Volunteer Profile: Marianne Gambaro


A Purring Door Prize

About eight years ago, Marianne Gambaro was at a Dakin donor appreciation event where the late Pat Yurkunas (then Dakin’s director of development and marketing) was chatting with Marianne’s husband Jim and trying to persuade him to adopt a black kitten who had been brought from the shelter to the gathering that night.

“I looked across the room and saw Pat with her Cheshire Cat grin,” Marianne recalls with a smile. “She told Jim that the kitten was a door prize.” The deal was done. Jim was asked by Adoption Center Manager Moon Wymore if he wanted a carrier to transport his new friend home. “Nope,” Jim replied with poker-faced wit. “I’ll just wear him.”

Zorro, as he was later named, is one of three cats who share the Gambaro’s home in Belchertown, and has become an accomplished mouser. His feline siblings include Horus, a 12 year old male, and Junipurr, a nine year old diva tortie who “screeches like a banshee,” according to Marianne.

Volunteer, Journalist, Animal Caretaker

While the Gambaros have been Dakin donors for several years now (in fact, Marianne’s mother Jacoba funded the Jacoba & Arthur Scialla Cat Colony Room in Leverett), Marianne has also shown her support as a volunteer. She began by driving the pet taxi, which she still does, in addition to tending to kittens in Nick’s Nursery, and writing volunteer profiles for What’s Shakin’ at Dakin. Marianne also does volunteer work for Cooley Dickinson Hospital and the Kestrel Land Trust, and serves on the Valley Press Club Scholarship Committee.

Writing is her passion, and she always thought of herself as a journalist “since I was ten.” Earlier this year her first book of poetry, Do NOT Stop for Hitchhikers, was published, with a cover photograph taken by Jim. Both New Jersey natives, they met as fellow reporters for The Paterson News, and have been married for 45 years. When she was in college, years before she began working, her mother sent her clips from their hometown paper, including one about a haunted house. “For some reason, I kept that one,” Marianne said. “Years later, when we moved to New England, I pulled out the article, and the writer and photographer was Jim. We were destined to be together.”

During her working years in the Pioneer Valley, she was lured to Dakin by her friend Pat. Following some committee work, she wanted more active tasks, “but not hands-on animal care, because I felt I didn’t have enough self-control to not bring them all home,” she says with a laugh. That changed when she began caring for at-risk kittens in Nick’s Nursery in 2016. “I thought, that’s okay, that’s safe, because they’re not ready to be adopted.”

That Memorable Patient

Of all the tiny patients she handled, there was one this past summer that really challenged her, yet reminded her of the importance of her work. “There was a very young litter of three long-haired calicos that came into the Nursery. I treated the first two who weren't happy but I was able to handle them. The last one's name was Frisky but I immediately christened her Feisty. She was clearly the Alpha since her sisters cowered behind her in the litter box while she hissed and swiped at me. She was all claws and teeth--a little buzz saw. I finally had to give up on her and felt like I had really failed that night. Within a week there was a photo of Frisky on Facebook, cuddling with her foster! I was thrilled! This is what we do--we get them healthy, teach them a little trust, socialize them a bit, and send them into foster care, the next step on their journey to their homes. 

The Rewards that Come with Volunteering

“I absolutely love the Nursery,” Marianne continues. “I purposely do the evening shift. When I leave there at night after putting those babies to bed, I just exhale. I get in the car, and I play music on the drive home, where Jim will be responsible for dinner that night. It’s a wonderful sense of peace when you leave there in the evening, and I want to give a shout out to the vet techs who work there because I’ve learned so much from them. I think my work in the nursery has taught me to be a better cat mom and appreciate my own pets more.”

When asked what’s most rewarding about working at Dakin, Marianne responds, “The values. I have never worked with more dedicated and committed people, both staff and volunteers, and it’s a very supportive community. You guys practice what you preach, like the guiding principles and the respect shown to everyone.”


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