Friends of the animals
Published 9:52 pm Wednesday, January 25, 2017
When a ball is thrown at the Suffolk Animal Care Center’s outdoor exercise yard, chances are a volunteer is on one end of the throw, with an energetic pup on the other. Sometimes, there’s even a treat in the volunteer’s pocket, too.
At any given time, there are about 50 dogs and 50 cats at the shelter, although the number fluctuates from day to day. A small group of dedicated volunteers works at the shelter on a regular basis to make it a little easier for the dogs and cats to put their best paw forward when it counts.
Volunteers play a big part at the facility on Forest Glen Drive, where they take the dogs out in the exercise yard to socialize them and help the pups burn off some steam. It makes a big difference when an adoptive family is looking for a new member.
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Sometimes, a dog is so energetic and eager to make a new friend that the humans are overwhelmed and see the dog as too excitable, not well trained or maybe even aggressive when none of those is actually the case, volunteer Jim Oaks said.
“The people just see the wild dog,” Oaks said. “The dog is nothing but affectionate, and they don’t give the dogs a chance.”
The other side of the coin is when a dog is too shy to warm up to humans.
“It’s tough for a dog to impress someone in the first few minutes,” said Laurie Brittle, animal shelter manager.
Volunteers help remove this common barrier to adoption by helping to ensure the dogs get outdoor exercise and socialization on a regular basis. They throw toys and even bring homemade treats to encourage the pups to play while they can — but most don’t need any encouragement.
The more time you spend with the dogs, the more they grow on you.
“If you walk through here enough, one of these dogs is going to adopt you,” Oaks said.
He volunteers frequently, along with his wife, Linda.
“My favorite thing is taking the dog outside so they can run,” she said.
Volunteer Debbie Strickland said she is motivated to come to the shelter and volunteer, because she wants to help the animals find their forever homes.
“None of these animals want to be here,” she said.
Volunteers say there is a common reaction among folks who find out what they do at the shelter, something along the lines of, “Oh, I could never volunteer there. I would want to take every dog home.”
These regular volunteers have plenty of dogs at home, they admit, and the Oakses have a 100-gallon saltwater aquarium, as well. So there’s plenty to do without bringing home more animals.
They know their job is to love the animals at the shelter and help make it possible for other people to take them home.
Even with all of the public awareness in the last few years about the importance of adopting pets, it’s still impossible to find adoptive families for all of the animals that come into the shelter.
“I think a lot of people have in mind the exact breed they want, and everybody wants a puppy,” Brittle said.
Many dogs are brought to the shelter by people who rushed into pet ownership and weren’t prepared.
That’s why the staff at the shelter take pains to make sure animals are compatible with families.
“It’s important to get them adopted, but it’s also important for the adoption to stick,” Brittle said.
Her advice for those who know what they want but want to adopt an animal: “Keep checking back,” she said. “We’re getting dogs in all the time.”
The same goes for cats and even smaller pets, such as hamsters, rabbits, birds and reptiles, all of which have been at the shelter at one time or another.
And the advice for people who think they couldn’t volunteer? Just do it. Your help is needed.
“This place could always use new people,” Jim Oaks said.