Borrow a buddy with pet volunteer programs

By: Tiffany Esshaki | C&G Newspapers | Published July 9, 2019

 According to shelter staff, getting pets  out of shelters can reveal their true personality.

According to shelter staff, getting pets out of shelters can reveal their true personality.

Photo provided by Trisha Gogala, of Do Only Good animal rescue

 The Shelter Dog Day Out program with the Oakland County Animal Shelter and Pet Adoption Center is currently run by rescue staff.

The Shelter Dog Day Out program with the Oakland County Animal Shelter and Pet Adoption Center is currently run by rescue staff.

Photo provided by Trisha Gogala, of Do Only Good animal rescue

  Toby, a cat from the Humane Society of Macomb, is harness trained and gets to play off-site with volunteers.

Toby, a cat from the Humane Society of Macomb, is harness trained and gets to play off-site with volunteers.

Photo provided by the Humane Society of Macomb

If you’re an animal lover, you know all too well the pangs of wanting to adopt all of the sweet homeless cats and dogs left in shelters.

But before you build an addition onto your house to accommodate such a large, fluffy family, local animal shelters want you to know there’s a better way to help pets without homes: volunteer.

At the Oakland County Animal Control and Pet Adoption Center, the resident dog rescue, Do Only Good, recently launched two programs to help make shelter life a little more comfortable for pups.

The Senior Sitter program, for instance, gives older dogs the chance to get out of the kennel for a bit and get comfy with a family on a short-term basis for some downtime.

“Right now we’ve got 13 dogs here that we’ve classified as senior dogs, and (volunteers) can take one home for two or three days,” explained Beth Heimbuch, the secretary of Do Only Good rescue. “We give them the crate, food, all the stuff they would need to have (the dogs) in their home to give them a break from what goes on here.”

While the newly built adoption facility on the Oakland County campus is certainly swank, shelters by nature tend to be a bit chaotic, with all of the noise and bustle of several animals sharing the same space. And just like people, older dogs can benefit from a bit of quiet.

“A lot of times, they go home with a family and they just fall asleep. One time we had a dog who apparently got to the house, and within an hour crashed and slept until the next day. It’s just the peace these dogs need to rest,” said Heimbuch.

After all, finding homes for these little guys is the best outcome, right? But it’s tough for folks to adopt if they never make their way into a shelter to meet their new perfect pal. So if the shelter can come to them, maybe a match can be made.

That’s the idea behind Do Only Good’s second effort, Shelter Dog Day Out. Right now, it’s just open to volunteers with the rescue who can handle pups in public spaces. The animals make their way around pet-friendly places like select home improvement stores, parks and businesses, sporting a bright green vest that reads “Adopt me.”

“It’s good in a few ways. People can ask how they can adopt that dog if they see them, and it also gets the dogs out of the cages and exposed to places they might not have gone before, which gets them better prepared for adoption,” said Trisha Gogala, the president of Do Only Good. “It also lets volunteers see how (the dogs) respond to different (stimuli). How do they do in cars? How do they do around kids? It gives us a bit more information to pass along to potential adopters so we can make sure they’re placed in the right home.”

But hey, why should dogs be the only ones to have cage-free fun? Across town at the Humane Society of Macomb, similar volunteer opportunities are available. Folks 13 and older can come in and socialize with dogs and cats to get them comfortable with people, and sometimes even take them off-site to parks.

Soon, cats can hit the town too in a harness or a specially designed backpack, according to HSM Volunteer Coordinator Autumn Saenz.

“We’re in the process of starting adventure cats. We do have some cats that are harness trained and can be walked. For the others, we’re getting mesh backpacks so volunteers can take them to parks and walk around with them on their back,” she explained. 

The more exposure homeless pets get to people, places and other animals, the better suited they’ll be for homes. 

“So many animals get passed over in shelters because they’re not acting like themselves with all the noise. Getting them out helps us to see what their personalities are really like,” Heimbuch said. “Maybe we’ll have some volunteer ‘failures,’ and people will want to keep them.”

Most shelter and Humane Society volunteer programs across metro Detroit require orientation and training. To learn more, contact an organization near you and ask about volunteer opportunities. 

Call Staff Writer Tiffany Esshaki at (586) 498-1095.