Volunteers are a staple of community organizations such as animal shelters. We rely on them and were always grateful to have them….except once.
Verbie came to us one day in a flurry of high-pitched giggles, curly red hair with little bows, gobby dangling earrings and seasonally decorated shirts. She somewhat resembled a fluffy, girly Tweedle-dee and absolutely burbled with gleeful words, rocking back and forth enthusiastically on her heels and toes as she talked.
She told us what many volunteers say, “I really love cats and I want to help.” We settled on one afternoon a week.
Verbie did indeed love cats, her love knowing no bounds. Although she didn’t do the yeoman work of cleaning, feeding or medicating, she hovered over visitors, explaining in her high baby-like voice the personalities of each cat or kitten and the names she had given them.
We rescued potential adopters from her whenever we could after realizing many chose to leave cat-less rather than be Verbie’s audience. Although the constant babbling could be annoying and distracting, most people were more offended by her constant belching and pooting.
The staff and I were acutely aware of the problem, avoiding her ourselves when possible, and almost dreading the “Verbiage” afternoons. Her heart was in the right place, and as she was mentally challenged, we considered her “enthusiasm” an occupational hazard.
However, it finally became so unpleasant to some that the shelter manager told me it was “Her or us.” So I had to figure out how to tell Verbie without hurting her feelings.
The next time she appeared I asked to speak to her in my office. I had created a cover story that our board of directors decided we couldn’t have volunteers because of insurance liability. I was sorry, I told her, but she couldn’t come help at the shelter any more. And I knew the cats would miss her.
She stood there in her Valentine’s sweatshirt and heart earrings, mouth agape. “Whut am ah gonna do? Ah luv thuh cats here.”
I repeated that I was sorry, but maybe there were other non-profits where she could volunteer. I knew most of them through belonging to a group of non-profit directors who had lunch together once a month to learn what each community service could provide and to create a guidebook for local agencies. I suggested Verbie try churches or the food bank.
Work at the shelter went on as usual. One day some months later, I got a call from a friend who directed the local family services charity. “I have a question for you.” (pause)…
“Yes? What can I do for you?”
“I just want to know what you did about Verbie.”
(Note: Verbie’s name was changed.)