Photo by Candace DiCarlo
The bulletin board in Colleen Gasiorowskis office is covered with pets. More are on the shelves and cabinet tops. Her pets. Also her friends. And an animal shes working with at the Womens Humane Society. Shes been volunteering there for four years, and just last May they elected her to their Board of Directors.
That same month she earned her Masters in Liberal Arts from the College of General Studies, with a focus on forest systems, ecology and environmental issues.
And CGS is where she works, as coordinator of the Penn Advance Program, which offers courses from the School of Arts and Sciences over the Internet.
Q. How did you get involved with the Womens Humane Society?
A. I adopted my big orange cat from them. After having him for maybe eight or nine months, I said he was worth a million dollars, and if I had a million Id give it to them to pay them back, but since I didnt have a million I said, Do you want somebody whos willing to give you time? So they said, Oh, yeah, we can use some volunteers. The rest is history.
Q. How many pets do you have?
A. Two cats and two dogs. The cats are Coby and Carly. Munchkin, like the little treat and Wizard of Oz, shes a miniature dachshund, and Goober, shes a Yorkshire Terrier.
Q. No pigs? No guinea pigs?
A. I dont like pigs. Reptiles, I cant see the allure of them. Fish they just swim and my animals would eat a guinea pig. They would think that is bait. [laugh] The photo up there, shes a dog Im currently socializing.
Q. What do you mean socializing? Tell me what kind of dog and whats her name?
A. We call her Star. Shes a shepherd mix. She came into the shelter July 1, abandoned at a truck stop with her seven puppies. And theres evidence of abuse. She was very, very scared of everybody and everything and she just sort of hid and trembled in her cage. We adopted her puppies out. She wasnt doing real good, so then me and a couple other women offered to help her.
I go in to the shelter twice a week and I take her out of her cage and I brush her and bathe her and be nice to her. Now Ive got her to the point where shes accepting of people, so Im socializing her, making her aware that people are not harmful. Probably almost her whole life shes had somebody either kicking at her or beating on her or throwing things at her.
Q. Can they get over that?
A. They can, yes, with lots of love and lots of care. Were looking for a home for her right now, and she will not go to a home with children because of her past. Not to mention she doesnt like children. When she sees them she cowers and cringes. Shes my favorite dog right now except for my two.
Q. How does it feel when you give her up?
A. Oh, its going to be hard.
Q. Do you do other volunteer work at the Humane Society?
A. My main job is adoption counselor. So when someone comes in and theyre interested in adopting a cat or dog from us I interview them to make sure theyre a good prospective owner, and also to make sure that the pet that theyre interested in matches up with their lifestyle.
Q. How do you tell these things?
A. A lot of it is knowing the animal, knowing the breed or knowing the animal itself.
Q. Can you give me an example?
A. Well, Dalmatians. After the movie [101 Dalmatians], tons of them were bred. We had tons of them. Theyre very, very active dogs. They were bred to run in front of the coaches in Victorian times to move people out of the way to make way for the coaches. They can run 25 miles a day without being tired. So when people come in and they write down they want something thats easy-going or I want something that would lay by the fireplace and they pick out a Dalmatian, Ill tell them no.
Q. How many hours do you put in ?
A. I go there almost every Saturday, Im there seven or eight hours. Sometimes on Wednesday nights I stop in just to say hello.
Q. And how many hours do you work on the Wissahickon?
A. About three or four hours, about once or twice a month.
Q. And how do you fit anything else in? When do you go to the grocery store?
A. Thats Sunday afternoons. And cleaning is when I can. My life is very scheduled.
Q. Do you have a family?
A. My husband and my animals.
Q. How did you get the Yorkshire terrrier?
A. Goober came in the shelter as a stray. They estimated her age as 10 plus. We dont usually adopt animals out that old, because people dont usually want elderly animals. She also had health problems. She had cataracts. They didnt know it at the time Ive since found out that shes deaf. And she has no teeth, which is why her tongue hangs out. Two weeks went by, three weeks went by, and finally they were saying they couldnt keep her forever and were discussing euthanasia. And before I knew it I was saying, Ill take her home.
They said she would live approximately a year. Ive had her three years now, and shes quite healthy and hopefully will be with us a long time. To me shes a great poster dog for adopting an older dog. Everybody wants that puppy or that kitten. They all go. Its the older ones. They didnt do anything to people. Somebody got tired of them and gave them up because they didnt want to care for them anymore.
Originally published on October 12, 2000