Jack and his friends cuddle one of the Best Friends' shelter dogs. Jack (bottom right, in orange) and his friends show some love to one of the shelter dogs at the Best Friends shelter. (Photo: Jayne Hallock)

There was no question how Jack Hallock was going to spend his birthday. The 12-year-old had been waiting somewhat impatiently for the chance to volunteer at Best Friends Lifesaving Center in Atlanta but he just wasn't old enough. Volunteers have to be at least 12 to help out at the facility.

Once the big day came, he chose to celebrate the landmark occasion surrounded by rescue dogs and cats looking for homes. Instead of gifts, he asked friends and family members to donate to the shelter. Six of his friends joined him as they stuffed Kong toys full of peanut butter, filled food bags for adoption kits and played with the dogs and cats.

When asked why he chose to spend his birthday at the shelter instead of having a big blowout party, Jack told MNN, "Because I feel bad for the animals and I want them to have a better home."

A long-time animal lover

Jack with Professor Peanut, one of his family's two rescue dogs. Jack with Professor Peanut, one of his family's two rescue dogs. (Photo: Jayne Hallock)

Caring for animals is nothing new for Jack. He's been sensitive to animals and their plight for as long as his family can remember. Jack says the turning point was when he was 5 years old.

"We were at a restaurant and I asked if the chicken I was eating was real chicken and when my parents said it was, I never ate meat again."

Jack is not alone in his passion for animals. Family members have influenced him to love all creatures.

"My friends and family have inspired me over the past few years," he says. "My aunt Connie was a vegetarian before I was and always loved animals and my mom [inspired me] because she was volunteering at the rescue."

Jack's mom, Jayne, started volunteering at the rescue in 2015 after the loss of the family dog, Wolfgang.

"I really missed dogs and knew I had a lot of love to offer, so I began to volunteer and help how I could," she say. "I didn't do much but I tried to make a difference where I could. Jack, who was 8 at the time, kept asking where I was going and when I told him, he wanted to join me. He just wasn't old enough yet."

The wait is over

Jack and his friends present a $700 check to Best Friends. Jack and his friends present a $700 check to Best Friends. (Photo: Jayne Hallock)

After waiting all those years for the chance to volunteer, Jack showed up for this birthday event with six friends and an impressive check for $700.

He said his friends were eager to come along.

"I was worried they were going to think it was boring, but they really thought it was cool," he says. "Their favorite parts were playing with the dogs and cats."

Jack fills up Kongs with peanut butter on his birthday. Jack fills up dog toys with peanut butter on his birthday. (Photo: Jayne Hallock)

Now, Jack plans to try to volunteer every Sunday at the shelter for a few hours with his mom.

"I'll probably take care of the dogs, fix the lawn for the dogs and take pictures of them so they can get adopted."

The family now has two rescue dogs of their own — Professor Peanut and Bongo. When Jack isn't at school or playing with his dogs, he also likes to draw and make felt animals. You can see some of his drawings on Instagram.

'A force of nature'

Jack's first day volunteering Jack hangs out with a dog named Shortstack on his first official day volunteering. There will be many more. (Photo: Jayne Hollack)

We know Jack's mom is biased, but she says her son is pretty amazing.

"We're pretty OK humans and parents but man, Jack is a force of nature. He's like an alien dropped into our family, with more willpower and compassion and stubbornness than most adults I know," she says.

"He's extremely empathetic and angry about animal abuse and is willing to put his action beyond his philosophies. Jack tells me he remembers 'how delicious' cheeseburgers and hot dogs are, but he is resisting the temptation because he doesn't want to hurt animals. We tell him regularly that kids can teach grownups just as much as grownups teach children."

Mary Jo DiLonardo writes about everything from health to parenting — and anything that helps explain why her dog does what he does.

12-year-old celebrates best birthday ever by volunteering with friends at the local shelter
Boy asks his friends to celebrate his birthday by volunteering at an animal shelter.