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Nothing like doggone puppy love
Shortly after Sandi Klein lost a dog to cancer back in 2009, she started volunteering at the Kitsap Humane Society in Silverdale.
“I just wanted to be around dogs and thought, ‘Okay, this is a good way to do it without having one at home and having the responsibility of owning a dog,’” she said.
It wasn’t long, though, before Klein was a dog owner again. Trained volunteers are allowed to take dogs home with them in what are called “cage breaks” for the animals. When Klein did that with Mailie, the rest was history.
“It’s Thanksgiving weekend and I went into the little dog room, thinking, ‘Okay, I’ll pick a little dog, one that I would never want for myself,’” Klein said. “There was this Jack Russell there and she was behaving very well and I said, ‘I’ll take you home for Thanksgiving.’ Well, that dog made herself so at home that by the end of the weekend, my husband said, ‘You can’t take her back.’ I really couldn’t. She actually chose us. She’s not a dog I would have chosen if I was really thinking about what kind of dog I wanted to take home.”
Klein has taken just about every dog class the Kitsap Humane Society offers and is currently enrolled in a new Canine Behavioral Internship Program. In all, Klein has put in more than 1,600 volunteer hours. On Fridays, she is the lead dog walker and she recently played an instrumental role in getting privacy panels installed for each of the cages in the shelter.
“I’ve learned that there is a lot more to interacting with these dogs than taking them for a walk to go to the bathroom,” Klein said. “In fact, most of what I’ve discovered and learned over the years is our dogs need a whole lot more than to just be taken for a walk.
On Tuesday afternoon, Klein spent a little over an hour with Iris, an adorable black chihuahua with speckled white paws. Iris, much to the surprise of Klein and other volunteers, has been at the shelter for a few weeks now. She arrived at KHS from California and is still waiting to be adopted. Klein spoiled Iris with treats and a lot of love, but the main thrust of the session was to give Iris a chance to relax and just be a dog, without the stresses of living in a shelter kennel.
“Like Iris here, they just need to go someplace where it’s quiet, where there are no demands made on them and they can sort of come down and de-stress a little,” Klein said.
Even with all of the attention that volunteers provide for the dogs at the shelter, at a certain point, some of the animals just can’t cope.
“The anxiety, the stress that this environment can create, actually changes the dog’s brain,” Klein said. “Sometimes if they get way too stressed out, and beyond a certain point, it’s very difficult for us to bring them back to modify or help them with some of the behaviors they’re exhibiting to make them adoptable.”
Klein says it’s that sad reality that can break a volunteer’s heart.
“That’s the reason I’m here is because of them,” she says of such dogs. “Because those guys need help. We, as people, have created all of these problems for dogs. It isn’t the dog’s fault. It’s our fault.”
At the other end of the spectrum, spending an hour or two with a little dog like Iris, who is well adjusted and ready to live with just about anybody, can make a person’s heart soar. Klein loves dogs because they live life in the moment and give their love, like Iris, unconditionally.
“They just make your life wonderful,” Klein said. “You wake up and there’s your dog kissing your face.”
To learn more about ways to help the Kitsap Humane Society, adopt a pet or to become a volunteer, visit their website at www.kitsap-humane.org.