CLIFFSIDE PARK, N.J. — The day Kristi Heller's 19-year-old dog died, she immediately began her volunteer work at Bergen County Protect and Rescue Foundation in Cliffside Park.
"I got [my dog] when I was 19. From when I was in college, got married and bought my house, she was with me half my life," Volunteer Kristi Heller said. "I thought I would need to be euthanized that’s how depressed I was."
She poured herself into volunteering at the animal shelter. It has become a part of her life.
Heller described how her drive pushes her to work all hours of the day. She'll answer emails throughout the day and work until 3 in the morning trying to place animals with potential owners.
"I have other things in life but I always find time for the shelter."
She's frequently reminded of the impact the shelter can have.
Heller recalls one case where an autistic child adopted a pit bull from a kill-shelter.
"They had this connection automatically."
According to Heller, the child's attachment to the animal meant he was calmer, requiring less medication and supervision.
Heller tries to find compatible dogs and owners but is wary of asking a ton of questions that might dissuade people from adopting.
During his years of volunteering, Heller has assisted with rescues from hoarder homes and helped autistic children through successful matches.
The experience of volunteering and being around animals has changed her life.
"You communicate with them just by the way they look at you. It’s very different than being with people," Heller said.
"I really enjoy it and I think about the dogs at night I wonder if they’re up or sleeping well."