Volunteer Profile: Dennis & Carol-Ann Walker
by Lee Chambers
Have Pet Taxi, will travel! Dennis & Carol-Ann in action.
Dennis and Carol-Ann Walker were vacationing in Arizona when they met another couple with whom they became fast friends who invited them to visit their Sunderland home. The Walkers immediately fell in love with the Pioneer Valley and knew this was where they wanted to spend their retirement. After moving to Amherst two years ago they were looking for volunteer opportunities that would be both enjoyable and meaningful. They found both at Dakin.
Since they enjoy driving, pet taxi (transporting animals to and from different locations) seemed to be a natural. But they soon realized their existing car wouldn’t accommodate the larger dog crates, so they purchased a Chevy Suburban specifically to fill that need. In addition to their twice-weekly runs between Dakin’s Springfield and Leverett shelters, their “taxi service” has included trips to Schenectady, Boston, and the Worcester Airport where they picked up animals from the hurricane-ravaged Virgin Islands. The Suburban is also handy for picking up donations from the Walmart in Chicopee. The couple also recently spent several hours helping to sort coins collected from the moat at Yankee Candle Village store - a $3,251 windfall for Dakin.
Since they already had cat companions, the Walkers also felt comfortable volunteering to foster. After going through foster training, they opened their home to moms and their litters. Despite two “foster failures” (animals who stole their hearts, leading to adoption), they continue to foster. When asked why they do so, Carol-Ann replied, “Simply because we have the time and we love cats.” Dennis grew up in a household with cats, but Carol-Ann only had fish and gerbils as a child.
The Walkers now share their home with five feline companions: Nikki, 10, a calico; Leo, 8, black; Rusty, 7, marmalade; and “foster failures” Indigo, 1, marmalade; and Snowball, 5, mostly Siamese, unlike her littermates. Before moving to the Valley, the Walkers had tried to surrender Rusty, “our fraidy cat,” thinking he might be happier as a barn cat. But they reclaimed him when the shelter called and said he refused to eat. They have come to accept this spirit cat as one who haunts their home.
A retired pastor and New York Port Authority employee, Dennis substitutes as a pastor in area churches. A switch from her career in the insurance industry, Carol-Ann enjoys creating imaginative baked goods for church socials. The couple also provides support for local refugees who have been threatened with deportation, bringing food to a Guatemalan man receiving sanctuary in the First Congregational Church of Amherst, and weekly bringing three children to visit their Russian mother who is receiving sanctuary in the Unitarian Society of Northampton and Florence.
In addition to giving their time, the Walkers are “Guardian Donors,” having desginated an automatic monthly donation to Dakin.
Thanks to Marianne Gambaro for contributing this story. Marianne is a published poet and manages her husband Jim's fine art photography business. Learn more about her at margampoetry.wordpress.com