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Bona’s SBU@SPCA program benefits dogs, cats and humans alike

Nov 21, 2022 | By Elizabeth Egan, '23

For Emily Gustafson, seeing how many animals in the area need a home is the hardest part of being a coordinator for the SBU@SPCA service outreach program.Kittens needing a home_by Elizabeth Egan

Through St. Bonaventure University’s Franciscan Center for Social Concern (FCSC), students take a weekly trip to the Cattaraugus County SPCA where they spend time walking and playing with homeless dogs and cats.

Gustafson, a senior biology major from Smethport, Pennsylvania, said it is much more than just giving attention to the animals.

“The volunteer system is there to help socialize the animals,” Gustafson said. “That way when people come to adopt them they are used to people and don’t act so crazy. Socialization really helps to calm the animals around people, and knowing that is very rewarding.”

Gustafson recalled one dog, Ruger, who has been at the SPCA for more than a year. At first Ruger was nervous about the volunteers but Gustafson said he is now one of the sweetest dogs there and one of her favorites.

“It is hard to imagine your dog or cat in that situation, in a shelter,” Gustafson said. “You just want to help them. I have learned to acknowledge that what we are doing is helping in the best way that we can.”

Alice Miller Nation, director of the FCSC, praised the work of the volunteers. “Our students who go to the SPCA week after week are truly instrumental in socializing these cats and dogs in preparation for their forever homes,” she said. “Animals that come to shelters are often scared and have not had much human interaction. The attention and love our students offer help to make these animals more adoptable.”

Gustafson became involved with the SPCA after talking about applying to veterinary school with Pam Ferman, associate dean for student development in Bona’s Career and Professional Readiness Center. Ferman put her in touch with the current SBU@SPCA coordinator, and Gustafson started volunteering toward the end of her sophomore year. She became a coordinator her junior year and is now the lead coordinator.

“It is so rewarding to see the transformation and to know you are making a difference in the lives of animals who don’t really get affection otherwise,” said Gustafson.

SBU students enjoy walking dogs via SBUatSPCA service program_by Elizabeth EganBesides benefiting the animals, Gustafson said learning to give back and enjoying some stress relief are two of the biggest benefits SBU@SPCA brings to its student volunteers.

“When we give back, we help the community and make it better,” said Gustafson. “Being able to take a mental break away from campus also really helps with stress relief.”

An aspect of working with the volunteers Gustafson enjoys is helping people who have not spent a lot of time with animals become more comfortable around them. She recalled a particularly rewarding moment when she showed one of the other coordinators how to hold a cat.

Gustafson and her fellow volunteers are able to continue taking weekly trips to the SPCA because of the donations made to the FCSC on Giving Tuesday, a national day of giving that takes place on the Tuesday after Thanksgiving.

“It may seem insignificant,” said Gustafson, “but a big portion of the donations we need go toward fuel for the van we use to get volunteers to the SPCA.”

Miller Nation added that the costs for gasoline and maintenance for the van that transports the students each week continue to rise.

The community is invited to visit www.sbu.edu/GivingTuesdayatBonas now through Nov. 29 to donate and to use #GivingTuesdayatBonas on all social media channels to help spread the word.

For more information or to make a gift by phone, please contact SBU’s Advancement Services at (716) 375-2364.

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