TEN VOLUNTEERS and seven staff members at the Harford County Humane Society make life as comfortable as possible for the animals who wait there.
On a recent visit, a bright sun and brisk wind spread over the society's 25 acres. A peacock called, a horse let out a soft whinny from the barn and from the kennel runs, beautiful throwaway dogs gazed at the nearby fields and woods.
The fate of some of the animals there has already been determined. They are the permanent residents who live in the barns or amble freely in the main building where a homey, hopeful atmosphere settles on the visitor.
The volunteers and staff talk about Challenge, who is probably there to stay. This 17-month-old quarter horse had been brought to the Harford County Humane Society in August more dead than alive. He had been turned in to animal control as a starvation case.
This private, non-profit facility at 2208 Connolly Road off Rt. 152 in Fallston is a holding facility for Harford County Animal Control, which gives a small grant annually ''but it is only about one-fourth of our operating cost,'' said Linda Smith, a staff member and part time secretary who began as a volunteer there three years ago.
Volunteer Judy Rohrbaugh had arrived that morning to visit Challenge with a bag full of carrots. Rohrbaugh is one of several who helped save the gentle horse, who came in with deep sores all over his body, so thin and weak he could barely stand.
For several weeks, the society's director, Patricia Billings, spent nights in the barn feeding and helping him stand when he couldn't get up on his own.
Rohrbaugh and her husband, Gene, a retired Baltimore County police officer, also came in evenings to help and to feed him. Challenge has gained 145 pounds since August and weighs more than 600 pounds now. Scars and scabs remain on his body, and his front legs are still taped to give them more strength, but he is happy and he knows his friends. Seeing Rohrbaugh come down the path, he is all ears. This horse, in two months, has discovered the sweet taste of carrots.
Since February, Rohrbaugh has been volunteering every Thursday. She and her husband were bringing food out to the animals long before that, she said.
''We said if you ever need help, we'll be here,'' she said. ''And here we are.''
What upsets her the most at the society is ''not so much the strays who are brought in, but it is people, those people who will turn in their own animals and just don't care.''
Volunteers are greatly needed at the Harford County Humane Society for duties such as helping groom the horses and cleaning the barns, do fund-raising, answer the telephones, help with clerical work and more. There are 21 kennels for dogs and spaces for about 30 cats.
The volunteers who are helping now include Kathy Forbes, Tammy and Paul Meckel, Robin Forster, Susan Glover and three teen-agers Michelle Shannahan, Molly Marshall and Nicole Lauer, who do ''whatever we ask them to,'' said Smith proudly.
There is a seven-member board, headed by president Agnes Weisner, and 264 members who pay $5 a year membership, more if they wish. Everyone is welcome to join.
For adoptions, the animals are given the necessary shots and are altered. To adopt, a female dog is $55 and males $50. Female cats are $38 and males $28.
The animals who live there permanently are for the education for children who visit on school field trips. There is a Belgium draft horse named Leigh who was given to them by a veterinarian; three burros, named B.J., P.J. and Nicki; plus a few dogs under the desk, kittens under foot, and ducks, geese and one peacock.
In and out of the offices runs Muffin, a saucy little Brussels Griffon-type black dog with bright friendly eyes, and there is a shy little white Brittany spaniel type with light brown freckles across her nose. Seldom out of her basket under the desk, she is very shy with strangers. ''She's afraid, but we don't know why,'' said Smith.
And there is Blue, a basset and beagle mix who has short basset legs in front and slightly longer beagle legs in the back which make him tilt forward a little. He's friendly and curious and has a take-over attitude of being the boss.
To volunteer, to become a member or to make a donation to the Harford County Humane Society, call Linda Smith at 577-9744.