Inspired by their desire to engage in a joint hobby, Denise Bryan, 51, and her husband, Stan, 54, of Hagerstown walked into The Humane Society of Washington County more than three years ago with open hearts and a willingness to help.
“We both have a love for animals and wanted to do a hobby, something that we enjoyed together. We thought we could do something positive to save some of the animals,” Denise said.
After participating a session of hands-on training, hosted by the Humane Society, the Bryans were allowed to begin working directly with the animals. Their contact with the animals was a compliment to their training because it allowed them to continue learning about animals through trial and error and practical experience.
Most of the animals they work with are strays or animals that have been surrendered to the organization by owners.
“When we first started there we weren’t sure about a lot of things,” Denise said. “But, the staff is very nice up there and taught us a lot about how to care for animals.”
Over time they learned a bit of everything, from medical attention for cats and dogs to behavioral cues so they recognize signs of aggressiveness. More than a learning experience, the Bryans instantly bonded with the animals learning names, personality traits and even their favorite toys.
Although they volunteer as a couple, the needs of the animals come first, so they usually split up and work on separate projects. Denise and Stan help with feeding, watering, walking, unloading donations or filling litter bins. In the clinic, Stan helps with administering SNAP tests, a blood test used to screen animals for contagious viruses and illnesses.
“If they test positive they are separated from the other animals and they cannot be adopted,” Stan said.
About a year into volunteering at the Humane Society, Stan and Denise realized they wanted to do more for the animals. After getting approval from the Humane Society, they began fostering cats and took on a personal initiative to raise awareness and funding for the Humane Society.
“Denise and Stan are unique because we don’t have a lot of husband-wife teams,” said Paul Miller, executive director of the Humane Society of Washington County. “They volunteer, work and foster — going above and beyond. Our volunteers are vital to the program, the staff and the animals.”
While rewarding, fostering can be a demanding. Cleaning is an everyday chore to maintain a healthy and safe environment for the animals. Training and disciplining the animals is also necessary. The oldest cat in their care is 11 years old and the youngest is almost a year old.
When faced with challenges, the couple do their best to overcome. If a foster cat gets sick, it isn’t uncommon for Stan or Denise to sleep in shifts to care for the animal.
“We had one cat named Lokie who had a bad cold,” Denise explained. “Stan was up at 3 a.m. diluting the feed down and syringe feeding it. He’s done that with many others and has saved many animals that way.”
In the community, the Bryans try to raise awareness about the Humane Society by speaking with both non-pet owners and pet owners. They have done work to increase donations and fundraising, are active in recruiting volunteers and provide ideas to the organization for ways to enhance animal care. They also participate in Bone to Be Wild, an annual fundraising motorcycle ride held in Hagerstown.
In addition, the couple continues to volunteer at the Humane Society on Tuesdays and Thursdays and on weekends, all while working full-time jobs, Stan at CertainTeed and Denise at Shifler Electric in Hagerstown.
“On weekdays we come home from work, change, then drive over to the Humane Society. On weekends we usually spend about four to five hours there helping out,” Stan said.
While they enjoy fundraising and awareness, they feel most productive when they’re having contact with the animals, fellow staff and volunteers at the Humane Society.
“Some people are destined to do things like help at the hospital everyone has a different passion. For us, it’s animals, whether it’s trying to save one or make a difference,” Denise said. “We love animals and we like to make a difference. It gives us a good feeling in our heart.”
Photos by Ric Dugan/Staff Photographer
Stan Bryan, left, holds a cat, while his wife, Denise, puts bedding in a cage at The Humane Society of Washington County. The couple volunteers at the shelter.
Denise and Stan Bryan volunteer at The Humane Society of Washington County, foster cats at their Hagerstown home and raise awareness and funding for the shelter.