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Spotlight on Volunteers: Alex Zimmerman

16-year-old is already a veteran volunteer, working for the past six years at Pet Palace in New City.

Volunteer: Alex Zimmerman

Organization: The Pet Palace Pals

Sure, studying and going to extra help are two ways to improve as a student, but how about volunteering at a pet store?

Doug Staley, one of the owners of New City's Pet Palace, has had parents of volunteers tell him their kids improved in school after volunteering at his store.

"Volunteering with animals teaches kids better discipline, and I've had parents tell me their kids are better students because of that," he said. "I've also had parents tell me their kids clean their room better after volunteering with animals."

Staley has a pretty good sample size of volunteers, too. Since creating the Pet Palace Pals program about 12 years ago, he estimates he's had more than 4,000 kids volunteer with the store. The program is open to all kids in the county 10-years-older and up, possibly even way up. Staley said he's had at least one volunteer as old as 70.

"All we require is a love of animals and need to take care of them," he said.

Staley said he's also had requests for a program for kids under the age of 10, and he's trying to work one out. Some problems with that, though, are kids that young are more likely to have shorter attention spans and a bigger fear of animals.

He also noted, however, that volunteering at Pet Palace can help kids overcome a fear of animals, citing a former volunteer who was afraid of dogs and would jump on the nearest chair whenever one was around her. She volunteered at the store, and is now a dog owner, Staley said.

He also said that volunteering with the Pet Palace Pals helps kids learn about responsibility, and not just of taking care of animals. While he said everyone who signs up gets called, and there is even a slight waiting list, he also makes all the kids fill out an application to teach them about responsibility.

It also helps the kids learn proper ways to take care of animals, which he thinks can help later in life should they get their own pets and even later than that if they have kids who have pets.

"There's always a big debate about purchasing animals, and we just want to convey to the community that responsible pet ownership is the most important thing," Staley said.

Volunteers are at Pet Palace every day of the week, Staley said. One of the most tenured volunteers is New City's' Alex Zimmerman, 16, who is about to enter his junior year at Clarkstown North High School in New City.

How long have you been volunteering?

Alex Zimmerman: I started here when I was about 10.

Why did you decide to volunteer here?

I just like working with dogs and other animals.

Do you have any pets of your own?

Yeah, I have two dogs, both bichon frises. One is 11-years-old, named Trunksy, and the other is 2, named Spunky.

What are you responsibilities as a Pet Palace Pal?

We have to help customers and take care of the animals.

What kinds of things do you do to take care of the animals?

Well, if they're full of energy we take them out and play with them. Then things like food and water. All the necessities.

What is your favorite animal to work with?

Dogs, by far.

And least favorite?

I don't like working with the lizards. I just don't like them or snakes too much.

Do you think you'll continue to volunteer in the future?

Maybe with animals, yeah.

Do you want to work with animals as a possible career?

I'm not really quite sure. I think I want to go into the business world. Working with animals is just something fun to do.

General thoughts on volunteering with the Pet Palace Pals?

It's just a good place to volunteer if you like working with animals. You get to work in a team environment, and it helps with communication skills, too.  

Anyone looking to volunteer at Pet Palace can call them at 845-638-1378, or stop in to pick up an application. It's located at 174 S. Main St., in the back of the Big Daddy's Liquor and next to Weichert Realtor. 

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