This past Sunday and Monday the ASPCA had a very special guest join us as an honorary volunteer. Mateo M. is a nine-year-old boy from Springfield, Virginia, who has been bravely battling a brain tumor. Through the Make-A-Wish Foundation, Mateo expressed that his wish was to give back to animals and volunteer with the ASPCA in New York City. After hearing from Make-A-Wish, we couldn’t help but jump at the opportunity to help make this special little boy’s wish a reality.
Mateo’s mother tells us that she wasn’t surprised that Mateo’s wish was to give back, recounting that when he was just five or six, Mateo would cry when the ASPCA commercials would air on television. He’d even record the commercials to watch again later!
Before volunteering, Mateo got suited up in his ASPCA gear, including his very own volunteer identification badge.
So Mateo, his mother Jimena and his sister Valentina all traveled to the Big Apple for a family trip that we hoped would be their most memorable yet. For Sunday’s volunteer activities, the group, along with ASPCA employees, traveled out to the Rockaways in Queens, New York, where the ASPCA’s Cruelty Intervention Advocacy (CIA) team was holding a disaster preparation event in partnership with the NYPD.
Ready to go with a group of ASPCA employees.
In honor of National Disaster Preparedness Month, the all-day event focused on disaster preparedness for families and pets with fun, informative activities that included ASPCA adoptable animals, free pet identification tags, an “Ask a Pet Behaviorist” booth, dog licensing, emergency “Go Bag” demonstrations, a pet photo booth and more.
Top: Mateo learns how to make pet identification tags. Bottom: Mateo shadows a couple of ASPCA veterinarians.
Here, Mateo and his family were able to shadow our Behaviorists and on-site veterinarian, help make identification tags and hand out information to the local attendees. Mateo also made a few new friends with local NYPD officers and FDNY responders.
Left: Checking out our mobile adoption van. Right: Making new friends and learning some tips on dog training.
Mateo has some fun with a few local four-legged friends.
That’s a wrap on day one!
The following day, Mateo and his family were at the ASPCA Adoption Center bright and early for a day packed full of furry friends and fun. The day began with a meet and greet with the ASPCA’s President and CEO Matt Bershadker, who then took Mateo and his family on a tour of the Adoption Center and ASPCA Animal Hospital (AAH). “It was a joy to help Mateo realize his wish to help animals in need,” said Bershadker. “We were all inspired by his remarkable compassion and resilience.”
ASPCA President and CEO Matt Bershadker with Mateo, Valentina and Jimena.
Top and bottom: While on their tour, Mateo and Matt check out some of the life-saving equipment at the ASPCA Animal Hospital.
During their tour, Mateo got to play with many of our resident cats, and helped with a daily walk for one of our resident dogs, Gumpy, who came to us after being displaced by Hurricane Harvey. The group also took some time to make cat toys and learn a little more about what goes into the care of our four-legged friends.
Playtime with one of our resident cats.
During his wish, Mateo’s mother noticed a big change in her little boy. “He has Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) because of the chemo,” explained Jimena. “But you can see that this definitely left an impression. He’s usually very tired, but here he wanted to talk to everyone and let them know this happened. It’s been two days (of volunteering), and he’s still full of energy.”
Stopping to give Gumpy a quick treat while out for their walk.
After the Adoption Center, the group moved onto our Canine Annex for Recovery & Enrichment (CARE), where Mateo picked out a book and read to one of our adoptable dogs, Ocarina. According to Mateo, this was his favorite part of the day. Jimena was even surprised to see him read the book cover-to-cover, as she tells us that his brain tumor makes things like reading difficult. “I don’t know how long it’s been since he’s read this long in one sitting,” she says proudly.
Mateo reads to CARE resident, Ocarina.
Mateo’s time with us brought his love for animals to the forefront, and he was able to focus on something he truly enjoyed. “It’s like he’s completely forgotten about chemo and there is no ADD. He’s enjoying this so much. He struggles to stay focused in class, but not right now. It’s a rare time he’s fully attentive,” beams Jimena.
Mateo with a kitten from our Kitten Nursery.
After his visit with our CARE dogs, Mateo ended the day at the ASPCA Kitten Nursery, where he learned how to hold, feed and interact with some of the ASPCA’s smallest and youngest residents. Mateo even got to name one of the kittens himself—he chose the name “Tyra.” There, in a serendipitous turn of events, we learned that a Nursery caregiver, Cerena H., was also a “wish kid,” growing up. She shared that her go-to therapy while growing up was working with animals, which eventually led her to the ASPCA, and on this particular day, helping with Mateo’s wish.
Cerena H., Nursery caregiver and former “wish kid,” poses with the newly-named Tyra.
The two days spent with Mateo remind us that hope will always be our strongest force when facing life’s toughest challenges—whether you have two legs or four.
After a full volunteering experience, Mateo and his family kicked back at their first-ever Broadway show, which was fittingly, CATS.
Following Mateo’s visit, Gumpy went to a loving home. However, sweet Ocarina is still available for adoption.
Not local to New York? Not a problem! There are plenty of dogs and cats waiting for homes in your local shelter.