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Giving homeless pets a second chance

Community: Volunteering at Castaic Animal Care Center benefits both people and pets

Posted: January 14, 2012 1:30 a.m.
Updated: January 14, 2012 1:30 a.m.

Jessi Strahan, of Saugus, volunteers at the Castaic Animal Care Center at least once a week, primarily helping pets get ready for adoption events held at off-site locations.

 


Jessi Strahan loves animals, especially those that aren’t her own.

The 21-year-old Saugus resident spends much of her spare time helping the homeless pets at Castaic Animal Care Center.

As a volunteer, Strahan helps prepare dogs and cats for adoption events. She does this first by playing with them to release some pent-up energy, then by loading up the truck that will transport the pets to an offsite location to meet potential adopters.

“When you see a dog get adopted by a perfect family, that’s the best part,” Strahan said. “That and the people here. The other volunteers are like my family.”

One of six Los Angeles County care centers, Castaic Animal Care Center relies on volunteers, such as Strahan, to help achieve its mission.

“All of us have the same common denominator: We want to get these animals adopted,” Karen Stepp, Castaic Animal Care Center manager said. “Volunteers bring something different to the table with all their varied backgrounds. We don’t have enough staff, and volunteers help fill that void.”

Pebbles, a 1-year-old stray pit bull, is an example of how the volunteers help in ways staff can’t, Kim Schumann, an animal control officer and volunteer liaison at the center said.

The dog, who had scars all over her face, was intimidated by everything and everyone.

“She didn’t have the easiest life,” Schumann said.

Volunteers Clare Storey and Kyle Harris worked with Pebbles, coaxing the dog out of her shell with treats and affection, walking her and properly introducing her to other dogs. Schumann is confident that Pebbles will now find a home, thanks to their efforts.

“We don’t always have the time to provide beyond the standard of care set by the county. The volunteers give these animals love, a sense of normalcy and something to look forward to,” she said. “Without the volunteers, the animals wouldn’t get the extra care and the second chance they need to get out of here alive.”

According to Rohmi Reib, director of volunteer services for Los Angeles County Animal Care and Control, there are currently 85 volunteers at the Castaic location. Tasks range from walking dogs to public outreach to grooming.

Committed volunteers who come on a regular basis are especially crucial, Reib said.

“They know a lot about the animals firsthand and are able to sell them, if you will, to prospective adopters,” she said. “The more committed volunteers we have, the higher the adoption rates.”

Denise Martin, of Canyon Country, has been a volunteer for six years, coming to the care center on Saturdays and Sundays, and as her schedule permits on weekdays. Usually, she brings along her camera.

“My favorite thing is to photograph the animals,” she said. “We use those photos to network the animals and try to find them homes. I feel like that’s how I can best serve them.”

The shots Martin takes are colorful, happy and a far cry from the animals’ intake photos from when they first arrive at the
shelter, scared and uncertain. Those intake photos, on display on the county’s website, are not always appealing to potential adopters.

That’s why Lynda Hill, a volunteer from Newhall, will upload Martin’s or her own photos of the pets to the website and also display them on Facebook to reach a wider audience.

“A good photo is worth a thousand words,” Hill said. “Their intake pictures look like mug shots. This shows them so much better. I’ve had people tell me they come down to meet a dog based on one of our photos.”

Training for volunteers takes place once a quarter, with the first 2012 sessions taking place on Jan. 21. The three-hour classroom-style orientation is followed by three separate hands-on training sessions at the care center on dog and cat handling, as well as other procedures.

There’s also a special class for volunteers interested in fostering a care center pet. This temporary home environment is extremely beneficial to animals who need additional socialization or are suffering from medical issues that causes them to get overlooked at the care center.

“Fostering makes our pets highly adoptable,” Stepp said.

Beautifying the care center, which was built in 1972, also helps.

In 2011, long-time volunteer Kimberly Kehl led the charge for Castaic Animal Care Center to take part in Big Sunday, a national event with a mission to build community through volunteer service.

Over one summer weekend, the center was overhauled with a fresh paint job, signage, lighting, landscaping, additional dog runs, a cat habitat and more.

“They changed the whole place. It helped show people that we’re out here and that they should come here to get their next pet,” Stepp said. “Our volunteers mean so much to us and to the animals.”

For more information on volunteering at Castaic Animal Care Center, visit www.animalcare.lacounty.gov, click on volunteer opportunities and complete the online application, or call (661) 257-3191.

The next volunteer training session takes place at 9 a.m. on Jan. 21 at Castaic Sports Complex. Interested parties need to register by Jan. 15.

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