Volunteer spotlight: Mark Bertz

He's spent over 2,000 hours with our cats, and they couldn't live without him. Literally.

This Labor Day-- and the day before and after--volunteer Mark Bertz will probably be at the Humane Society of Huron Valley. He says it's a labor of love. Having spent over 2,000 hours and more than 5 years gently petting, loving, grooming, and socializing cats, we believe it, and the cats do, too. Now Mark trains other volunteers to do the same. His and all cat comforters' patience, persistence and compassion are crucial to saving cats' lives and helping them get forever homes.

So what keeps Mark going and going and going? Inquiring minds asked...


Mark BertzHSHV: What inspired you to start volunteering at HSHV, Mark?

I had been retired for a couple years when my cats decided I was underfoot and needed to get out of the house. I like cats and dogs, so volunteering for an organization that is an advocate for their welfare, and the welfare of all the other animals that HSHV takes in, seemed very worthwhile.

HSHV: When did you begin volunteering? What did you initially do, and what are you doing now? What would youlike to do in the future? How has volunteering changed/remained the same?

I began volunteering in May 2012. I did laundry--lots of laundry, especially the first shift, which lasted three hours. Now the shifts are just two hours, which is so, so easy! Two months later, I became a cat comforter. Since my cats won’t let me have a dog, I thought I would become a dog walker. But it seemed like there were plenty of dog walkers and not enough cat comforters, so that’s the career path I chose.

Re: the future-- I’ll just be happy to still be here when the future arrives! When it does, I’ll be doing the same as what I do now--cat comforting, including Back-of-House cats, training new cat comforters, being a receptionist at Tiny Lions cat cafe, and the occasional laundry gig. My goal is to have the same longevity as volunteers such as Chris with Bountiful Bowls; Frank, who walks dogs; and cat comforters Sue and Bonnie.

There are more opportunities now. Cat comforters can also be dog walkers and vice-versa. We have the Blue Dot program for dogs and cats, which recognizes different levels of attention for certain animals. And then there is Tiny Lions cat cafe, a concept which in 2012 would have elicited "A Cat what??" response.

HSHV: What keeps you coming back to volunteer?

The cats. The dogs, cats, and other pets that HSHV takes in are a vulnerable population. I like giving the cats attention, maybe even helping them rediscover their inner kitten, until their new families give them a home. I also like being part of this community of staff and volunteers that is so dedicated to these pets.

HSHV: What suggestions do you have for new cat comforters?

I like to think that these cats are my cats, that they are my responsibility. That means that if I have concerns about the cat or its cage, or concerns about our guests, I have no hesitation about letting someone at the front desk know. It’s all about the cats, it’s all about the dogs. No matter what volunteer function we are doing, we can help make our would-be-adopters’ visit a very good one. If you are comforting cats, feel free to assist our guests or ask a staff member to help. Not all cats respond in that social and friendly way we would like to see. That’s not a bad thing; it’s just the cat’s preference.

HSHV: What qualities are most important for an HSHV volunteer to have?

Compassion and patience. We care for some pets who have come from a miserable situation. It may take a while for them to become trusting again. It’s worth the wait.

HSHV: Has there been an animal that particularly touched you?

"Mask" was a grey cat, one of "The Eighty-Eight" from the September 2013 hoarding situation. She was in a "Downtown" cage with Magic, who was soon adopted. Mask, however, had some difficulties. She was two or three years old and weighed fewer than three pounds. She had one eye. She had hygiene habits that would not endear her to a potential adopter. Then she disappeared from her Downtown cage. I was afraid to ask about Mask because I assumed the worst. Several weeks later, after lots of incredible love and medical care, she returned to an upper Downtown cage. The first time I visited her, she climbed to my shoulder, lay across the back of my neck, and napped. It was the best feeling ever. All adoptions are equally special, but for me, Mask’s was the dearest.

HSHV: What would you like to see happen for animals in the future?

I would love for everyone to regard their pets not as property but as friends and companions. They are also a responsibility, which includes spaying and neutering. There are too many people who don’t accept this responsibility.

The penalties for animal abuse can be too lenient. There should be stronger sentencing guidelines across the nation. Abuse of pets ought to be recognized for the crime that it is.

Tops on my wish list would be more shelters like the Humane Society of Huron Valley. It’s wonderful and amazing what HSHV accomplishes with medical care, adoptions, hoarding cases, education, foster families, and all the other programs and services.


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