May 07, 2015 - 1:18 PM
KAMLOOPS – For more than twenty years, Michelle Virdee has volunteered at the Kamloops B.C. SPCA branch. She has witnessed her share of tragedies and triumphs, all in the name of animal welfare.
This week she was acknowledged as B.C. SPCA’s Volunteer of the Year for her dedication not only to the society but to the health and well-being of animals.
“The recognition is quite an honour,” Virdee says, noting all the ‘awesome’ and inspiring volunteers who are part of the SPCA.
Originally volunteering with the society at 18 as preparation to be an animal health technologist, Virdee quickly learned her calling was in animal welfare. This began a relationship with the SPCA spanning more than two decades. More recently she joined Thompson Rivers University as an instructor of the animal welfare certificate program.
Virdee has worked with the SPCA in every capacity possible, from hands-on care and protection of animals to fundraising and administration. She remembers a time when she was a receptionist, volunteer co-ordinator and cleaner of 300 cat cages.
Virdee admits her chosen profession comes with its share of heartbreak.
“It’s a little bit sad,” she says, adding the emotional lows come with exceptional highs.
She points to the advancements in animal rights. Not only are more pets being spayed and neutered than ever before, but advances in science and technology have made it easier to care and advocate for animals in need. Virdee says more proactive laws allowing the SPCA to seize animals earlier ensure a greater rate of recovery as well.
“People are more aware of animals, especially our food animals,” Virdee says when reflecting on the changes in attitudes regarding animal cruelty throughout the years.
When she is not working directly with the animals, Virdee is fundraising for them. She helps organize charitable events such as the Paws for a Cause walk and the annual FurBall Gala.
Virdee says it takes $500,000 annually to run the Kamloops shelter and only two per cent of this comes from the government. After pet adoption fees, fundraising is all that keeps the doors open.
“The 90s were a scary time,” Virdee says, recalling past financial challenges.
In recent years the SPCA’s provincial board has taken a major leadership role, caring for the province as a whole. Now, Virdee says, animals are transferred to prevent overcrowding and fundraising dollars are distributed to shelters in need.
In addition to her work in the shelter, Virdee has assisted in major animal rescue missions.
She has been involved in five fire evacuations. Virdee recalled one particular evacuation in Rayleigh when pet owners phoned the SPCA asking them to rescue their animals as they were stuck at work.
“I did not expect to get good at break and entering!” Virdee laughs.
Virdee turns somber when recalling her trip to New Orleans during hurricane Katrina. She spoke of the damage to infrastructure and property, but was most affected by the overwhelming need remarking on the trauma suffered by those involved. A lot of her work, she said, overlaps also with people’s need as animal and human welfare often overlap. It is a 'partnership of unfortunate design.'
Ideally, Virdee would like to work herself out of a job, a euphemism she uses to describe the day when her services are no long needed. She believes that we domesticated animals, we dictated their lives, it is our responsibility to protect them.
Until then, animal welfare is her life’s work, knowing, proudly, she has been responsible for saving hundreds of lives.
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News from © InfoTel News Ltd, 2015