A Vew to No Kill: Give the gift of time

December 24, 2013 

This holiday season, consider giving the gift of your time to homeless dogs waiting at the shelter for their forever homes.

We have a wonderful Dog Walker Program that will allow you to "exercise" your generosity and body as you walk off holiday calories. Spread real joy to scores of dogs who eagerly wait in their kennels each day, hoping to go outside to stretch their legs and burn up some pent-up energy.

The need for dog walkers is great. On average, 14 dogs and cats are impounded at the Manatee County Animal Shelter each day, which translates to more than 430 dogs and cats per month and more than 5,000 per year coming to Animal Services.

At any given time, the Manatee County Animal Services Shelter in Palmetto houses around 100 dogs, and another 15 to 18 can be found at the downtown Bradenton location. We have wonderful rescues and adopters who help move some of the dogs out, but as a kennel becomes available, there is another dog waiting to take its place.

Some of our luckier dogs are transferred or adopted quickly, but sadly, others wait longer for relief. We now have four dogs that have been at Manatee County Animal Services since August and 20 dogs since September. These are our 60-day-plus dogs.

Dogs such as cage mates, Beauty and Beast, a pair of 2-year-old black Labrador mixes. Day after day, the pair wait for their few moments out of their cage, a chance to touch the grass, sniff the air and run laround. The one-on-one attention they are given is limited because of the sheer number of animals tended to by our small, busy staff.

Health and behavior problems can develop if dogs do not get adequate exercise and interaction with humans and these problems can lessen their

chances of eventual adoption.

We do have a small, dedicated group of volunteers who consistently ensure dogs get time out of the kennels. Dog walkers help make dogs happier and healthier and more likely to find a forever home.

Recently, one of our dog walkers, Len O'Hara drove in from Sarasota, leashed Beauty and Beast up, and tried to keep pace with them as they hurried out to the dog run. Unleashed, the brother and sister chased balls, jumped over each other and sprinted up and down the yard. Tongues hanging out and eyes aglow, they were ready to explore the grounds, noses in the air, enjoying the beautiful but brief taste of freedom.

Dogs at the downtown Bradenton adoption center are lucky to have dedicated walkers such as Bonnie Sietman and Lara Smith, who walk the dogs almost daily. Mike Saunders is also a committed walker who helps exercise the dogs on weekends.

The Downtown Adoption Center also offers the "One to One" Adoption Program, which allows walkers to take the dogs on daily excursions.

At the Palmetto Shelter, walkers such as John Marble, a retired operations director from the Tax Collector's Office, do their part to help care for the homeless dogs. Marble is now helping us orient new walkers by providing helpful hints and suggestions. His wife, Jo, is drawn to the cats (they have 11 rescues at home) and while he walks, she works with the cats, giving them love and individual attention, delighting in their antics as they chase around the cat adoption room.

Sharon Raffony is one of our devoted new volunteers. A fitness instructor, she admits she was a bit intimidated by all the barking at first, but by watching episodes of "Dog Whisperer," she has become much more comfortable understanding dog behavior. Raffony shows up, leashes as many dogs as she has time for and gives them the best part of their day.

Take a dog for a walk

Volunteering to walk dogs can be a perfect opportunity to express your love and compassion for animals while getting some much-needed exercise for yourself. The companionship and affection returned by grateful dogs is priceless. You may even meet up with like-minded people who could become great friends. Our dog walker volunteers come from varied backgrounds. For instance, we have a retired firefighter, a teacher and some students.

Manatee County Animal Services offers an initial orientation and ongoing support to educate you and offer tips to help you make the most of your time with the dogs. You will make the world a kinder place for many lonely, abandoned and homeless animals. There are literally 100 reasons to get involved with two of them being Beauty and Beast.

To become a volunteer, go to mymanatee.org/pets, fill out an online application and sign up for an orientation class. Offering your services makes a huge difference in the lives of many homeless dogs.

You may not be able to rescue every dog, but you can give homeless dogs extra love and attention that they need desperately. Join us as we invite Manatee County Citizens to "talk the talk" and "walk the walk."

If you cannot donate time, please consider a monetary donation. Donate online using the "Donate" button and you will directly contribute to the Animal Network Medical Fund, which provides treatment for the shelter dogs and cats, and other community pets in need.

Watch for more upcoming events and adoption specials. Don't forget the ongoing BOGO special where you can adopt a dog or cat at the regular adoption fee and get a dog or cat for no adoption fee. Also, any dog or cat that has been in the shelter over 60 days is available for no adoption fee.

If you never have to look into the eyes of a dog or cat and make a choice, you are lucky. One day, we all would like to be lucky, too.

Check out Manatee County Animal Services on Facebook. Like us and share us with all your friends. Our website mymanatee.org/pets has a wealth of information, including your new family member for adoption. Or call 941-742-5933 for information.

Kris Weiskopf, chief of Manatee County Animal Services, writes this weekly column for the Herald.

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