It All Begins with a Smile

If you walk into the Petco on 56th and Highway 2 on a Saturday, chances are you might run into Jeanie Imler. One of her volunteer duties with Lincoln Animal Ambassadors is to inform the public about what the group does and how one can make use of or donate to the group’s services. Earlier this year, I visited Jeanie at Petco to interview her and to watch her in action.

Jeanie has always had a soft spot in her heart for stray and homeless animals. She told me, “When I was five, my parents and I adopted a stray neighborhood cat. Fluffy was with us until I was a sophomore at the University of Nebraska.” To this day, Jeanie still adopts homeless animals, considering them to be the “best and most grateful”!

Her love of animals led Jeanie to Lincoln Animal Ambassadors. When she and her husband moved back to Lincoln in 2007 after living in Cozad for 33 years, Jeanie wanted to find a volunteer organization with which she’d feel truly be comfortable. Her mother gave her an article from the Lincoln Journal Star that featured a lady who had been walking her dog on a clothes line because she couldn’t afford a leash. The article featured Mary Douglas, LAA’s president, who had donated a leash and (probably other items) to the lady. The article tugged at Jeanie’s heart. Not long after reading it, she made contact with LAA.

I have always enjoyed talking and interacting with people–being a French teacher at Pius with 130 students of course reinforces that belief!

Since 2009, Jeanie has been volunteering at an information table at the South Petco monthly for two hours on most weekends. Her table is regularly stocked with brochures about LAA and its affiliates, The Cat House and Cause for Paws.
Whenever customers walk by, Jeanie will smile and try to catch their eye. If she does, she’ll extend her hand and start to chat with them. Conversation will naturally revolve around LAA’s services, the low cost neuter-spay program and the Pet Food Bank, but Jeanie will also talk about pets, jobs, and any other topic that might make a connection with customer. At all times, making the customer feel comfortable is of prime importance.

It is delightful and unbelievable the stories that I’ve heard over the years, too many to even mention.

Jeanie told me that over the years, many people have shared with her not only stories of their own pets, but also have talked about their experiences with homeless pets that they’ve fostered for various organizations in Lancaster county and beyond. “These stories are heartwarming and rewarding; anything I can (and have done) to help these selfless people is truly the best.“

Jeannie with customer. Permission granted for photo to be taken.
Jeannie with customer.
Permission granted for photo to be taken.

After I had observed Jeanie for about an hour, she then encouraged me to try my own hand at sharing information. Unlike Jeanie, I’m an introvert. Whereas she’ll naturally jump into a conversation about the cute dog tugging on its leash, I tend to immediately launch into a memorized speech about LAA’s services. And whereas she’ll easily fill in moments of silence, I’ll awkwardly ramble about the weather or some other mundane topic. Yet with some practice and lots of encouragement from Jeanie, I did find myself relaxing as the time passed. I became comfortable enough to share some interesting tidbits about myself, such as: I am from Canada, I teach with Lincoln Public Schools, and my pets have included guinea pigs, cats, and dogs. Before the two hours were over, I had also even begun to promote LAA Pet Talk, and to think that maybe I could add this to my volunteer repertoire.

Indeed, thanks to my two hours with Jeanie, I’ve since found the courage to make myself a more visible presence at LAA at fund-raisers such as I Love My Dog Expo and Tails and Trails. In doing so, I discovered the truth of Jeanie’s advice that “with just an introductory sentence or two, you’d be amazed at how many people ‘open up’ and really want to share their beloved animal stories.”

The more I volunteer for LAA, the more I realize what a difference just one person can make in the lives of not only pets, but pet owners as well … Many times the people I’ve talked to have friends or know of someone who needs our neuter/spay assistance or food from the Pet Food Bank. When I give them our information to give to their friends, they’re so grateful. This is truly a “win win” situation for everyone!

Have a passion for animals? Like to talk? Maybe you would be the perfect person to volunteer to help at LAA’s information tables. You just need to “point out a few important facts about LAA” and, according to Jeanie, “you would fit in perfectly with our group!”

And if the idea of talking to strangers makes you shake, that’s okay too. Lincoln Animal Ambassadors can use volunteers in kinds of areas. As long as you’re interested in helping those who have no voice in their lives, Jeanie advises, “just pick your strength and LAA will go from there!”

To read more about LAA’s services, check out these articles:


One of the Petco locations where pet supplies can be donated to LAA.
One of the Petco locations where pet supplies can be donated to LAA.

Jeanie’s love for homeless animals extends beyond her volunteer work. She’s also an influence on her family and friends. For a recent birthday, her five-year-old grandson asked those invited to bring donations for LAA’s Pet Food Bank. Avery agreed to answer a few questions of mine about this generous act:

Q: What pets do you have?

A. We have Harley, our English bulldog, and Sammy and Sophie, 2 cats from the Humane Society. (The family pets were adopted from the Omaha Humane Society five years before Avery came along, and are still happy and healthy companions.)

Q. Why did you donate your birthday money to Lincoln Animal Ambassadors?

A. Because I know my grandma volunteers for LAA and gives them food.

Q. What do you like most about your pets?

A. I love my pets because they are so much fun to pet and play with. Both of my cats snuggle in bed with me at night and keep me warm.

Q. Why should others help pets?

A. Other people should help pets because they are so much fun to be with and they are such good friends. We don’t want any animals to be lonely, sick or hungry.


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