Volunteer spotlight: Jessica Manees

Special Olympian helps HSHV dogs feel like gold

Jessica ManeesShe's called "The Dog Whisperer" by those who know her. Within 5-10 minutes, volunteer Jessica Manees often has nervous or scared dogs calmly asleep on her lap.

Unlike some her age, for Jessica, volunteering to help animals isn't just a temporary gig; she's been comforting dogs at HSHV several hours every week for more than two years and has recently opened a pet sitting and dog walking business.

Jessica loves, loves, LOVES animals, so her father's fur allergy could have been tragic. But instead of keeping her from her passion, it opened up opportunity: ingenious Jessica started volunteering at HSHV. (Family fur allergies also didn't keep her from having animals at home; Jessica has a fur-less tortoise, Spike!)

On average, every time she's at HSHV, Jessica comforts 5 dogs of all different sizes and breeds. Her favorites are German Shepherds. ("They're pretty and loyal," she says.) Jessica reads to the dogs, pets them, comforts and calms them. "Dedicated" doesn't begin to describe her.

To-date, Jessica has spent nearly 170 hours volunteering at HSHV, and hundreds of dogs have benefitted from Jessica care. In fact, Jessica was concerned about the brief hiatus she'll need to make this winter, when she competes in the 2017 World Winter Games, representing the United States in snowshoeing.

"I'm kind of excited," Jessica says, "and nervous, too."

When asked "Why snowshoeing?", she says, "I wanted to try something different."

Though Jessica has played basketball, has bowled and rowed, she thinks snowshoeing might help her be a better dog walker. ("Balance!" she says.) And she's amazingly fast; Jessica won a gold medal in snowshoeing in the Michigan Special Olympics last winter. Following that, she was asked to join the United States team!

Jessica ManeesThe 2017 World Winter Games will be held March 14-25 in Austria. This will be Jessica's first time overseas. She will be joining 3,000 athletes from 110 countries competing in nine sports: snowshoeing, floor hockey, floorball, stick shooting, figure skating, speed skating, alpine skiing, cross country skiing and snowboarding.

"She was worried she'd miss out on volunteering, but I told her, Jessica you have to go! This is an opportunity of a lifetime! They'll be okay!" says Jessica's tutor, Judy Mroz.

And though the dogs and people at HSHV will certainly miss her, and her own pet sitting/dog walking clients will need to make temporary arrangements while she's gone, we couldn't be more excited to have an Olympian in our midst.

The motto of Special Olympics is, "Let me win, but if I cannot win, let me be brave in the attempt"-- inspiring athletes to courageously give their all despite whatever challenges they may face.

Despite the challenges of our shelter dogs, volunteer Jessica gives the dogs her all. If there were an Olympic medal for Dog Comforting, we know Jessica would win the gold.

Good luck in Austria, Jessica! You're already a winner at HSHV.


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All images and photographs are courtesy of HSHV staff and Jeffrey E. Roush of Two Cat Studios.