On a recent Monday night, Sam Daughtry loaded Dexter, a 5-year-old gray and white cat from the SPCA of Wake County, into his car and drove 16 hours to Michigan, where Dexter’s new family was waiting for him.
It’s a lot for a volunteer to take on, but the animal shelter staff weren’t surprised that Daughtry was up for the challenge.
“Sam is always reaching out and going the extra mile,” said Jan Hill, volunteer services director at the SPCA of Wake County.
Daughtry, 49, of Raleigh started volunteering at the SPCA as a matchmaker four years ago. He spends most Fridays matching families with cats that fit their lifestyles. He focuses on finding permanent homes for hard-to-place cats, including those with feline immunodeficiency virus.
Since he started, Daughtry has helped 20 FIV-positive cats find a home. He keeps a running list of every FIV-positive cat adopted out of the shelter on his cellphone.
His dedication to the overlooked cats at the shelter recently earned Daughtry a nomination in a national Purina Cat Chow competition. Each state nominated its best animal shelter volunteer to share his or her story.
Although Daughtry didn’t win the ultimate prize – a $25,000 shelter makeover – the local SPCA received $1,000 and a large donation of cat food and supplies.
“I’m an advocate first and a matchmaker second,” Daughtry said.
Helping each other
Daughtry said he first wanted to do volunteer work to help ease the depression and post-traumatic stress brought on by his Army service in Desert Storm in the early 1990s.
When he started looking for options, he found the answer sitting in his lap – Blackberry, his 19-year-old Angora cat who had feline immunodeficiency virus.
“I had to get out and do something different,” Daughtry said. “I couldn’t just sit at home anymore.”
Now, Daughtry is enrolled in an online college program and is studying business.
Although he briefly went to school in the past for animal science, he said his job ambitions don’t necessarily include animals.
Daughtry said working with cats has helped his recovery. Just as he helps them find new homes, they help him feel calm and happy.
At one point, Daughtry had three FIV-positive cats of his own. Cats with the virus often have secondary medical conditions, like infections of the mouth, gums and eyes. They can also have trouble with eating and using the litter box.
The SPCA of Wake County currently has four FIV-positive cats at its shelter.
Daughtry knows dealing with the condition can be expensive and time-consuming. But he’s grateful for his own cats, which helped him come out of his shell after his military tours were over.
Giving cats a story
The SPCA of Wake County is a nonprofit organization that runs a no-kill shelter on the border of Raleigh and Garner. The shelter takes in stray and abandoned animals and those from other no-kill shelters that are overcrowded.
The shelter staff members feed and care for the animals, Hill said. But volunteers take on other aspects of the animals’ care.
“They make the difference in the animals’ lives,” she said. “Volunteers help with socializing and broadens our scope to take care of the animals.”
The group has about 1,000 active volunteers who help clean cages, assist visitors and spend time with the animals to socialize them.
“Sam is so passionate, reliable and engaged,” Hill said. “He really cares about the cats and helping the people have a good experience.”
Daughtry prides himself on being able to soften and connect with the shelter’s more-difficult cats, whether they are FIV-positive or have other behavioral problems.
He knows that Chi-Chi, a 1-year-old black female, needs time to warm up to people. And Miles, a 7-year-old black male prone to hissing and swatting at people, prefers to make the first move.
Knowing the quirks of the cats’ behavior allows Daughtry to explain personality traits to potential adopters.
“I’ve got to give them a different story,” he said.