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Special-ed students give special love to animals

Published December 21, 2012 3:06 pm

Pet projects • They help dogs and cats find homes.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2012, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

It's not unusual for Chelsea Phillips to hold up two or three fingers as she walks past her coordinator's office — her way of showing how many pet adoptions she helped arrange that day.

"It is a lot of work in one day to get them adopted and stuff," said Phillips, "but it's well worth it."

Phillips, 21, and her best friend, Andy Finnegan, 22, are fixtures at Salt Lake County Animal Services. The two began volunteering there more than a year ago as part of Granite School District's GIFTS Program (Gaining Independence For Transition Success). The program aims to help special-education students such as Phillips, who has a learning disability, and Finnegan, who was born with brain damage, gain the job and life skills necessary for adulthood.

The two have stayed on at the center far past the program's requirements. Why? Because they love the critters.

"I would never stop coming," said Finnegan, whose lifelong ambition has been to work with animals. "It makes me happy. These animals need a home."

Finnegan volunteers there about 40 hours a week, on top of school and his part-time job as a movie theater ticket-taker. Phillips lends a hand five days a week, each afternoon after class.

They arrive each day via public transportation (neither one has a car). There, they help arrange adoptions, clean, walk dogs and feed the animals. They've both won President's Volunteer Service Awards for their commitment.

"These two young people are so dedicated," said Jenny Bloom, Salt Lake County Animal Services volunteer coordinator. "I don't think we could really do it without our volunteers, especially these two."

Finnegan is particularly attached to the dogs, and Phillips has an affinity for the cats, especially when it comes to matching felines with families.

"Seeing all their faces and getting to know them, making sure they're getting attention," Phillips said, "just makes me feel good."

Her record is nine adoptions in one day.

Lisa Schencker






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