County Seat Newspaper
of Clare County

Animal Shelter Volunteers Essential to ‘Making it Work’

Listen to the Music: Yappy Puppy Talk, Puddy Tat Pur-r-r-r…

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HARRISON – Nestled in Hayes Township just north of Harrison, at 4040 Hazel Drive, sits a facility where dedicated people work quietly, taking on what sometimes seems to be a thankless task – yet a task that can yield profoundly satisfying rewards. This special place is the Clare County Animal Shelter, staffed by highly professional officers and volunteers who are committed to protecting not only the lives of citizens and animals alike, but also the dignity and well-being of the critters in their charge.

In part, the shelter’s effectiveness is evidenced by its many awards received over the years: the Michigan Pet Food Alliance 2015 Outstanding Performance Award; the Michigan Association of Animal Control Officers 2017 Shelter of the Year; and the MAACO 2018 Animal Control Officer of the Year which was presented to Bob Dodson.

Also of note is the staff’s commitment to the proper health care, handling and protection of animals – aspects of the job held in highest importance by Animal Control Director Rudi Hicks. Director since 2014, and prior to that an ACO since 2012, Hicks knows the workings of the department – and has brought to bear all her grant-writing expertise, media and social savvy, and long-range vision to successfully bring in funds enabling facility upgrades.

Projects which have come to fruition under Hicks’ tutelage include all new upright, walk-in dog enclosures; repurposing of former large dog rolling stack-cages for cat use (and a redecorated, dedicated cat room complete with a climbing tree); and expanding to 10 the number of outdoor cages with a roof overall.

Dodson, who has said his wish is to be a voice for the voiceless, is a compassionate champion for the least among us.

That is an endlessly important component in shelter and shelter programs’ success, as it also has been said that a people will be judged by how they care for the least among them. In this instance, who is the least among the members of this community if not the creatures who depend wholly on their owners/families to feed, care and protect them? And when those owners/families are no longer able/willing to continue that support, the Clare County Animal Shelter provides a safety net: a safe harbor until a new family is found.

The shelter is also the site for spay/neuter clinics, one-stop shop dog license/rabies vaccination clinics, and the occasional Saturday adoptions-only event. While COVID-19 has kept shelter off-site adoption events on the back burner over these many months, Hicks said there is a new adoption plan in the works. The plan is being called “Boys Night Out: Hey, my boss is away – why not?” The adoption fee will be waived during this promotion, now being advertised on the shelter’s Facebook page.

When asked how many animals are currently lodged, Hicks was succinct: “We have way too many!”

So, with a house filled by 17 adult dogs (no puppies right now) and 16 cats (with more on the way), the time is definitely right for a promotion to make pet adoption fun and affordable.

As anyone living through the last 18 months can attest, COVID-19 has uprooted and twisted nearly everything Americans have taken for granted as normal. A walk down nearly any downtown street will reveal abundant“Help Wanted” signs as employees fail to return to their jobs when businesses attempt to lengthen their hours and resume normal operations. That also extends to life at the shelter and its once sizeable cadre of valued volunteers.

“We used to have them here in droves, but it’s just dwindled down,” Hicks said, recalling the numbers of people who would show up, eager to do their part.

She also noted that some 18 to 24 “COVID dogs” have been surrendered to the shelter – so far. These are the dogs/puppies adopted by people who were at home during the pandemic. Unfortunately, with work/school schedules returning to normal, Hicks said a high percentage of those dogs are being disposed of like old, unwanted toys.

“We have been flooded,” Hicks said. “I bet 99% of the dogs I have here are 18 months to 2 ½ years old. They were picked up as puppies during the beginning of COVID, and everybody’s back to work and can’t take them anymore. It’s breaking my heart.”

She spoke of a specific dog that was surrendered, and its reaction when the owner said goodbye.

“And that dog – its heart broke right there,” Hicks said.

Fortunately, that dog went to a good home, but it was just the beginning of the flood of surrendered COVID dogs.

Hicks said the shelter’s kennel manager being out on leave coupled with volunteers’ hesitancy to “come back out” has made the workload of animal care/exercise/shifting dogs outdoors/indoors a real struggle for the remaining two kennel staffers.

“That leaves two people working non-stop,” she said. “It’s just been really hard, the last three months especially.”

Hicks and Dodson pitch in where they can, but their obligation as law officers to answer animal control calls means they must fulfill legal chores and also go out on the occasional emergency: hard to be on the road when in the middle of feeding or walking dogs.

Hicks said that two volunteers each day would help immensely, adding that volunteers have to be at least 18 years of age to meet county liability requirements. The work for volunteers is simple yet essential and includes chores choices such as petting cats, walking dogs, cleaning cages (which is appreciated, but not necessary), or showing animals to people interested in pet adoption. Volunteer hours are 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., and those who might be inclined to help with cleaning would need to arrive at 8 a.m. (so things are ship-shape before visitors arrive).

That’s it. That’s the shelter. It protects and cares for creatures who cannot care for themselves while striving to match them with caring forever homes. The shelter works diligently to ensure no pet is left behind, left without necessary medical attention, left without the affection on which all living creatures thrive.

So, if anyone out there who is tired of being trapped at home by pandemic precautions could just fast forward to this very minute. There is a clean, safe opportunity out there; an opportunity to make a difference; an opportunity to give comfort to another being – a life hungering for a gentle touch and a whispered kind word.

To be that difference-making volunteer, call the Clare County Animal Shelter at 989-539-3221. That profoundly satisfying reward awaits.

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