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Students SPEAK out for animals


 If a dog is a person’s best friend, then volunteering at an animal shelter must be like making hundreds of best friends. 

SPEAK, an environmental and animal rights club at USF, is coordinating with adoption supervisors at the Hillsborough County Animal Services shelter to host the first in a series of upcoming volunteer outings. During the excursion, students will be able to help rehabilitate and care for abandoned animals. 

The group promoted its partnership with Hillsborough Country Animal Services at its Week of Welcome meet and greet Monday morning. 

Meghan McManus, community organizer of SPEAK and a senior majoring in computer science and music studies, said she hopes even students who aren’t members will join the group on outings to the shelter.

Rekha Luciano, a senior majoring in elementary education and a SPEAK member who volunteers at the shelter, said though volunteering comes with joy, there’s a sense of seriousness and urgency. The Hillsborough shelter has limited space and euthanizes animals if they are unable to find a home. 

According to Hillsborough County Animal Services, the county received more than 1,400 animals last month alone and had to euthanize 178 dogs and 246 cats.

“Volunteering there is so rewarding because it really matters,” she said. “If no one volunteers there, animals will be put to sleep without being given a fair chance at finding a good home.”

She said it is a rewarding experience for any student willing to put in the time, and volunteers at the shelter can walk, socialize, train and groom dogs. Volunteers can also take photographs of the animals to reach potential adopters through social media.

“Dogs get excited just to see people at the kennel,” she said. “You feel 200 smiling animal faces wanting attention, or a treat, or just to be played with. It’s a heartwarming feeling.”

Luciano’s job is to host “meet and greets” between potential adopters and individual animals. She said it is “amazing” to watch her animals leave the shelter to go to a new home.

“Just to know that a dog has a bright and better future with an excellent family is awesome,” she said. “I’ve broken down in tears of happiness seeing a dog I’ve grown close to playing with them every day.”

Volunteers often increase the odds of animals being adopted by showing love to animals, many of whom were abused. Luciano said potential adopters seeing volunteers with dogs that are happy and playing can often make the difference in their decision. 

“These animals are solely dependent on what we can do for them,” she said. “And our commitment to find them homes.”

McManus said SPEAK will schedule the first volunteer outing in September and plans on creating more volunteer opportunities, such as a beach cleanup, throughout the year.