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Five Acres Relies on Volunteers

A couple, hand in hand, walk into the barn-styled building. They walk by the kennels set up in the brightly painted room and stop in front of one of the kennels and ask to meet the dog. A canine staff member opens the cage, picks up the dog and leads the couple to the visiting room.

The couple, who are looking for a new addition to their family are visiting the Five Acres Animal shelter in St. Charles. In 1973, a small group of individuals dedicated to animal welfare came together. At first, they focused on finding volunteer homes that would take in animals in need of adoption. They then opened their first shelter In 1988. The group moved to their current St. Charles location in 1996, where they now have a feline house and a canine shelter that accommodates five acres. The Five Acres Animal is the only no-kill shelter in St. Charles and houses more than 115 animals daily. Five Acres receives no tax dollar funding.

“Volunteers are definitely the backbone of our organization,” FHN graduate and Five Acres employee Abigail Oleshcuk said. “We’re very low staffed and volunteers really keep it together for us, and they’re always there to do what is needed. They’re the heroes to these animals and they help us make sure the animals stay healthy and happy.”

The shelter currently has more than 400 active volunteers and always welcomes more. Senior Chad Conaty has volunteered for Five Acres since January of 2011. After signing into the shelter’s logbook, Chad opens the door to the back of the canine building. Howls erupt. “Chad! Yay!” Donna Besaw, a canine staff member, notices Chad as he walks in.

“Our volunteers are getting up early or staying late,” Donna said. “They’re taking a lot time out of their life to be here. To me that’s being a hero. Like Chad, who’s a senior in high school, he’s in on Tuesdays and Thursdays like clock work. He knows what to do, and he does it.”

Chad stops by one of the cages.

“That’s B.d,” Chad says as he reaches down to pet the dog. “When I first came into the shelter, he was in his own little kennel. I like pit bulls, so I tried to go in and play with him but he’d always shy away. It broke my heart. Considering he’s a pit bull, I knew he had probably been abused. After a while, he warmed up to me. B.d hasn’t been adopted yet, but he has gotten much better now and is good with humans. It’s nice to see him be rehabilitated.”

It’s time to walk all of the dogs. Conaty takes out Joker, a Husky with bright blue eyes, for his daily walk. It’s a cold and dark night, but neither of them seem to mind. “You’re never going to meet a person who’s as happy to see you as you will an animal,” Chad said. “Animals give you unconditional love, and I find that whenever I’m dealing with them, I can always trust animals to let me be me and let them be them.”

Brittany Broombaugh, the director of development and fundraising for Five Acres, believes that the volunteer helps in every aspect of the organization.

“Everything they do is helping our animals be adopted,” Brittany said. “They’re helping us save lives. Ultimately, that’s what our shelter does. We help animals that didn’t have a chance at another shelter, or they’re from a family who couldn’t take care of them anymore. We wouldn’t be able to house the number of animals we do if it wasn’t for the volunteers.”

In the lobby of the dog house, the phone rings. Five Acres volunteer, Cheryl Fehl answers the call.

“Sir, how long has the dog been outside?”

Her face falls. A man has called with concerns about a neighbored dog he thinks is being abandoned. Fehl has been a volunteer at Five Acres for almost two years. She became a volunteer hoping to aid the dogs who are in helpless situations, like the one the man was calling about.

“I really don’t feel like a hero,” Cheryl said. “It’s just these dogs are just like little innocent children to me. They’re waiting for a home and when we find it a home, we hope that it gets the best care possible. These animals have the right to a good life just like humans do.”

As the couple walk out with their new family member, Chad makes his final rounds in the back room, he says goodbye to the dogs that are still waiting for a home. They won’t be alone though because of Conaty, Fehl and all of the other Five Acres volunteers.

“I would hope my volunteering makes a difference for the animals,” Chad says as he makes his final rounds. “I don’t know if I’d call myself a hero though. I’m just a normal guy that likes dogs and helping them makes me feel better when I know they’re going to have a happier life.”

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