for a walk is really amazing,” she added.

One of Sternlicht’s favorite parts of the program is seeing her favorite dog, Julian, a Staffordshire Bull Terrier.

“Seeing [Julian] and having his tail start wagging as he starts to get super excited and just seeing his reaction whenever I came near him, and him being able to become calm versus if he was barking at someone else is really rewarding,” she said.

“I think that if you also really like animals the M.S.P.C.A is definitely the way to go because it is very hands-on, and you really do get to see the contributions that you are making,” she continued.