by Bob Gordon, FOTAS Director of Communications
The first thing you notice about Derek DeMio is how open and friendly he is, even with total strangers. The 26-year-old makes a habit of greeting everyone he comes across, and if he hasn’t met you yet, he will introduce himself and offer his hand to shake on a new friendship.
Derek’s good manners undoubtedly come from a solid upbringing by his mother, Susan Walker. But it’s more than just the result of great parenting. He loves people and they tend to return the favor. He has a natural ability to connect with others and his positive outlook is not only appreciated by the staff and fellow volunteers, but also by the animals.
“Derek and I love to volunteer at this wonderful shelter,” Susan said. “He loves the dogs so much and they respond to him in a special way. The staff and volunteers are all wonderful and being here is always a great experience for both of us.”
Today Derek and his mom have been walking the dogs, changing their kennel blankets and playing with most of the 16 puppies that have recently been added to the adoption floor. Like nearly all the volunteers and staff members, Derek gets attached to the underdogs – animals that take the longest time to get adopted. His latest favorites are Hilde, a pretty, 5-year-old Retriever mix who has been on the adoption floor the longest of all the current residents, and Shelby, a sweet, 3-year-old Retriever/Terrier mix. Earlier this morning, Shelby got some needed nurturing from Derek, resting her head on his chest and wagging her tail as he stroked her shiny, brown coat.
When Derek and Susan are not volunteering at the shelter, she works as a registered nurse while he is hoping to find a job soon through a special needs work program. Derek, who has Downs Syndrome, was just notified that he is eligible for job placement and expects to get hired soon. Before moving to Aiken from Connecticut six months ago, he worked for the Coast Guard Academy and several restaurants. But Derek always finds time to volunteer and said he won’t stop helping out at the shelter once he starts a new job. He would miss the animals too much, as well as the great feeling he gets when he sees them getting adopted to loving homes.
“The companionship and friendships we’ve made here – it’s been a morale booster for us,” Susan said. “Plus the education we are getting by being here…learning so much about how to handle and take care of these animals.”
“It’s a wonderful therapy just be with a dog or hold a cat, she added. “There is a connection – a bond – there. It definitely makes your heart smile.”
If you are interested in joining the FOTAS volunteer team, please contact us at 803.514.4313 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Their lives are in our hands…