Volunteer Annie Stuhr

Blog author: 
Anne Zabolio

I was paying a woman to do the chores morning and evening. This wasn't working out too well because what I did--mostly--instead of the chores, was hustle money to pay her. At that time, Breed Hardware, both Austin locations, allowed me to sit outside their stores and "table"-- that activity of setting up a table, hanging a sign on it, putting a jar on it, standing beside it and handing out flyers and asking for donations--any time I wanted to do so. It was a great gig while it lasted and I could make between $15 and $100 an hour standing in front of a Breed Hardware. Anyway, I'd go sit outside Breed Hardware and beg money while Alice did the chores and then I'd come back to Thundering Paws and pay Alice for doing the chores.

Photo: Vivian, top cat in Annie's Room

Oh, it wasn't that bad! Most of the money went to cat food and cat litter (we use a TON of litter!) and rent, electricity, vet care, spaying and neutering, all the usual suspects. I'm exaggerating. But I did want to find a way for the chores to get done without paying anyone to do them or me doing them all: I needed to be out into the community spreading the word about Thundering Paws.

After a particularly disappointing benefit, I told Alice I couldn't pay her anymore, so you'd think she'd quit, right? Well, she didn't. She went out and found someone in a neighboring subdivision who had contacted her, saying she wanted to volunteer here. This was Annie Stuhr.

Annie Stuhr might weigh 100 lbs. dripping wet and I don't believe I've ever seen her sit down. She came over that first morning with Alice, looked around Thundering Paws without showing much reaction and said, "Okay. I'll volunteer to come help you every morning, Monday through Friday." I thought, "This will last two days." Wrong. So far, it has lasted four years. And she was not kidding about the "every day, Monday through Friday" thing, either. Okay, she took a day off when she had some medical testing, because they made her get to the doctor's office at 6 a.m. But not when she had dental surgery--she worked that day.

She scoops 20 to 30 litter boxes, feeds and waters everyone, talks baby talk to and pets all cats and dogs. She feeds the feral kitties. She learned to trap cats. She goes with me to appear on Fox News once a month. She scrubs down the cat run, a screened concrete porch to which about half the cats have access. She walks dogs, takes animals to vets, holds them while I vaccinate or give fluids, although she hates needles. There is no one I would rather have to help me transfer feral cats to cages or carriers. She speaks their language, of love or fear.

She has donated money to the cause, too. (I LOVE it when people PAY to work here!) Annie couldn't stand the room at the end of the hall (it was a mess) so she donated the linoleum--the good stuff, not the cheap stuff--the paint and the labor to paint it, along with another volunteer, Pattie Overstreet. We have named it Annie's Room. In it are cats who cannot stand to be with the huge congregations in the larger rooms. Annie's Room is ruled by Vivian Soprano, a "full-figured" (Annie coined that term) blue and white 10 year old Manx whose brother, diabetic Neal, also lives in there.

If Annie ever reads this--she doesn't do computers--she will call me up and yell at me because I forgot to say...whatever...how would I know? I've forgotten to say it. I don't care. The woman is tireless, a workhorse, a serious animal lover. She fights me on issues that she thinks I don't resolve correctly. She is always on the side of the animals. Out in public, she introduces me as her boss. And I say, "Tell me again, which one of us is the boss? I forget."

And she's brave, too. One day while she was working at Thundering Paws, Annie's husband, Billy, called to say that a neighbor had come running up their driveway, yelling, "Hurt puppy on the road! Come help!" Annie and I grabbed some rudimentary supplies and hopped into her pickup truck--she's a pickup sort of gal whose favorite singer is Toby Keith--and dashed off to find the dog. We found a black pit bull mix sitting by the side of the road, not bleeding but not walking either. We could observe no obvious injuries, so Annie started walking up to the dog, holding out her hand. I stopped her. Annie had no fear and the dog probably would have just licked Annie's hand and then come over and bitten me. What we finally did was to offer the dog a kennel, into which she immediately climbed, and we whisked her off to the vet, where she promptly bit the vet tech. Cured of heartworms, spayed, gentled by many wonderful volunteers, she is now our dear Sweet Pea, for whom we would be delighted to find the right home.

Annie came to all Thundering Paws benefits for years, until other concerns came into her life. Besides working here, she is a member of the board of her homeowners association, makes and markets collectibles such as custom made teddy bears, jewelry, quilts and crystal works, and organizes sales to promote her beautifully crafted items and those of other craftspeople. She and Billy also have, I think, 14 cats, over half from Thundering Paws, and three dogs.

There is very little I have asked her to do for an animal that she has refused to do. "I don't do bunnies," she says--that's about it. And she has brought her husband into the fold, too. Billy comes over every week and rolls the heavy trash containers of dirty litter out to the curb, a feat I cannot perform. He doesn't call and ask if it needs to be done: he just quietly shows up and does it. It is a job about which I no longer need to think, and that is a wonderful thing.

That's another thing about Thundering Paws--watch out if your wife, husband, daughter, partner, friend, whatever starts volunteering here. Don't have time, you say? Pshaw! Ask Billy Stuhr, Kevin Rolfes (Kay's husband), Bosco (Laura LaMantia's friend and Laura is Brittany, our first volunteer's, mom), Mary Kay Sliz (our third volunteer, Emily's, mom), Anna Sliz, (Emily's sister), Sarah Sliz (the other sister), Chris Mihal (Tricia, our second volunteer's, brother), Joan Mihal (Tricia and Chris's mom), Aaron Overstreet (Pattie's husband), Marilyn Pizzo (Pattie's sister), Julie Pizzo (Pattie's niece), Rich Pizzo (Pattie's nephew), Bob Harvey (Betty Wager's partner), Cathy Devine (Tim's sister), Terry Burns, (Cathy's partner)--the list goes on and on.

All the people above not in parentheses just innocently said to their relative or friend, "Oh yeah, volunteering at an animal sanctuary is a great thing for you to do. Have fun," only to end up filling up 50 water jugs twice a week and loading them in a truck bed, or just walking this one dog, or sitting at a table outside a bookstore, or picking up cat food once a week, or cleaning just one room (once a week for four years!) or being on the board of directors, whatever.

I will feature other volunteers in the blog another time. I am amazed at our volunteers and the constant service to the animals--and to me--that they provide. I could not possibly do this alone anymore and the good news is that not only do I not have to, they wouldn't let me. One volunteer, Wendy Benson, who came with a group from 3M, was afraid that volunteering at an animal sanctuary would be depressing but she was willing to do it that one time. She was pleasantly surprised at how uplifting she found it, and she now comes every Saturday morning, and, of course, brings her husband, Mike, with her. Because of these people, I can visit my 87 year old mother--our most consistent financial supporter-- in Houston, and go on much-needed vacations a few times a year.

Living in a virtual fishbowl and being on call 24/7 for very little salary sounds like it would be an awful job for an introvert, but it's not. It's my joy and passion and I have a bevy of fellow introverted cat lovers helping me and giving me respite. It never occurred to me when I began the sanctuary that I would come to love so many humans in this endeavor, but I have.

I am grateful for each and every one of them, and every day I am grateful for Annie Stuhr.


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