Interview with Joyce Schwaller
Volunteer for animal rescue and protection
In a recent interview about her volunteer work, Joyce shared why it is important to her and husband Bob to volunteer for various organizations. “Volunteering to help, for me, is about learning and love and lightness and joy and fun and watching small miracles happen while you are just being of service,” she explained. Joyce shares a few of the joys and challenges from volunteering, as well as the spiritual practice that empowers her giving.
How did you get started volunteering?
We began about 10 years ago in Dallas, helping out at a shelter that housed abused teens. I had an art background and Bob had tremendous patience! We put together a weekly arts and crafts program for the kids and, oh my gosh, it was challenging and really amazing! We did this until we moved to Maine.
What is your support for animals?
When we moved to the farm, we began to foster for Maine Lab Rescue, an all-breed cat and dog rescue. Over a two-year period we fostered and cared for over 230 dogs, plus a momma-cat and her kittens. The dogs and pups stayed on the farm with us and it was round the clock care. We now support larger animals (mostly horses) and are part of a foster/rescue program for the state of Maine.
What are the challenges you have faced in volunteering?
One of the biggest challenges for a dedicated volunteer (as it has been for us!) is learning when it is ok to say, “No, I can’t do any more right now.” Sometimes the needs are so great within organizations that you find yourself over-extending. Giving is rewarding but it also requires a balanced approach. Imbalance can lead to frustration and anger. “Spiritual poise and perspective” is how I have been able to maintain balance. If you give more than your spiritual poise allows, it’s not healthy for you or the organization. When it comes to facing abused or neglected animals or children you absolutely need to keep your spiritual poise and perspective, because it is easy to get angry. Anger is the enemy, and an angry volunteer is useless. I have found that being angry over injustice clouds the ability to radiate the spiritual love that helps and heals. This is essential.
How do you nurture your spiritual poise and perspective? How do you incorporate a spiritual practice in volunteering?
Without my spiritual practice I would just be walking in an “anger cloud” all the time. Taking time to be in touch with a higher power, the divine source, or God (however one describes a power larger than one’s self) is absolutely the most crucial aspect of giving for me. It informs me. It encourages and relieves me of a sense of burden or unbearable responsibility. I pray all the time about my work as a volunteer. I pray for myself, to be humble and willing. I also like to sit quietly in my meditation garden and listen for a higher voice speaking to me. I like to give a mental nod of encouragement to all the other volunteering folks out there who are helping and healing and uplifting. It is very easy to see the bad, but recognizing and magnifying the good is so much more enabling. The effect of my spiritual practice is, it motivates me and gives me a basis for hope. It informs my higher self and gives me the clear space to refuel mentally so that I can love unselfishly.
How does your spiritual practice benefit your animals?
Prayer has done so much for the health of our foster pups. When we had a house full of puppies I would sometimes be going to the vet three times a week! Twice we had entire litters of pups come down with the Parvo virus. This disease is greatly feared because the fatality rate in litters is staggering. There is nothing a vet can do for an outbreak or an infected dog. So we prayed for the babies – we made a commitment to see these dogs through a lens of divine perfection, not through a lens of disease. I was not willing to accept a death sentence for any of the pups, because I knew from my own experience that God is their life. Both times all the pups survived and came through with flying colors.
Prayer also plays an important role in finding homes for each and every animal. One time I begged the administrator of the rescue to let me take in two senior female labs. Senior dogs are usually very hard to find homes for and here we had two! But these two sisters had never been separated from each other. I so wanted a family to adopt both of them. The administrator agreed to us fostering the girls but she made it clear that they would likely end up going to different homes. So everyday I talked to the girls out loud and told them how the divine plan for them was only good. I also spent time quietly reveling in all the beautiful qualities I could see each dog expressing and I affirmed that these qualities are from the divine source, therefore they had to have a perfect home. They were excellent dogs and I just knew they would bless some special family. I described these precious girls in the rescue blog. Sooner than we ever expected the perfect family came forward and adopted both of them!
We have seen many wonderful adoptions like this with animals that were handicapped or had special needs. Love always finds a way to prepare and provide small miracles for the animals and their new families.
Tips for Volunteers
For more information on Maine Lab Rescue, click here.