Val has been volunteering with Lort Smith as a foster carer since 2012. As a foster carer, Val takes home animals who aren’t quite ready to be adopted. Some stay with her for just a few weeks, while others will stay long-term as they start new medication, grow stronger after an operation, or simply have some reprieve from the busy shelter environment.
Val studied feline behaviour and psychology, and is particularly passionate about supporting fearful and under-socialised cats. She mostly takes on what are affectionately dubbed “scaredy cats” – those that appear aggressive, but are often experiencing fear, anxiety and stress.
“It’s so rewarding putting in the work and getting to see who they really are. It’s incredible when you see the change in them, they go from hiding away in your cupboards to sleeping on the pillows with you!” says Val.
Val explains that some of her foster animals are too nervous even to come back to the shelter, and in a few cases, they have stayed with Val until they are adopted by their new family. In these cases, potential adopters will visit the cat at Val’s home, instead of at Lort Smith. By meeting the cats in an environment where they are more comfortable and relaxed will show potential adopters their true personalities and increase the likelihood of adoption.
Val takes great pride in keeping up-to-date with new training methods for cats, and has spent countless hours over the years attending training courses and workshops. “Recently I attended a ‘behavioural day’ hosted in the US, but it was fortunately streamed online. Less fortunate was the time difference, which meant I was in the conference from midnight until 7.00am!”
Val’s specialty is clicker training – a method that might be familiar to those with dogs. She’s found it to be equally effective with cats, especially when paired with treats! While training her own cats and fosters, Val also takes the time to share her progress and wisdom with other Lort Smith volunteers and staff who might be less familiar.
Val has four cats of her own at home – Claude, Harry, Bart and Elliot. Bart and Elliot were both ‘foster fails’ – animals that Val fostered from Lort Smith and then realised had already found a home with her.
“I first fostered Bart because he had some food allergies and the vets were trying to establish what those were. He was on an elimination diet when I brought him home, and we eventually discovered he is allergic to fish, of all things! But he just fit right in with my other cats and I couldn’t let him go.”
Aside from her work with scaredy cats, Val finds one of the most rewarding parts of volunteering is looking after the pets of people in crisis, through Lort Smith’s Emergency Welfare Assistance program. “I’ve cared for animals who just need a bit more love than usual, and I really feel like I’m giving someone a helping hand when they need it.”
When she isn’t volunteering with Lort Smith, Val runs a nail salon in the city and loves to travel overseas to visit animal shelters and sanctuaries. She has visited animal shelters in Fiji, Bali and Thailand, and is looking forward to the day she can visit Creamy, the cat she sponsors at a sanctuary in Greece.
Val is an amazing volunteer who gives so much energy and love to all the animals she cares for. She is one of almost 400 volunteers who we are incredibly fortunate to have at Lort Smith, and will be celebrating as part of National Volunteer Week!