Austinite Lois Rodriguez got a special surprise on her first day of volunteering with Austin Pets Alive! earlier this week, but it took her a bit of time to realize that surprise was staring her right in the face as they were surrounded by dirty laundry.

"I know volunteering isn't always sexy, so I was OK to be put on laundry duty, heaping loads of stinky laundry," said Rodriguez. "But then I got the best co-volunteer ever -- Renée Zellweger!"

Rodriguez said she treated her partner as she would any other new friend, but that was because she didn't know she was working hand-in-hand with a celebrity.

"In the initial small talk of getting started, I mentioned that I had wished I’d stopped for something to drink before I left the office and headed straight over," Rodriguez recalled. "In her typical bubbly spirit, she was compelled to run and grab a water for me. Something she said as she went off to get me a water made me recognize her voice."

When Zellweger returned with a water for Rodriguez -- and shared half of her barbecue chicken wrap -- it was at that point that Rodriguez knew exactly who she was working with.

"We were 'Speed Queens,' turning our task into the Laundry Olympics, high-fiving our great accomplishments, honing our fitted-sheet folding skills and gabbing for hours -- just the two of us," said Rodriguez. "When she asked what I needed her to do, I jokingly pointed at the fitted sheets -- the bane of my existence. She said her mom just showed her how to fold them the week before. Well, she was much better at it than me, but we both needed practice."

In their three days of volunteering together from sorting donations to cleaning crates to visiting animals in need of special care, Rodriguez said they chatted about the typical things two ladies would discuss when getting to know a new friend. But they also discussed the events that brought them to APA! in the first place: Hurricane Harvey.

"She lives in Los Angeles and said she was compelled to come down and do something to help," Rodriguez said. "She looked online to she where she was most needed and when she saw Austin Pets Alive! was doing much work, her decision was made."

Rodriguez said that Zellweger told her she used to work at a shelter while she was going to school in Austin, and that she had gotten her dog, Dylan, there.


Volunteers come from across the country to help Austin Pets Alive!

APA! asking for help as they take in hundreds of animals from Hurricane Harvey

"Dylan was her constant companion that went with her everywhere -- through school, through her career," added Rodriguez. "She said he was perfect on set, too. He lived to be 15."

Rodriguez herself said she had been meaning to volunteer with APA! for some time, and the shelter's Hurricane Harvey efforts were the "impetus" for her to register as a volunteer.

"All in all, it was a rewarding volunteer experience and I’m grateful for the chance to get to know Renée," said Rodriguez. "When we said our goodbyes, we shared how much we enjoyed working with each other. I said I hope to see her again someday. She added that she gets to Austin more often than she realized."

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