April Friend was unsure if she could volunteer at the Richland County Dog Shelter.
“Three years ago I came here,” she said. “I wanted to see if I could pick up a dog and walk it without getting upset.
“I pulled out a little beagle. I fell completely in love with her.”
The beagle, also named April, came to the shelter on Friend’s birthday.
It was fate.
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A friend said she couldn’t work at a shelter where animals that aren’t adopted are euthanized. Richland County has been no-kill for several years.
The volunteer goes above and beyond to help. She started posting selfies of herself with the dogs on Facebook.
“I was getting a lot of friend requests,” she said.
Dogs get candid photos on Facebook
A friend eventually created a separate Facebook page titled “My Dog Shelter Friends @ Richland County Dog Shelter”.
“I wanted to show people how the dogs were outside the shelter,” Friend said. “It gives people a much more personal view of dogs than our brief bio gives them. It allows people to see dogs in a different light.”
Friend, who provided detailed notes to a reporter interview, has nearly 5,000 online subscribers.
A shelter can be a stressful atmosphere for any dog. People who see dogs in a kennel probably don’t see a dog’s real personality.
“I love to take the dogs that have been here for a long time at McDonald’s,” Friend said. “I offer them a cheeseburger or maybe an ice cream.”
Another frequent destination is the Richland B&O cycle path. Everything to get the dogs out of the shelter and seize the opportunities for candid photos.
At the same time, Friend wants to dispel the idea that shelters are bad places.
“Dogs are given love, care and nourishment. They get a second chance to start a loving family,” Friend said. “Who knows what their life was like, but we want to rewrite their history.”
Rewriting a dog’s history often involves medical attention.
After Hours Event Generates $ 11,500
Last week, Friend hosted an after-hours event at the shelter for people who work during regular hours. It included a 50/50 design, a bake sale and 68 baskets that were auctioned.
“Everyone was bidding on what they were worth,” Friend said.
The event, which also included the sale of t-shirts, generated $ 11,500. She hopes to make it an annual event.
“I was shocked,” Friend said, adding that she wanted to thank everyone involved. “I wanted to fundraise for medical bills. They come here, and often they are in bad shape.”
The after-hours event went so well that the shelter will be open from 4:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. on the first Tuesday of each month in the future.
“It will be the volunteers who will know the dogs,” Friend said of the staff situation. “We can help people find a dog that is right for their family.”
A friend thanked fellow volunteers Susan Kochheiser, Samantha Russell, Kim Boehm and Erika Boucher for also spending time with the dogs at the shelter and Facebook updates.
Dog sitter Missy Houghton said Friend’s efforts benefit the shelter, which also raises funds through licenses.
“We are a self-funded establishment,” Houghton said. “We get unexpected costs for the dogs. They could be hit by a car or sick.
“We never care whether or not we can afford to take a dog to the vet.”
Houghton said if the shelter needs anything, Friend sends out requests.
“He’s a great person overall,” Houghton said of his volunteer.
Volunteer work is a time of relaxation
A friend tries to come to the shelter every day, stopping off after her office job.
“It’s actually my time to relax,” she said of the opportunity to play and cuddle the dogs or walk them.
Ami, 41, lives in Ontario. She and her family have a dog, a Goldendoodle.
She likes to say that she has a lot more animals at the shelter.
“These are all my dogs until they have families,” Friend said. “I am their mom.”