Talents from a lifetime of study and work coupled with time available when day-to-day work responsibilities end provide the ingredients for the potentially perfect volunteer. Factor in a willingness to freely give of both and you have a winning combination.

Beth Jurek fits the formula. After 38 years in state government, the lifelong Frankfort resident is contributing 20 to 30 hours of her retirement time each week to L.I.F.E. House for Animals, the no-kill shelter on Fido Court that will soon celebrate the 16th anniversary of its founding.

“Technically I’m a cat adoption counselor,” Jurek said, “but I do pretty much whatever is needed. I’ve had cats my whole life and have five now.” As an adoption counselor, she tries to make sure the cat, owner and its potential surroundings make for a good match.

“My first responsibility is to the animal,” she said. Since the cat can’t speak, Jurek becomes its advocate.

Both her Bachelor of Arts degree from Eastern Kentucky University and her master’s from the University of Louisville are in social work. And that’s where she began her career with state government.

‘What’s best for the client’

“Social workers have tough jobs,” she said. “Their responsibility is to do what’s best for the client — usually a child, an older or disabled adult who can’t advocate for themselves.”

Cat adoption counseling is much the same. Cats, like people, have different personalities. Matching the two and placing the “client” in the best environment is the counselor’s aim.

Jurek ended her career in state government a little more than three years ago working in policy and budget.

“After some time off, I knew I wanted to do something else,” she said. “Trudy Van Meter mentioned L.I.F.E. House to me.” She did some investigation and it seemed to be a good fit.

Betty Martin, director of the facility who founded it with C. Michael Davenport, couldn’t agree more.

“Beth has been with us for about a year,” said Martin. “She makes my life a lot easier!”

Jurek said L.I.F.E. House is always in need of volunteers. “Sometimes people volunteer, and they don’t take the commitment seriously. Here that’s a necessity since the animals must be cared for every day. If they’re going to volunteer, a willingness to follow through is a must.”

It’s the same with pet ownership — an everyday commitment.

“We want to make sure the pet and owner fit,” she said, “and that’s my job for cats. Some cats don’t like being around dogs; others may have challenges with small children. They don’t like change, so we want to assess the environment they’re going into.”

It’s a job perfectly suited for a former social worker.

“Dogs, they say, have owners,” Jurek said. “Cats have staff.” It’s important for prospective cat owners to understand that tongue-in-cheek analysis.

She explains that when adoptions go bad, L.I.F.E. House will take the pet back. “But we try to talk to the owner and see if the placement can be salvaged, to see what went wrong. Maybe just a minor change in something is needed to make everyone happy.”

In addition to her time at L.I.F.E. House, Jurek also is a member of the board of the Kentucky Coalition Against Domestic Violence and serves as president of the Keeneland Court Neighborhood Association.

“When I get involved in something,” she said, “I like to be all in.”

An additional ingredient for an effective volunteer.

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