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Volunteer spotlight: Friends, trainers help shelter pets

10:01 AM, Dec. 3, 2012  |  Comments
Platinum Paw volunteer trainer Carol Wesenberg teaches Leonard how to stand up and walk backward.
Platinum Paw volunteer trainer Carol Wesenberg teaches Leonard how to stand up and walk backward.
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The holidays are a special time of year for many local nonprofit organizations, and the South Wood County Humane Society is no exception.

During the hustle and bustle of the Christmas season, it's important to think about others, including our furry friends. There are countless ways to help out at the Humane Society, from walking a dog, to grooming a cat, to helping with a fundraiser. You can donate your broken/unused Christmas lights along with aluminum cans; these items will be recycled with the proceeds benefiting the Humane Society. And, if the time is right, you can open your home to a new friend.

This month we are featuring two volunteer groups at the South Wood County Humane Society: The Friends Group and the Platinum Paw Shelter Dog Trainers. If you are interested in volunteering these or another volunteer opportunity at the Humane Society, call the Volunteer Center at 715-421-0390.

It takes a lot of effort - and money - to run a no-kill animal shelter. That is why volunteers, like the Friends Group, are so important.

"The South Wood County Humane Society Friends Group is a group of dedicated volunteers who advocate for Humane Society programs and help to organize fundraisers," said Bridget Chariton, executive director of the organization.

Kim Kelnhofer, one of the group's organizers, said, "Initiatives include promoting and aiding the welfare of stray and unwanted animals, increasing public awareness and fundraising activities.

"We support and assist with the fundraisers throughout the year," Kelnhofers said. "Volunteering can encompass selling raffle tickets at the fundraisers, preparing and serving food, working at the merchandise table, helping with the membership drive, contacting area businesses for donations or advertising, putting together raffle baskets, donating baked goods, putting up posters, setting up tables, tents, and cleanup after the events.

"The Group has been in existence over 10 years and members range in age from 20s to Senior," Kelnhofer said. "Currently we have over 60 members in the Friends Group that volunteer in various capacities. Volunteering is all about networking. For every friend involved that friend will reach out to their friends - it's truly special."

Some upcoming events the Friends Group is organizing includes:

? Jan. 26, the Souper Spectacular Snow Sculpture at the Centralia Center. This event features local snow sculpting talent creating snow sculptures. Soups donated from local restaurants are served, a huge bake sale is on hand, a pet adoption center is available and chances to win one of the many raffle baskets.

? May 11, Walk, Run and Bike for Kindness at the South Wood County Humane Society. This event allows individuals to obtain cash pledges for participating in a 5-mile walk and have their pets accompany them. Perennial and annual plants are offered for sale and a food stand is available with all proceeds benefiting the shelter.

? June 6, Iron Chef Competition. Local chefs prepare delectable meals for a fine dining experience. Beautiful raffle baskets are also available.

? December Christmas Bazaar and Bake Sale. Hundreds of donated Christmas items, home décor, pet apparel and treats, beautifully decorated trees and delicious bakery available to purchase for the holidays.

The Friends Group meets the first Tuesday of every month at 5:30 p.m. "Anyone who is interested in volunteering their time and talents is welcomed and encouraged to join," Kelnhofer said.

"The Friends Group is a cornerstone to our organization," Chariton said. "They provide the manpower behind many of our fundraisers and help promote our programs. Their dedication and tireless efforts allow us to continue to be able to provide high quality care to animals in desperate need."

"We volunteer because of our love for animals and we feel we provide a voice on their behalf," Kelnhofer said. "Our goal is to help them find their loving forever homes. What we receive out of volunteering is solid friendships, a sense of satisfaction, pride and accomplishment in seeing the end results. While many may not be able to provide financial support, offering your time and talents is a very valuable asset to the Humane Society."

When you enter the Humane Society, it can be loud and bustling with activity. A group of volunteers recognized that when there are many things happening at once, it can be very stressful for the animals and could discourage people who might be interested in adopting a pet.

"In an effort to increase adoptability and provide additional mental stimulation, a group of volunteer trainers work one-on-one with dogs at our facility," Chariton said. "The trainers teach basic obedience skills such as sit, stay and walk on a loose leash."

One of the trainers, Jess Chipley-Trudeau, explains how a dog might feel when brought into shelter. "Many dogs at the Humane Society experience shelter stress. Stray dogs who are lost want to go home. Dogs who have been surrendered may be wondering when their families are coming back to take them home. Noise is hard on them."

Some of the ways the Humane Society will help with shelter stress is to play music. But the new program there is really making a difference.

"The dog training sessions give them intellectual stimulation," Chipley-Trudeau said. "They get trained so they are more adoptable, too. Also, the shelter experience is better, and dogs look more attractive to people. Some dogs can look really scary because of the stress."

The program started in the spring when a local dog trainer, Renea Dahms, offered to do a training class for prospective trainers. "Twelve people originally signed up for the training," Chipley-Trudeau said. "Renea taught us about how to approach a dog; how to read its body language."

Each trainer selects a dog to work with. Some dogs have behavioral problems; some have simply been at the shelter for a long time. They gain the trust of the dogs, using a technique the group calls "Stuff the Pup." When the dog sits nicely in its kennel, it gets a treat. Then, when the dog does what he/she is commanded, it continues to get a treat. The group generally meets weekly on Wednesdays, but volunteers also can set their own schedules.

"People are impressed," Chipley-Trudeau said. "People say, 'That's a shelter dog? My dog doesn't do that!'"

The Humane Society schedules many adopt-a-pet events at local stores, such as Tractor Supply, Home Depot and The Feed Store. The community can come out and get to know some of the animals in the shelter. Then the Platinum Paws volunteers come out and show people what the dogs know. Some can even stand up and walk backward.

And the idea is catching. Dahms is writing a training manual for the program so it can be implemented at other humane societies.

Chariton is excited about the program. "Many people are looking for a perfectly behaved dog when they come to adopt. Most shelter dogs lack training and basic obedience. If they were well behaved, most would not be here. Since this training program began, 100 percent of canine participants have been adopted or are in foster care. Without the program, many of these dogs would still be waiting for homes."

But for Chipley-Trudeau, volunteering is more than just that. "My mom was really good with animals. She trained our dogs to do some pretty cool things. She passed away from colon cancer four years ago. Working with the dogs helps me feel closer to her and is something I think would make her happy. Also, it's a way to say thank you to the shelter. We've lived here for 21 years, and our family has adopted three of our dogs there. It's a way to pay back what they've done for us. I'd love to take all the dogs home but I can't, so at least I can help them during the day."

During the holidays volunteers are especially needed to help with cat care, to do dishes, laundry and general cleaning. The Humane Society isn't open to the public on holidays but the need is still there; animals still need to be fed and cared for. You can help by donating cat and dog food and pet toys.

Angela Loucks is the United Way of Inner Wisconsin's Volunteer Center coordinator. The Volunteer Spotlight is a monthly feature. If your non-profit organization has an outstanding volunteer, or group of volunteers, and would like to make a nomination, please call United Way of Inner Wisconsin's Volunteer Center at 715-421-0390.

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