Jose Ocano started this week as the new volunteer coordinator for Pima Animal Care Center. A Tucson native, Ocano started working at Pima Animal Care Center as an animal care technician seven years ago, when he was 18, eventually running the rescue program. After a stint as the volunteer manager for the SPCA shelter in Florida, he returned to be closer to family and to take on this new challenge. We caught up with Jose on his second day on the job.

What kinds of tasks can volunteers help with? We’re re-evaluating the program, but we will always need dog-walkers and kitty-cuddlers. Just by taking that animal out and giving it 20 minutes of human interaction, it’s breaking the monotony and it’s giving that animal hope to continue living in conditions that are not ideal. It sounds simple, but it saves lives. Plus, there are countless other ways people can help: Donating, helping with office tasks, or maybe just marketing animals on your own personal Facebook account. And at the most basic level, if you want to support us, spay and neuter your animals. 

How do you deal with the emotional part of the work?

A volunteer walked into the shelter for the first time this weekend. It was hard for her and she was crying. I told her she should only do what her heart could handle, but that not coming doesn’t change the fact these animals ARE here. She came back. Life is all about how you choose to look at things. You can see sadness here that these animals don’t have homes, but I look at it and say, “This is a second chance for these animals.” Now they have a chance to be with a family that will hold them in the high regard that they deserve. It’s easy to feel that you aren’t doing enough when you do shelter work. But just by coming, you’re doing a lot more than a lot of people. It’s early, but are there any priorities you’re able to share? One of the things I’ll be working on is expanding our volunteer opportunities. I would love to start a Generations Program where teens can come with their parents or grandparent or a Big Brother or Sister. The bottom line is if you want to volunteer here, I’m going to find a way to make that happen. We attract people who want to help animals – and we have a lot of animals to help.

Why are volunteers so important?

The volunteers are the backbone of what we do in a lot of ways. But more than that, they can be advocates for the shelter in the larger community. The more that people learn about the good work we do, the more they will adopt our animals and volunteer with us to help keep our animals healthy and happy.

When did you know you wanted to work with animals?

I grew up in Barrio Anita, and it could be a rough place. My mom’s theory was that a bored kid is a bad kid, so she kept me occupied with school, music and animals. It may sound corny, but growing up, animals were my first friends. When my dad passed away when I was 16, it was a time of deep reflection for me, and I realized that many of the people I grew up with weren’t around for various reasons. I realized then that animals, and particularly my first dog, Guantes, a German shepherd, probably saved my life. I made a decision then to dedicate my life to saving animals.

What do you like best about your job?

How can you not be inspired by working with volunteers who are giving their time to be here? It’s also just amazing to me that I get paid to fulfill my purpose in life, which is to save animals. My family teases me that I play with puppies all day, but I’ll tell you, when I’m having a rough day, I do go play with a puppy! That’s a great perk of the job.

Interested in volunteering?

PACC is holding a holiday dog walk in honor of Martin Luther King, Jr., Day. The fun starts at 10 a.m. on Jan. 21 at 4000 N. Silverbell Road. Seasoned volunteers will be on hand to provide assistance to newcomers

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