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Volunteers for Humane Society say experience is rewarding

January 08, 2006|By DANIEL J. SERNOVITZ

daniels@herald-mail.com

Abandoned to wander the streets, rescued from cruel or neglectful owners, or simply turned in by people unable to care for them, more than 500 dogs and cats were turned into the Humane Society of Washington County in October.

Individually, they might appear to be wide-eyed bundles of joy, but collectively, they present a logistical challenge for the Humane Society's 22 full-time staff members.

That challenge would elevate to the level of impossibility were it not for a complement of as many as 150 volunteers who help out by meeting with hopeful pet owners, answering phones and - the selling point for many - walking, feeding and playing with the animals.

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"It's very important. It supplements those areas that we need help in," said Paul Miller, executive director of the Humane Society, who noted that volunteers log a total of between 800 and 1,000 hours of service monthly. "It's a lot of time, and they're very dedicated."

On Saturday, the Humane Society hosted an orientation session for about 20 prospective volunteers, ranging from high-school students hoping to fill their community service hours to those just looking for something to do in their spare time, but each professed a love of feline and canine.

"I just wanted something to do," said Glenna Guyer, a Hedgesville, W.Va. resident and Chihuahua owner. "I like being around animals. They help me feel good."

Margaret Rhoads, volunteer coordinator with the Humane Society, said the orientation sessions are designed to give prospective volunteers a sense of what they can expect. Volunteers watch a video about the society, learn about the shelter and the volunteer opportunities open to them, and tour the facility as part of the sessions.

"We depend upon volunteers to do the extras, to walk the dogs regularly, to socialize the pests and volunteer for the special events," Rhoads said. "It's important that you see this because this is life in a shelter. Some people do go on the tour and decide it's too much for them, too emotional."

In addition to the joy of pairing the animals with loving caregivers, Rhoads said volunteers will endure some heartbreak in both seeing the condition of some of the pets brought into the shelter and knowing a majority of them must be euthanized because homes cannot be found for them. Of the 504 animals brought to the shelter in October, for example, 322 needed to be put to sleep.

Mitchell Rodriguez, a Hagerstown resident, said he decided to volunteer at the shelter because as a senior at Washington County Technical High School, he is required to put in 50 service hours in order to meet graduation requirements. In just the past few weeks, Rodriguez has decided to stay on in a volunteer capacity beyond his 50 hours.

"It's more than I expected," Rodriguez said, noting it also is depressing seeing so many animals without homes.

"You feel somewhat bad for some of the dogs," he said. "It's kind of like helping kids at an orphanage."

For more information, call the shelter at 301-733-2060.

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