PUPPYGIRL – Paw if Forward



By: PuppyGirl Kate Whitney – January 2013

Valley Patriot PuppyGirl Kate Whitney of one Tail at a TimeHappy New Year! 

With 2013 fresh upon us, I want to wish all of you good health and much happiness this year. Like me, I’m sure many of you have a list of resolutions. If I may, I’d like to ask you to add a few things to your list: help out at a local shelter, become a foster home, donate to a LOCAL shelter or rescue, and ADOPT your next pet. I didn’t ask you to go the gym five times a week or eat more salads. My list for you was easy stuff. If you do just one, I promise you will feel really good about yourself.

As many of you know, my “real” job is to run my golf and baseball training aid company called SwingRite. My “moonlight” job in dog rescue is a passion and writing this column is a hobby and an outlet for me to share ideas with my faithful readers. One of my resolutions is to volunteer more. My friends and family might think I’m crazy. How can I possibly volunteer more than I already do? Well it’s easy and everyone can do it. Try putting it on your list this year. Here’s an example of what I mean.

A few months ago, I took a business trip to Columbus, Georgia to attend a golf convention. I was done setting up my booth at the venue and there was nothing else scheduled until the show started the next day. Instead of relaxing out by the pool or going shopping, I decided to head back to my hotel room and do a computer search for local dog shelters.

Several search results popped up and said they were only a few miles away. The first place I went to was Russel County Animal Shelter (aka the local pound) located just outside the Georgia border in Alabama. Upon arriving to the concrete, square, plain building, I began introducing myself without a real idea of why I was there exactly. I guess I just wanted to see first-hand a southern local pound.

Kate Whitney, The Valley Patriot's PuppyGirl
Kate Whitney, The Valley Patriot’s PuppyGirl

I’ve heard about them, and I’ve saved a lot of dogs from them, but I’ve never stepped foot in one before. I told the woman that I had some free time and that I would love to volunteer and help do anything that was needed: clean cages, walk dogs, help feed. She explained to me that the city didn’t allow “volunteers” but she could give me a tour. She showed me the cats and the kittens and then took me out back to my cup of tea: the dogs. There were about 40 cages inside almost all of them were filled with dogs. Some contained mother dogs and her new puppies. Outside there were about 20 open air cages all FILLED with dogs; mostly black lab mixes (my favorite). Most of the dogs came to the front of their cage, tails wagging.

Others stayed laying down, the flies covering their faces so bad I couldn’t even see their eyes. There was a large stone pen that a few dogs were running around in. The shelter workers (inmates of the local jail) alternate the dogs from the cages to the pen so they can stretch their legs and have playtime. When any new person walks through a shelter, the dogs go crazy, so of course I set them all off.

I was greeted with the sound I now dream about; the barks of dogs begging for a home; begging for me to save them. Surprisingly, I left the pound that day empty handed, but with a heavy heart.

I’m not sure what happened to the dogs I met that day. Most of them probably didn’t make it out alive. But seeing this first hand reminded me why I do what I do with regard to rescue and why I’m so passionate in wanting to teach people the importance of adoption. After my tour here, I asked the front desk if there was a shelter around that did welcome volunteers and they told me about East Alabama Humane Society (EAHS), about 5 minutes up the road.

PuppyWhen I arrived at EAHS, I went inside and was greeted by a friendly woman named Nichole Recktenwald who was out back cleaning dog cages. I told her where I had just come from and why I was there. She was one of the fulltime employees. She gave me a tour and told me about EAHS; they had just acquired the building (which was beautiful by dog shelter standards) and already had a great presence in the community. They had a lot of great dogs and puppies there.

Every run and cage was full. You might be wondering how a place like this gets so full. In a nutshell, they would be the ones to go to the local pound – like the one I had just come from (a kill shelter), pull dogs from there, bring them back to EAHS (a no-kill shelter) and find them homes OR people dump dogs there. That’s why it’s so important for people to go to EAHS when they are looking for their new best friend. The more empty cages they have, the more dogs facing death, they can save.

This is a perfect example of the phrase “adopt one, save two” that you might often hear rescue people say. When you adopt a dog, you are not only saving that dog, but you opened up a space in the shelter so another dog can now be taken in and saved. If there is anyone out there who still doesn’t get it, doesn’t understand what this means, or why rescue is so important, please email me so I can try and explain it better. It’s time that people GET IT. Okay, back to me at the shelter. Nicole wasted no time and put me to work.

I was assigned the job of spraying down the dog cots with soap and water. After this job, I went around to most of the kennels and took pictures of the gorgeous dogs that came to the front of their cells to greet me with wagging tails. I posted the pictures on my Facebook page. No sooner that they were posted, comments about how beautiful they were came flooding in. If only this shelter was closer to home; all these dogs would have found homes in a heartbeat.

puppy01I went back to the shelter twice more after my initial visit. The next time I went back, I met Carolyn Lipford Harrelson, the founder of EAHS. She was so warm and welcoming; your typical sweet, southern hospitality. A few of us sat around outside in the hot Alabama sun, unwrapping donated dog treats and putting them in airtight containers so bugs wouldn’t spoil them. I also met another friend that day, Nancy Odom. She was a volunteer who takes pictures of the dogs at EAHS, significantly increasing the adoption rate. I was surrounded by my new friends, Alabama accents and all. It’s funny how quickly people in dog rescue become friends. We were from totally different parts of the country and had just met, but one thing united us: saving dogs. The sun went down and it was time for me to head back to my hotel, I had a business dinner to attend to. I couldn’t lose focus of why I was there in the first place.

SwingRite comes first, dog rescue second. Although sometimes I wish it was the other way around…shhh!!

The next morning came and I was up early, excited to get my work done so I could head to EAHS. I looked at my schedule and noticed I didn’t have to do anything until noontime.

I grabbed a coffee in the lobby and headed back to EAHS. When I got there, I was greeted by a new staff member I hadn’t met yet.

He gave me the job of squeegeeing the floors of the freshly sprayed kennels. After that I was assigned to switching dogs that had been in the play-yard with the dogs that I had just fed.

A few hours passed and Carolyn showed up. She is such a ray of sunshine. Always has a smile and a great attitude. I loved the way she sweetly spoke to the dogs; called them all her “babies” in her southern twang. We talked a little bit, but then I had to head back to the hotel to change out of my yucky clothes and into my business attire. I wasn’t ready to say goodbye to my new friend yet, so I decided to swing by their local adoption day at Petsmart and say goodbye there. Their section of the store was filled with dog crates and families looking and adopting.

It was a great day for EAHS and for those of us in rescue. Dogs were finding their forever homes. It reminded me of what my typical adoption day on a Saturday at Petco would look like.

I left Alabama with a new found sense of hope. It was nice to see there were other people like me out there. People with normal, busy lives; juggling fulltime jobs, families, and their own pets; but willing to make the sacrifice of giving up free time in order to save dogs. I was hundreds of miles away from home, but felt connected. I made friends during that trip that I will keep in touch with for years to come (especially thanks to social media).

One more quick story.

A good friend of mine recently told me that she and her boyfriend are heading to St. Martin next month and they plan to visit the only animal shelter on the island. What a great idea, sounds like something I would do! We are going to send a few treats and toys with them so they can shower the shelter with much needed goodies. My point of telling you these stories is this: no matter where you are, you can always be giving back and helping others. Whether they have two legs or four, help and selflessness is always needed. So let 2013 be the year that you decide to give back.