Love of animals leads Cerritos College's Alyssa Sotelo to volunteer opportunities at animal shelters

Love of animals leads Cerritos College's Alyssa Sotelo to volunteer opportunities at animal shelters

NORWALK - Incoming Cerritos College freshman softball player Alyssa Sotelo has had a love of animals her entire life. The graduate of El Rancho High School spent part of her senior year serving as a volunteer at the Los Angeles Animal Shelter, where she spent her time cleaning, feeding and caring for animals and rabbits.

According to the ASPCA, approximately 6.5 million companion animals enter U.S. animal shelters nationwide every year. Of those, approximately 3.3 million are dogs and 3.2 million are cats, while approximately 3.2 million shelter animals are adopted each year (1.6 million dogs and 1.6 million cats). Due to COVID-19, many animals are brought into shelter because of the owners inability to care for their pets. People are encouraged to foster a pet that has been brought into a shelter.

The biology major, who aspires to be a veterinarian, shares her experience working at the shelter.

1) What made you decide to volunteer in an animal shelter? Was this something you had done in the past?
Growing up, I had always dreamed of becoming a veterinarian for domesticated animals. Every kid loves animals and their pets, but for me there was something stronger. I developed a passion for spending time with animals. As I began to get older, I still insisted on becoming a vet. My mother encouraged me to volunteer at an animal shelter to see if I had a future in that career or whether it was just a phase. Last summer was the first time I had volunteered my time anywhere. I was blessed to have experienced that.

2) Did you try to convince your parents to adopt any of the animals? Is adopting something you would consider once you're moved out of your parent's house?
I did not try convincing my parents to adopt a dog just because we already had three at home and I knew it would be too chaotic to add another furry friend. However my very first dog was a rescue from the pound. Her name was Wendy and she was a mutt. I couldn't tell you what breed she was but she had the biggest heart. When we got her I was still very young and didn't know my own strength. Oftentimes I would tug on her tail out of excitement and she just stood there as happy as she could be. I would without a doubt adopt another dog from the pound.

3) How did the location of where you volunteered get decided? Did you go alone or with friends/family?
Well, last summer I still didn't have my driver's license yet and I depended on my mom to take me there and back. I decided on a shelter in Los Angeles because it was the closest to our house. I volunteered alone but eventually met co-workers and other staff there.

4) How long were you there before you had to end your volunteer service and leave for your travel ball tournament?
I was only there for about two months before I had to start traveling. My schedule was becoming very hectic and didn't have extra time to drive to LA.

5) When you were given your duties, where you okay with that assignment? How long did it take you to start feeling comfortable with, not only the cleaning and feeding duties. but that dealing with animals?
The first few days were just training. I didn't get hands-on experience until about four days into the job. I thought I would be comfortable with handling dogs and rabbits just because I grew up being around them. But it immediately occurred to me that I don't know anything about these animals and they don't know anything about me. With that being said, I was pretty nervous to start handling the dogs and rabbits because I didn't know how they would react to me. It took some time getting used to but luckily most dogs were accepting of me. On the other hand, some dogs were very aggressive and didn't want to be bothered. At first, I was discouraged because I felt like I was doing something wrong, but then one of my co-workers explained to me that they just miss their owners. Dogs form extremely strong bonds with their owners, and when they get dropped off at the shelter they lose all their trust. As a volunteer you need to know how to approach the situation and pay extra attention to that specific dog in order for you to gain their trust.

Sparkie was Alyssa's favorite dog to spend time with.
6) Did you develop a special bond with any one dog or rabbit?
This was my favorite dog to spend time with. His name was Sparkie (pictured, above). Sparkie was a super lovable and energetic dog. His owners had to surrender him to a shelter because they could no longer afford the expenses of dog food. When I first met Sparkie, he was timid and not very trusting of others. As he began to familiarize with my face and scent, he started to reveal his true personality. Sparkie was the one dog I will never forget with my experience at the animal shelter.

7) Have you had any previous experience with animals that made you decided to volunteer your time?
My first dog died about five years ago and we rescued her from the shelter. Our experiences with rescuing went extremely well so I decided since I can't adopt another dog, I will help them out and give them something to look forward to. Being locked up in a cage with minimal attention must be terrible so the least I can do is give them my time.

8) If given the opportunity later this year - or in future years - are you interested in doing more volunteer work? Is there any specific type of volunteer work you'd like to be involved in?
I am actually filling out an application for the San Gabriel Humane Society today. I want to volunteer my time there. The duties are about the same as the previous animal shelter I was at.

9) What other types of volunteer work have you been involved in in the past?
My mother works for the city (Pico Rivera) and every year before COVID happened, there was an all-day free vaccination clinic. Pico residents would get the opportunity to bring their dogs and update their vaccines for free. All they needed to do was make sure their furry baby were licensed. The vets were working the vaccination station and I was in charge of the water station, making sure all animals were hydrated.

10) Tell me a little about how you did while playing softball in high school? How did you do there and did the team win any league championships?
In high school I was a four-year starter on varsity. My primary positions were second base and shortstop. The three and a half years I played at El Rancho, I had the highest batting average. Unfortunately my senior season got cut short but before it ended I was leading the team in batting average, slugging percentage and on-base percentage. I have earned an award every year from the Del Rio League. My freshman and sophomore year I was 2nd-Team All-League and my junior year I was 1st-Team All League. My junior year season, we made it to the First Round of CIF playoffs but lost that game.

NOTE: Sotello was also a two-time team Player of the Year and Defensive Player of the Year. She was also a four-year Honor Roll student and two-time Scholar-Athlete. My junior year season, my team made it to first round of CIF playoffs but lost in the first round. 

11) What made you decided to come to Cerritos College?
At first, community college wasn't on my radar but Coach (Josh) Musselman and Coach Ashley (Belmontes) came to one of my games and offered me a tour of the campus. I immediately knew I wanted to get my Associate's at Cerritos College. The facilities were breathtaking and I could tell that the coaches put in maximum effort into the softball program. Also, becoming a veterinarian is going to be super expensive so I thought I would save my parents some money.

12) What are your goals/expectations for this upcoming season?
Hopefully, athletics are cleared to play this spring. I am looking forward to building a strong bond amongst us girls and the coaches. I want people to notice how close of a team we are by the way we play. Trust is a significant aspect to this game and can be channeled through our performance. My goal is to win playoffs as a team. The way the coaches and former athletes speak about the softball program, I expect for it to be a very successful season.

(John Van Gaston, Cerritos College Athletics)