Longboat resident has been volunteering at Southeastern Guide Dogs for eight months, but she has clocked in more than 135 hours of service.
Cleaning isn’t everyone’s favorite hobby.
But for Patti Lopez, it’s rewarding.
Which is why she doesn’t mind cleaning up after puppies are trained at Southeastern Guide Dogs.
When Lopez and her husband retired and moved to Longboat Key two years ago, her neighbor Patty McBride told her about Southeastern Guide Dogs.
Although Lopez has only been volunteering there for eight months, she has clocked in more than 135 hours of service. The annual average is around 145 hours. She goes once a week for eight-hour shifts.
She plans to attend more classes to learn about training and the organization and intends to pick up another shift this summer.
“I like to give back,” she said. “I think life is about paying it forward, and I always loved animals.”
She started volunteering with Canine University, which is where dogs that are returning from puppy raisers go to further their training. Then she volunteered in puppy kindergarten and took a couple classes on the nursery, where she also volunteers.
“That is absolutely the best, it’s beyond,” she said. “It’s a lot of hard work, but you know, you do it to make somebody’s life better and for the dogs.”
She said the work is a lot of cleaning and laundry, but it’s rewarded with the opportunity to sometimes feed a puppy a bottle. When offered the chance to work the guide desk, she turned it down to stay with the nursery and other parts of the organization to get her hands dirty.
“It sounds simple, and a lot of people want to go and play with puppies, and well, you do get to play, but 100 puppies keep you pretty busy,” she said.
Each Friday, she starts her day in the nursery then heads off to kindergarten.
“You don’t realize something in your life is missing, then when you go there and work, it’s not about monetary value,” she said. “You walk out of there, and … it just fills a void.”
Now, she’s passing the volunteering gene on to her children. Her daughter plays lacrosse at the University of Florida, but when she was home last summer, Lopez said to live at home, she had to volunteer at least two days a week. Her daughter spent the summer coaching lacrosse to high school students.
“You might not make a difference to a lot (of people), but to one person, you can make a big difference,” she said.
And, volunteering helped fill the void her kids left as they left for college.
“It fills my heart with joy,” she said. “That’s what it really comes down to. Why do I get up at 4:30 on Friday morning and drive there? Because I leave there every time and I feel happy.”
Entering retirement can leave a lot of questions. One that Lopez had was would she ever make friends that are comparable to those she made during her career and time in Long Island?
Through Southeastern Guide Dogs, she thinks she has.
“(There are) so many great people, so much diversity and everybody is there for a common cause – to help the future of somebody else who is not as lucky,” she said.