Meet T.J. Sweeney and Lane Sturgeon
To hear Lane Sturgeon and T.J. Sweeney tell it, it’s all very simple. They play with and “love on” the cats, says Sweeney; they offer and receive unconditional love, adds Sturgeon.
“When I’m around animals,” says Sturgeon, “I’m happy and can’t help but smile. There is no judgment and we’re just loved for who we are.”
Sturgeon and Sweeney are regular volunteers at Wayside Waifs. Both choose to spend their two hours of weekly volunteer time specifically with cats; Sweeney says he loves kittens and doesn’t have cats at home to play with. Sturgeon echoes that sentiment, but adds that she noticed more people volunteered to work with dogs, and she thought cats needed the same love and attention.
“I just give them lots of love, play with them, and help them get ready for a forever family,” she says. It was her love of animals and the encouragement of a friend’s mother who also volunteers at the pet shelter that inspired Sturgeon to make Wayside Waifs her volunteer home. She’s serious about her commitment.
“I never miss a week,” she says. “I can’t imagine a better place to volunteer. It’s more like a family because we’re always here for each other.”
Development Manager Megan Harding says volunteers are essential at Wayside Waifs.
“We house hundreds of animals at the shelter. Without our volunteers, we would not be able to socialize them all daily. Volunteers perform more than fifty roles at Wayside, which helps us help animals and the people of Kansas City.”
Sturgeon especially enjoys taking part of a special program called Waif Watchers, a group of volunteers and staff members who help an animal that has been at the facility for more than 30 days.
“We decorate their kennels or room and we use their picture as our profile picture on Facebook,” says Sturgeon. “We are their personal cheerleaders until they go to a home. My current waifs are Atlas and Nova. I chose them because Atlas is visually impaired and needs the extra help, and Nova helps him get around.
I do get attached sometimes, but it makes me so happy to see them go to a forever home,” she says.
Sturgeon and Sweeney also help with comfort crews to make sure kennels are ready each day. Sometimes, she says, spending two hours each week at Wayside Waifs just isn’t enough. That’s when she tunes into the kitty camera.
“I can sit and watch if I want to,” she says. “It’s not as good as being there and cuddling with them, but it’s nice to see them.”
Harding says that Sturgeon and Sweeney—best friends outside the shelter—are all about teamwork.
“They help each other at the shelter and make sure our felines know how much they are loved. Shelter life can be stressful for animals; human contact helps keep the animals socialized and mentally healthy. Lane and TJ are here on a regular schedule, so we always know when we can depend on seeing them,” says Harding.
Sturgeon aspires to someday own her own pet sitting business. She’s starting small—she currently has 10 clients—and says her favorite part of the work is sitting with the pet and making sure they get lots of attention.
Harding says there are always opportunities for new volunteers to get involved at Wayside Waifs.
“Volunteers are our first line of defense and their ability to make good, independent decisions keeps our animals safe and healthy. We offer various educational opportunities for volunteers to grow in their expertise,” says Harding. “Working with animals can be challenging and rewarding, and one thing is certain: volunteering saves lives.”
To learn more about volunteer opportunities visit WaysideWaifs.org.