Humane Society holds orientation to attract more needed volunteers

Unpaid staff members called `essential' to facility

March 05, 2001|By Laura Cadiz | Laura Cadiz,SUN STAFF

Diane Kesler started volunteering at the Humane Society of Baltimore County a year ago to get her "puppy fix."

She was afraid she couldn't keep up with a dog as a pet, and she thought the solution was to visit dogs at the shelter. But the volunteering has practically become a part-time job for Kesler, who is a member of the humane society's board of directors.

"I'm the type of person who doesn't like to see needs go unmet," said Kesler of Owings Mills.

The society hopes to recruit more volunteers like Kesler. At its volunteer orientation yesterday afternoon, 18 prospective volunteers visited the shelter's animals and learned of their dependence on unpaid staff to care for them.

"Volunteers are absolutely essential to the work of the humane society," said Frank C. Branchini, the executive director. "The only way we can do everything we do is because of our volunteers."

The society, at 1601 Nicodemus Road in Reisterstown, has about 150 active volunteers responsible for such tasks as animal care, fund raising, office work and staffing events. The shelter has 19 paid staff members and depends on volunteers, who must be 18 or older, for the rest of the staff support.

But the volunteers said they get a lot out of it too. "I love the animals," Kesler said. "It gives me a great deal of pleasure when some of them get adopted."

Volunteer Melissa Bopp of Owings Mills said that each week she looks forward to walking and feeding the dogs, an experience she can't get at home because of her allergies. "Unfortunately, I don't have any pets of my own, so this fills a void in my life," she said.

With three dogs, four cats and one rabbit, Laurie Jones doesn't have such a void. But the Sykesville resident attended yesterday's orientation because she said she can't get enough of animals. However, if she were to volunteer, she's not sure if she should always work in the cat or dog room.

"My tendency would be to take them all home," she said.

The nonprofit society depends on donations and fund raising; adoption fees cover 14 percent of the annual budget of $650,000 to $700,000, Branchini said.

Carrie Stewart of Essex, who was joined at the orientation by her husband, Dan Frank, said she hopes to volunteer at the shelter to give the animals a little extra help.

"We can't afford to give them help financially," she said. "So I'd like to be able to help with time."

Volunteers provide most of the attention and exercise animals get at the shelter, which can house about 40 dogs and 60 cats. It's also the permanent home to two horses and a burro. Annually, the humane society places about 1,000 dogs and cats in homes.

"We provide the best possible care, but it's stressful [for the animals] in a lot of ways," Branchini said.

The humane society normally holds four or five volunteer orientation sessions annually. The next session will be April 28.

For Kesler, her daily life changed after she attended one of those sessions. She still doesn't have a dog, but that's all right with her. She's happy spending 20 hours a week helping animals find homes. "This is pretty much my life," she said. "And this is fine."

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