Miss Lucy was on Facebook the other day, tongue wagging, ears folded over like envelope flaps. One of those “Pick me! Pick me!” photos from the City of Huntsville Animal Services’ page.
And somebody did pick her. The next photo, Miss Lucy is sprawled on somebody’s floor with a new friend.
“Honestly, when you work with one of the dogs and they finally get adopted, it’s like you’ve won the lottery,” says Tina Lister, a volunteer in the Get Along Little Doggie program at the Huntsville Animal Shelter.
How it started
Get Along Little Doggie was formed in 2016 by Erin Webb, another volunteer at the shelter. It assists the staff by walking the dogs, interacting with them and playing with them, or even offering some basic training.
But the program needs some help to keep getting along.
Huntsville Animal Services needs 100-plus volunteers to sufficiently maintain the program, “to be engaged weekly and to make sure each and every dog has the necessary mental and physical stimulation and enrichment,” says Dr. Karen Sheppard, Director of Animal Services.
Most specifically, the shelter is looking for people to participate during weekday afternoons, from 1 p.m. until 3 p.m., a time during which all adoptable dogs are taken outside for exercise and play. Animal Services would also consider working as part of a group project with several volunteers lending their time.
“The staff is great, but there are only so many of them and there can be up to 80 dogs at any given time,” Lister says. “Can you imagine how little one-on-one time the dogs get unless we have volunteers?”
Get Along Little Doggie is vital at a number of levels:
— Some of the pets lived in difficult circumstances before being brought to the shelter. Interaction with humans has often been harsh, but consistent care and love can help them become more adoptable.
(Lister recalls a pet who was “terrified of people” after spending much of her life being chained up. Lister would “go sit with her and love on her and I’d see her slowly coming out of it.” One day as Lister arrived, she saw a man leading the dog away on a leash, having adopted her “and I collapsed into tears. Seeing her finally adopted was such an emotional high.”)
— Get Along Little Doggie volunteers are the second line of defense against disease or other troubles. Though the staff thoroughly examines the dogs, the volunteers might pick up on something – a slight limp, a hearing problem – that would be missed in a kennel.
— The exercise simply means healthier dogs.
— Healthier dogs, who are comfortable with human interaction, are more adoptable. Huntsville Animal Services’ goal is to find a home for all adoptable animals.
“Dogs need mental and social stimulation,” Sheppard says. “Walking works their bodies and their minds as they are not just constantly sniffing, but they are learning from their volunteer walking buddy.”
How to help
To volunteer for the program, fill out an application on the Animal Services web page. Once the online application is submitted, a representative from Huntsville Animal Services will contact you to schedule an orientation session.
The dogs may be walked on the sidewalks at the shelter, taken into the play yards to play fetch and romp around or even taken for a ride by the volunteer. The volunteers also frequently help groom the dogs.
In return, the dogs “give you unconditional love,” Lister says. “The shelter can be scary and loud for them. Just seeing the animals feel safe and happy, it’s worth the time.”