Citizen Dane: Caring for animals makes a spirit soar
(page 1 of 2)
Holly Hill-Putnam might have hit the volunteerism nail on the head by posing the following question. “How many pursuits can make your spirit soar?”
For Hill-Putnam, the answer has been volunteering at the Dane County Humane Society, where she has spent more than 14,000 hours, many of them in the Animal Medical Services (AMS) area helping animals to recover from spay and neuter surgery. For her devotion to our animal friends and to our community, she was selected to be part of IB’s inaugural class of Citizen Dane, which honors Greater Madison’s unsung heroes.
Hill-Putnam got started with the Humane Society in 2012 when she had to leave her job as a restaurant manager to care for parents who both had Alzheimer’s. While providing care for them, she needed a stress-reliever — a way to stay in contact with people (and animals) and not get isolated while providing 24/7 care for her parents. Her supportive husband, Rollie, stepped up to the plate and helped so that Holly could spend a few hours a week at the humane society.
In the AMS department, where domestic animals are spayed and neutered, she does surgical recoveries on the dogs, cats, and bunnies that come as strays or are transferred in from other shelters in the southern United States, where spaying and neutering is not so common as it is here. Hill-Putnam loves the responsibility, and in the AMS she really feels like she’s part of a team. She picks up the animals from the surgery table and carries them to a recovery room, where their breathing and vitals are monitored as they recover from anesthesia. The surgical team also sanitizes and packs the surgical instruments and provides care for the ICU patients.
“It creates more room in the southern shelters,” she notes, “and gives us in Madison more dogs and cats to choose from for our forever pets. It’s a real win-win for the animals and the community.”
Hats off to volunteers
Providing her own version of a win-win, Hill-Putnam has tried on a lot of different hats at the shelter. She got involved in new volunteer orientations, answered phones and entered data in the wildlife reception area, provided tours to school groups, and took care of the humane society’s classroom animals. These are animals the society uses in educational programs like Camp Pawprint and Humane Heroes to teach kids what is required to care for a pet. It’s a wonderful opportunity for kids to get to know more unusual species like Ursula, an 11-year-old bearded dragon, Ranger Jake (a corn snake), a rat trio, and Abyssinian guinea pigs like Inca and Inti.
Perhaps Hill-Putnam’s most significant impact has been with the Wildlife Focus Group, where she’s part of a team that cares for sick, injured, and orphaned wildlife with the goal of releasing them back to their home environment. After she lost her father and placed her mother in an Alzheimer’s facility, she wanted to get more involved and gradually started volunteering up to 50 hours a week during the spring and summer — during baby season, she explains. Over the eight seasons she been here, she has volunteered for more than 14,300 hours, including six seasons where volunteers raised orphaned wildlife mammals in their homes to allow the center to save space for injured or sick animals.
In 2017 alone, they treated 4,101 patients. “Due to the overwhelming number of patients we were caring for, we had to cut our home-care program in order to maintain a high quality of patient care,” she notes. “Baby mammals require up to six feedings a day, and finding people to feed, clean cages, mix formula, and pick natural greens to feed them was really tough.”
Nevertheless, the best thing about volunteering at DCHS is the direct contact with the animals. To avoid bites from a scared animal, it takes practice in the proper handling techniques, but the humane society provides training with well-seasoned volunteers and staff. This allows volunteers to develop as far as they want to go and when they are competent with mammals, they are offered a chance to learn about waterfowl, raptors, songbirds, or reptiles.
“Holding a baby owl or a bald eagle to allow staff to provide medical care is an experience you just can’t get in many facilities,” she says. “We are so blessed to have a wildlife center here at the humane society. Every shift, I get my ‘cuteness fix’ holding a baby chipmunk, an eastern cottontail bunny, or a gray squirrel in my hand to feed it.”
For Hill-Putnam, another favorite part of volunteering is bringing new volunteers on board in new volunteer orientations because she can feel the passion in the voices of volunteers who describe their roles to the new folks. It’s a feeling that pervades the entire shelter.
A restaurant manager before focusing on volunteerism, Hill-Putnam also is in charge of setting up the initial training for all new wildlife volunteers, all of whom start with housekeeping and progress to their choice of fledging songbirds, infant and juvenile mammals, or waterfowl. The humane society started an online training program last year with hands-on training following the completion of an online quiz. Spring is a particularly busy time as the wildlife center gets volunteers ready to care for the onslaught of hatching songbirds, ducklings, and infant mammals that cross its threshold.
“One important part of our job in wildlife reception is helping determine whether the animal truly needs our help,” she explains. “We always ask people to call first before bringing in animals so we can assess the situation and determine the animal’s need for care. We want to save our resources for those animals that are truly orphaned, injured, or ill, and not kidnap perfectly healthy babies just because mom is not with them at a particular moment.”
They educate people about the animal’s natural habits and frequently ask the finders to return them to their nest and let “mom” raise them since she can do it so much better than humans can. “Many of the patients we receive are very compromised with joint fractures, lead poisoning, or have been attacked by feral cats,” Hill-Putnam states. “Although great care goes into the decision, humane euthanasia is the best option for some when we cannot provide a good quality of life.”