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December 26, 2012
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Helping Hands: Summit County Animal Shelter gives us paws

"I've always wanted to have a dog of my own."

This statement could be attributed to hundreds of people throughout Summit County and even more statewide. On Wednesday, it was Jenny Ackers, who spends her spare time volunteering for the Summit County Animal Shelter.

She said she started volunteering at the shelter "with the idea in mind that some day I'd walk in there and the perfect dog would be waiting for me." A month passed, and then one day there was Harvey, a border collie-Anatolian shepherd mix.

"I just walked into the kennel area and he was sitting there and he just looked up," she said. "He didn't bark or anything and I said, 'You want to go for a walk?' and he stood up and wagged his tail."

That one walk was enough to cement what could become a lifelong companionship.

Harvey's story is just one of many that come out of the animal shelter every day. Though the shelter isn't near its maximum capacity of 46 dogs and more than 40 cats, it does fair trade in adoptions from month to month. If it happens that there is a lull, they will take in transfers from other shelters in nearby counties.

"When we get low on dogs, instead of saying we only have a couple of dogs up for adoption, we go to other shelters that are in need - a lot of times (those are) kill shelters - and transfer over dogs that are already vaccinated, neutered and ready to go and then we get them up for adoption over here," said Meg Leroux, operations manager at the shelter. "We're (also) creating more selection."

In addition to the usual dog and cat options, the shelter also periodically houses rats, guinea pigs, rabbits and other such pets. For feathered and reptile friends, they work closely with nearby rescue groups.

Animals come to the shelter in a variety of ways. Some are found as strays after becoming lost or simply abandoned. Others are surrendered by owners who can no longer keep them, whether because they can't afford to feed them, spend time with them or have encountered another reason such as a newborn with allergies.

Owners surrendering pets can bring the animal right into the shelter, where they can fill out paperwork and give the history of their pet. Another option is the "drop box," a door near the front of the shelter with access to empty kennels and space to leave the animal and also helpful paperwork.

"We have a drop box, so anybody who has an unwanted pet can put them in the drop box at night, and it's gonna be safe in there from predators, it's not going to be at large near cars," said Leroux.

While drop-offs can be anonymous, it's very helpful for those working at the shelter to have the paperwork and more information about the animal.

"The more information we have on the animals the better, because then we can do a better job of placing that animal in a more successful home," said Donna Corcel, humane educator and administrative clerk at the shelter.

Knowing the background of an animal, both medical and behavioral, is immensely useful in finding a successful match with a new owner, Corcel said.

The adoption process starts off when a person walks into the shelter with the intention of finding a pet. By discussing lifestyle, experience, wants and needs with the potential owner, the staff can make a recommendation based on their knowledge of the animals available and their breed, temperament and history.

For example, said Leroux, if a highly active person came in and requested a less active breed such as a mastiff, she might suggest a different dog that could better meet that person's active lifestyle. Conversely, a couple that is older or more sedentary may not be happy with a breed like a husky that requires extensive exercise.

"We're just trying to help them find the right match for what they want," said Corcel. "We don't' want to set them up to fail. Our goal is we've got an animal here (so) we're going to try to find the best match for them."

Although staff works hard to make sure the best combination has been made between owner and pet, the adoption papers allow an animal to be returned within three weeks if need be. Without knowing an animal's history, behaviors such as trash digging or cat chasing may surface at home that were not readily apparent in the shelter. If an animal doesn't work out, however, Leroux said, the shelter is perfectly willing and able to take it back and try again.

"We want the dog or cat back at our shelter," she said. "We don't want (the adopters) to just give it away or do whatever. We want the animal back here."

Once the animal is back at the shelter, the process to find just the right owner can start again, perhaps this time with a bit more knowledge and understanding. Adopting from a shelter can carry an unknown factor which potential adopters should be aware of.

"It takes commitment," Corcel said. "It's a commitment when you're adopting a shelter animal."

Although sad cases of abandonment and abuse periodically come through the animal shelter, they don't stay that way. Hard work from the staff and adopting owners create plenty of happy endings to those hard stories. Or, as Corcel and Leroux prefer to look at it, happy beginnings with new families and new lives ahead.

"It's been great," Ackers said, echoing many others who have brought a shelter animal home. "We feel so lucky."


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The Summit Daily Updated Dec 27, 2012 05:47PM Published Dec 26, 2012 08:56PM Copyright 2012 The Summit Daily. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.