Retiree Nurtures Animals During California Wildfires and Beyond
Meet Daily Point of Light Award honoree Alex von Dachenhausen. Read his story and nominate an outstanding volunteer or family as a Daily Point of Light.
Alex von Dachenhausen grew up with a house full of dogs and an allergy to cats. But Alex’s allergy didn’t stop him from volunteering at the Haven Humane Society or from opening up his homes to three cats.
Alex found the Haven Humane Society in 2015 after retiring from more than 30 years as a physical therapist who specialized in extreme injuries. He spends multiple days a week at the shelter in Redding, California, and was a consistent source of positivity and encouragement throughout the California wildfires and COVID-19 pandemic.
Describe your volunteer role at the Haven Humane Society.
My wife and I both serve as volunteer dog walkers and cat socializers. There’s a veterinary clinic where I spend a lot of my time and there’s also an adoption center called the Morgan adoption center. We started out at the Morgan adoption center and she spent most of her time socializing the cats and cleaning their cages. I would do the same, but I would also walk dogs. I volunteer at our veterinary hospital multiple days a week and wrap surgical packs.
How did your volunteerism shift during the COVID-19 pandemic?
The shelter had to shut down for a while during the pandemic and had to pause the volunteer program. But they were able to open it up in May of last year and separated the volunteer groups and the workers into two teams. So Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday, Friday, Saturday, Sunday, so that in the event that somebody got sick, it didn’t disable everybody at the same time.
My volunteer roles look the same. They’ve been ultra, ultra careful and sticking to the protocols for protection, masking, social distancing — all that kind of stuff. And so far, well, it was really, really sad because our Chief Financial Officer Daniel, just the nicest guy in the world, passed away from the coronavirus last year and it just, it just wrecked us all.
Describe your volunteer role during the California Carr Fires.
The shelter set up a command center a little bit south of town in Anderson, California — which is in South Redding — and was an area where the community could bring in or try to find lost animals. Horses, dogs, cats and every kind of animal you can imagine were there. We had a lot of volunteer support and I spent most of my time in the clinic managing burned cats that had been found in the fire that were burned. There was a tremendous outpouring of help from the community, it was just amazing. Really makes you feel good about America.
What inspires you to volunteer?
I always felt that there was a duty to serve the greater good of the community and God. My wife and I are pretty spiritual so shortly before I retired around 2011 or 2012, and after my wife retired, we started to volunteer at local cat rescue. We just received more pleasure and satisfaction from doing it than the people and the animals receive, I think. Plus, there are so many other incredible staff and volunteers down there. They’re all animal lovers and people who do it out of the goodness of their hearts because they believe in what they’re doing. There’s some incredible stories of people that volunteer and work down there.
Plus, It’s so emotionally wrenching, you know, and uplifting and heartbreaking. All of the emotions happen multiple times in the same day. We see these poor animals that are injured, neglected, mistreated, or abused. Then you see the success stories, and it just blesses your heart and you realize that God put us on earth for a purpose.
Are there any partnerships, programs, or events that you are excited about?
A part of our push for a no-kill community is to expand our trap neuter return program. This is where feral animals are taken in, spayed or neutered, clipped, given a rabies vaccine and then returned to where they were captured. It’s not a perfect solution, but it’s found to be the best solution for these animals that are living outside.
Then the shelter has all kinds of different other programs like fun runs, an annual golf tournament plus all kinds of fundraising events to try to raise as much money as we can.
What have you learned through your experience as a volunteer?
I’ve learned about the power of the community, cooperation and the joy of doing something greater than yourself. I didn’t really have any intention of volunteering more than two or three hours today, which is the basic minimum requirement for volunteers, but I just really, really love it. I love being with these people. They all work so hard. They’re also dedicated.
Why is it important for others to give back?
I think it’s just so important to serve something greater than yourself. But the other thing is that you get back so much more. I really mean that. It’s not just a cliche. It’s become such a huge part of my life. it’s given my life such great meaning. I love what I did as a physical therapist for my career, but I would say that this gives me more.
What would you want others to learn from your service story?
There’s a desperate need for volunteerism, probably in every facet of life across America and throughout the world. And that there’s power in what one dedicated person can do to make this world a better place. On top of that, volunteers just receive so much satisfaction and meaning in their life.
Do you want to make a difference in your community like Alex? Find local volunteer opportunities.