As far back as I
can remember, animals have been part of our family. Snowy the white dog (with
black markings). Spidey so named because
as a two year old I could not say Spotty. Hoppy the rabbit. Cinnamon the hamster. Grey the cat. And now
my two shelter tabbies, Sadie and Josie.
I had been longing to volunteer at the local SPCA once I had some down time, but that time never seemed to come and so with 2016 newly minted, I decided to make the time. Since I have cats at home I wanted to get my canine fix by working with shelter dogs with a focus on socializing and exercising these animals to make them more adoptable.
The SPCA of Westchester was founded in 1883 by Ossining resident Mary Dusenberry after she observed horses being mercilessly whipped and beaten as they trudged up nearby hills to deliver heavy loads of coal. Together with caring friends, she obtained land on which to build the Society's first home and established a fund to be used to prevent cruelty to animals. The SPCA is still located on the same spot in Briarcliff Manor.
The SPCA is a no-kill facility, finding “forever homes” for all the cats and dogs that come their way. Adoption is the end game for all the volunteer training and activity that occurs. This shelter operates a program in tandem with the veterinary department at the University of Mississippi whereby puppy litters are transported up from the south to Westchester where they will find loving homes. These pups otherwise would run wild most likely to have their own litters and on and on.
Volunteers must attend two orientations followed by ten compulsory hours which can be fulfilled in various ways such as attending class on fearful dogs and learning appropriate body language to work with them; clicker-training puppies to reinforce calm behavior; observing dogs outside in play group. After that, you graduate to working with a mentor learning to handle the dogs while in the cage with them, to escorting them to the tent to harness them and then to taking them out for play or exercise in the nearby woods or play yard. Once you pass muster with the mentor, you are then approved to handle the dogs solo. I start my mentoring phase this week and ultimately hope to participate in the Golden Outreach Pet Therapy Program: taking specially-trained shelter dogs to hospitals, hospices, assisted-living centers, nursing homes and adult day care centers, bringing people and animals together to combat loneliness and isolation.
Dogs in play group.
It is inevitable that you become fonder of some dogs than others. I am happy to report that my favorite, Gem, who did not hold a grudge against any human even though her previous owner abused her, was adopted last month and has found her “forever home.”