Why I volunteer for Harmony House

Originally written by Marla Gutknecht

Growing up, we always had dogs, and big ones at that. All but one were rescue dogs; strays somehow always found a way into our home. I loved the unconditional love, how they greeted me after a long day and felt comforted when they slept at the foot of my bed. After I finished college and moved into my own condo in 1991, I found it lonely coming home to an empty house. At the time, I worked long hours and traveled for work. I knew it wouldn’t be possible to have a dog. My boyfriend Dan (now husband) suggested getting a cat. I love all animals, but I didn’t know the first thing about cats.

We happened to go to a pet store one afternoon and a local shelter had several cats up for adoption that day. I didn’t see them at first but heard a sound coming from one of the cages, kind of like, “Hey, look at me!” I looked back and a beautiful long-haired black cat was staring at me. He was the sweetest guy ever. His sister was a beautiful tortie girl and was just as sweet. It was close to Christmas, so Dan bought them for me as my present that year … which ended up being the best present ever. I had no idea that this gift would change my life forever. From then on, I loved cats and felt good that we gave them a home after they were abandoned in an empty apartment.

Two years later, I went to a cat show with a friend. There were several local shelters at the event sharing information. One in particular had raffle tickets, which is always a huge draw for me! I signed up for their mailing list and started to receive information from Harmony House for Cats. Each month, I would send in a few bucks, whatever my small budget would allow. After about a year, I heard that they were having a Valentine’s Open House and decided to check it out. I was surprised that it was in an old three-flat on the northwest side of Chicago.

When I walked into the event, everyone was so friendly. It was important to me that the shelter was cageless and no-kill. One of the staff members introduced herself and asked if I’d be interested in becoming a volunteer. I signed up for an orientation the following week and just loved it.

In October 2003, we adopted two kittens named Laurence and Vonnie, little balls of fur that have given us so much joy. Harmony House had conducted a special fundraising campaign for the kittens to correct an eye condition that would have eventually caused them to go blind. In 2012, Harmony House moved to a new building that was certified Platinum LEED-NC and is Chicago’s greenest shelter.

Twenty-three years later, I’m more involved than ever! There are so many volunteer opportunities within Harmony House that it’s difficult to decide which ones to participate in. From socialization programs, special event committees, event planning and set-up, to vet transport, outreach programs and shelter cleaning, they are all important roles that help the shelter run like clockwork and build awareness. I love being part of a dedicated group of people who have the cats’ best interest at heart and have made lifelong friends  volunteering at Harmony House.