by Amanda Newsom
AthensPets, the volunteer-run nonprofit organization that supports the Athens-Clarke County Animal Control, has recently started a new volunteer program to promote adoptions for long-term residents or animals that have special needs. The AthensPets Advocate program came about during a discussion started by volunteer Lisa Milot about ways to gain more exposure for these hard-to-adopt dogs and cats, and the other volunteers and staff loved the idea. The dogs and cats included in the program are chosen based on their length of time at the shelter as well as potential medical issues or other reasons the animal may be harder to find a home for.
Lindsay Baker, an ACC Animal Control employee, shared a study by Rebecca Davis at Marquette University entitled Understanding Volunteerism in an Animal Shelter Environment: Improving Volunteer Retention to show that there is scientific support to these kinds of programs. The study demonstrates that “human interaction with shelter dogs is essential for the animals’ well-being. The volunteer task of interacting with the animals can and does assist with the increase of adoptions and the decrease of euthanizing healthy adoptable animals.”
AthensPets volunteer Ashley Short took on the task of coordinating the program where volunteers can choose one or more pets on order to be their “personal cheerleader.” The advocate is expected to visit with their chosen dog or cat at least once a week and to share public photos on their social media, which are then reposted to the AthensPets social media pages. This not only gives the animal a wider audience through the volunteer’s followers, but it also gives a more personal perspective about the animal’s personality and needs.
The bond between dedicated volunteers and the animals they’re advocating for is a key component of the program. Volunteers are encouraged to teach dogs new tricks, figure out which toy is a cat’s favorite and generally learn what makes the animals happy to know what kinds of homes would be the best fit for a successful adoption.
When I learned about this program, I jumped on board. I know from personal experience the power of social media in finding a new home for a stray or unwanted pet, so I decided I wanted to advocate for one cat and one dog since I consider myself to be a cat person and a dog person.
Lil Man stuck out to me because he is such a cute boy and he seems to really have his life together—he’s housebroken, good with kids, good with other dogs, doesn’t make a mess of things or jump fences. He’s essentially a perfect dog for adoption and only ended up at animal control because his owner couldn’t take care of him or his housemate pup, Beauty (also available for adoption). In my first interaction with him, I learned that he is a fan of rope toys and likes to run after balls (but not so much the bringing-it-back-to-you part). It was a hot day, so he would play for a minute and then run back under the picnic table to lay in the shade. I could totally relate—I was hot, too! When we back to his run, he was very attentive as I gave him treats to sit and coaxed him to work on the command “down.” He’s a fast learner, and when he looks up at you with his big eyes, your heart melts instantly.
Penelope was the cat I chose, and she is also the cover model for this issue! She was a bit more difficult for me to make friends with—it wasn’t that usual instant connection that I have with cats. I took her to an interaction room where she sniffed every inch of everything, and although she was interested in playing with the mousie and ball I brought in, I was not on her radar. But I think she’s a perfect reminder that it is a shelter environment, which is really stressful, particularly for cats. Her owner also surrendered her, so she went from living in a home to being in this scary place and not knowing why or what will happen next. She is the kind of cat who needs a home that much faster so she can be comfortable and be herself. She also has made it clear that she wants to be an only pet—the Queen B—in her next home, and who can blame her?
If you are interested in becoming an animal advocate for AthensPets, you can email Ashley Short at firstname.lastname@example.org for more information and to be you paired with a dog or cat of your choosing!