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Volunteering at SPCA brings purpose, furry friends into lives of Bona students

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St. Bonavanture University student Neeya Shetty visits with some kittens at the Cattaraugus County SPCA. (Photo courtesy of St. Bonaventure University)

ST. BONAVENTURE — Cuddling a kitten, walking a dog, or feeling the deep purr of a cat glad for your company. These are experiences St. Bonaventure University students enjoy through volunteer work at the Cattaraugus County Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. 

Located at 2944 Route 16 North in Olean, the SPCA is a nonprofit animal shelter dedicated to saving the lives of animals, as well as providing adoption services for homeless and neglected animals. Through St. Bonaventure’s Franciscan Center for Social Concern and the SBU@SPCA program, students visit the shelter weekly to interact with the animals.

Student volunteers walk the dogs and play with the cats, offering companionship and exercise. They also help clean enclosures and sleeping areas for the animals.

“SBU@SPCA is the only organization on campus that gives you interaction with animals,” said Katie Heitzman, a senior biochemistry/chemistry double major from Centerville and coordinator for the SBU@SPCA program. “The goal is to help socialize the animals and to help the dogs get their energy out,” said Heitzman. “It can be hard for the staff to keep up with so many animals at once, so our goal is to help them with that while having fun.”

Volunteers say the animals sometimes offer as much help to them as they do the animals.

“It definitely is a stress reliever,” said Neeya Shetty, a sophomore biology major from Long Island. “I usually go before a big test to release some steam.”

Heitzman agrees with Shetty about the animals’ positive effect on mental health, describing the unique pairing of university students and stress.

“I strongly believe that fur therapy is real,” said Heitzman. “Nothing can match the calming presence an animal can have on a person. This is especially true for college students who usually have a lot of things going on at once.”

Besides the benefits to mental health, working with animals helps many students with homesickness.

“I started volunteering because I grew up on a farm and when I came to Bona’s I missed it a lot. The SPCA was an easy place to get some contact with animals,” said Heitzman. “I volunteer for all the special little moments, like the doggy grins and getting a cat to come up to you for a pet.”

For many, volunteering at the SPCA does not feel like community service work.

“Volunteering is one of the most satisfying things a person can do. The SPCA is always so grateful for the help and so welcoming, and you can physically see the difference you are making. It’s incredible,” said Heitzman.

To help raise money and awareness for SBU@SPCA and other service programs on campus, the FCSC will host #GivingTuesdayatBonas, a one-day fundraising event on Tuesday, Nov. 30. 

Across the United States, the Giving Tuesday movement is intended to be a way to encourage people to support their favorite non-profit causes as part of their holiday giving.

The community is invited to visit www.sbu.edu/GivingTuesdayatBonas now through Nov. 30 to learn more and to make a contribution.

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