Volunteer Spotlight: Lori Claxton

When Lori Claxton met her future husband, she had to make a difficult decision. A lifelong ailurophile, could she commit to marrying a man who was severely allergic to cats? They agreed that when her two cats passed away, she wouldn’t get another. When her last cat, a Dakin alumnus, died in 2010, she began visiting the cats in Dakin’s Springfield adoption center to help work through her grief. Soon she found herself volunteering. She was asked which facility she would prefer, and replied she would go wherever she was needed, so she was assigned to Leverett where she has worked for seven years.

Every Sunday morning Lori travels from her home in Easthampton to Leverett where she spends two hours or more “getting my animal fix,” as she describes caring for the cats and small animals. Her first priority when she arrives is getting wet food to everyone “to stop that baleful stare.” Then she gets to work, cleaning cages and litter, providing toys, and performing enrichment—playing and cuddling so the cats will be socialized before moving on to their new homes. She also monitors her charges for signs of any problems. One day she noticed a young cat drinking from her water bowl constantly. She reported it to staff and the cat was found to have a kidney issue.

On a recent Sunday morning, Lori sat holding Chuchi, a 5-month-old black and white female who appeared to be in the happiest place in catdom. “When I first started, I felt really sorry seeing all these animals in cages,” she said. “Then I realized they are warm, and well fed, and healthy. Now that makes me feel really good.”

Lori says she enjoys the pace of working in Leverett which is less hectic than Springfield. It also gives her the opportunity to get to know her charges and have more variety in her volunteer activities. Her worst day at Dakin was her second day volunteering in Leverett when she was bitten by a skittish cat, resulting in a rabies quarantine; and kicked over a mopping bucket which spilled all over the floor. “Staff was great and just took it in stride,” she recalls. “But if it had been my first day, I’m not sure I would have had the nerve to come back!”

One of her happiest memories was Snickers, a cat she had gotten to know during her early Springfield visits to the cat colonies who had climbed up on her back one day and just sat, and sat, and sat. When Snickers was transferred to Leverett, she immediately recognized Lori and ran to her to be cuddled by her friend.

When Lori is not at Dakin, she is crocheting catnip toys for her charges: dangly octopi, cherries (a favorite of the kittens), Easter eggs, and even eyeballs for Halloween. She estimates that she has crocheted hundreds. Those toys that don’t go into cages and colonies at the two adoption centers are offered for sale in the Diamonds in the Ruff shop in Springfield, helping raise funds for Dakin.

Prospective adopters usually don’t see Lori since she works when the shelter is closed to the public, but they certainly reap the fruit of her labors.

Many thanks to Marianne Gambaro who contributed this story.

Go back