“Get outside more. Get some exercise. Give back to the community. Expand your social network.”
Remember these old New Year’s Resolutions?
If a new approach is needed this year to address worn out goals, Mark Conway and his pals Sandman and Grace have the solution. Since early November, Conway has volunteered as a dog walker at the Humane Society of Savannah/Chatham County, spending an hour or two with his new buddies – several dozen dogs (including Sandman and Grace).
Walking leashed dogs on the loop path in front of the Humane Society’s building on Sally Mood Drive, taking dogs to run in the play yard, petting and holding some of the shelter’s kittens and cats –– it’s all part of the pet adoption agency’s plan to keep the animals happy, socialized and adoptable.
With 35 or more dogs needing at least two walks a day, there’s no way that the staff can do all of it, even though dog–walking is part of every employee’s job description. That’s where the volunteers come in.
“They’re very organized here,” said Conway on a visit last week. “This tells you all the critters’ names and where they’re located,” he said, running his finger down a wall grid labeled “Daily Exercise Chart.”
“If they can go in a play group or not, and if they’ve been walked yet.”
Conway checked the list for dogs with “HB” next to their names, indicating that a dog is housebroken. “Walking these dogs is so important, to keep them housebroken,” he said.
“It makes them more desirable in the adoption process. It was one of those things that made me think, ‘They are so smart here.’ ”
All the animals that are seen by the public have been deemed adoptable and will remain either at the shelter or in foster homes until permanent homes are found for them.
During last week’s visit, Sandman (a brindle whippet) lay on a blanket in the Humane Society reception area next to the copy machine. Tired out from a morning appearance on WTOC–TV, Sandman was unfazed by the active office traffic — the comings and goings of volunteers, families adopting dogs, and shelter staff. But when Conway turned up with a leash, Sandman was on his feet for a few trips around the walking path.
“I always do three loops,” said Conway, pausing to grab a biodegradable plastic poop bag from the “DogiPot,” a sanitary disposal station for the scooped poop that’s part of the dog walker’s duty.
“If you come here to walk a dog, you have to be willing to clean up after it,” said Conway.
After their walk, as Sandman and Conway trotted back toward the building, a woman stopped them in the parking lot, recognizing the dog from his morning TV appearance.
“Sandman, you’re a media sensation,” said Conway.
With the whippet returned to his blanket by the copier, Conway checked the exercise chart and grabbed a leash. “Let’s go see Grace.”
A deafening chorus of barking erupted as he opened the office door and headed into the kennels. “That barking is all about, ‘Come over here to me!’” said Conway, semi–shouting above the din. “I think of it as happy noise.”
Grace, a light brown mix breed of about 80 pounds, barreled out of her heated kennel, down the sidewalk and around the building, with Conway bustling along behind at the other end of her leash.
“It’s a good way to get yourself out to walk,” said Conway as the two beelined for the walking loop.
Once a month, the Humane Society has a volunteer orientation, lasting about an hour. “Then they let you loose and you start walking the dogs right then,” said Conway.
In last week’s hour and a half visit, Conway walked four dogs, took two dogs for a romp in the play yard and snuggled with four or five cats. “I know they are very well cared for here. All the people on staff know all the dogs’ names.”
He seemed to have favorites among the dogs at the shelter, but with a dog, three cats and “a borrowed horse” at home, Conway has no space for any additional pets.
“To be honest, it’s a very selfish thing for me. I needed to get out and about,” said Conway, stroking Sandman’s brown and black coat. “I was looking for an outlet to do some service work, to get out into the community. And dogs don’t have opinions,” he added, smiling.
Sandman, lifting his head, blinked and declined to comment.