How a Wheaton woman's videos are helping cats find new homes
Krystyna Domagala was a science teacher when she had to quit her job at Addison Trail High School for health reasons.
But the 32-year-old Wheaton resident wasn't going to let medical issues stop her from volunteering.
When the lifelong cat lover learned last year that she could volunteer at DuPage County Animal Services, she jumped at the opportunity. Since starting last November, Domagala has donated more than 500 hours to the animal shelter in Wheaton.
She does a variety of tasks, including helping in the office and assisting visitors. Most of her time, though, is spent in the cat room cleaning cages and socializing the animals.
She's also found a 21st-century way to promote the cats to potential adopters: Making videos.
"If you see any of the cat-related videos that cross our social media channels, Krystyna's usually the one responsible for putting those out," said Kristie Lecaros, the manager of humane initiatives and special projects for DuPage County Animal Services.
While pictures are great, Domagala said cats can be difficult to photograph. Videos, on the other hand, capture their unique personalities.
"If you want to know what that cat will be like sitting on your lap on the weekends, you need a video," Domagala said.
Cats at the shelter sometimes act differently in front of strangers than they do with her, she said, and "I want people to see what I see in them."
Domagala says she used her cellphone to create her first video for the shelter last December. She since has produced more than 50.
Check out the videos and you'll see Domagala petting, holding and playing with cats waiting for adoption. Many of the videos are less than 30 seconds; others are more than a minute with background music, graphics and text.
Some have gotten more than 2,400 views and at least one person told Domagala she adopted an animal after seeing her work.
Domagala admits she's always been obsessed with cats.
"They're such charming little creatures," she said. "They love to snuggle and they love to play. They are cutest things I've ever seen."
"I'm definitely a crazy cat lady."
While she has two felines at home -- Dizzy, 13, and Frankie, 7, -- Domagala says she considers the cats at the shelter to be part of her family.
"Every single one of those cats is my cat as far as I'm concerned," she said.
She wants all of them to find good homes -- a difficult task considering how many the shelter takes in each year.
Lecaros says the shelter gets roughly 2,500 animals a year from DuPage and other collar counties and roughly 40% are cats. At any given time, there are 60 to 70 at the shelter while another dozen are in foster care.
Fortunately, the shelter has more than 200 active volunteers, including a group of individuals dedicated to filling daily shifts in the cat room.
"We couldn't do what we do without our volunteers," Lecaros said. "They assist us with everything from cleaning and feeding to socialization and enrichment."
Lecaros said a change in environment is stressful for a cat, so it's important to provide socialization.
"People like Krystyna actually help the animals acclimate," she said, "so their transition is a little bit smoother. They'll sit quietly with them, or they'll provide them with enrichment activities to help combat their stress."
Animals that are less stressed are less likely to become ill and more likely to be adopted, Lecaros said.
Domagala said she enjoys being part of each cat's story.
"When they come to us, you don't really know much about them," she said. "You make them feel loved and comforted. And then you get to see them go home, which is always the hardest part. It breaks your heart, because you no longer get to see them. At the same time, you know they're in a safe place."