Want to volunteer at the Summit County animal shelter? Here’s a primer | SummitDaily.com

Want to volunteer at the Summit County animal shelter? Here’s a primer

"The cool thing about being a volunteer here is that we're all on the same page on one thing, and that's helping animals," Mary Harmeyer, volunteer coordinator at the Summit County Animal Control & Shelter, told the prospective volunteers sitting in front of her. "Doesn't matter what politics, religion or background you come from, everyone loves animals and want to do whatever we can to help them."

Harmeyer is charged with recruiting and training new volunteers hoping to help animals. Volunteering, while noble and fun, is still an important responsibility. Aside from walking dogs and socializing cats, volunteer are also responsible for the health and welfare of each animal.

Residents hoping to volunteer for the first time must sign up for an orientation class at the shelter. The basic orientation takes about half an hour, orientation for volunteering with dogs takes another hour and a half.

The shelter will also ask for photo identification and ask you to fill out an application about experience working with animals, as well as information for a background check — including personal references. Forms and information about orientation class schedules are available at Co.Summit.Co.us/545/Volunteer-Program.

For handling and helping dogs, the most important part is getting familiar with the dog. The handy volunteer sign in/out chart at the shelter shows which dogs are available for walking and gives each dog a color depending on how easy they are to handle — green for easiest, blue for average, black for dogs that require a more experienced handler for walks.

Understanding dog behavior, such as facial and body language, is also important. Because animals can't talk, there's no way of knowing their history and understanding what they're OK with or scared of. The orientation guides volunteers on how to assess a dog's behavior and how to properly and safely walk them.

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For cats, it's similarly important to assess their mood and give them time to get familiar with humans. Cats are much more comfortable getting to know people at their own pace, and that is why socializing them in the shelter's Rainbow Room is so important when it comes to their eventual adoption. How to hold a cat to avoid getting scratched, as well as how to know when to call for assistance from shelter staff if there's an incident, is very important.

Aside from the cats sitting Sphinx-like in front of every window, the Rainbow Room also features a mural of the other side of the "Rainbow Bridge," where animals are said to go when they have passed. Included among the images of many happy, roaming animals is the shelter's late beloved director, Nancy Ring.

Ring passed away in 2010 of breast cancer after three decades caring for animals in Summit. She became Summit's animal control director in 1982 and lobbied strongly for the funds needed to build the new shelter building located at 58 Nancy's Place in Frisco. The road was named in her honor.

"Nancy Ring was a phenomenal woman and a phenomenal advocate for animals in Summit County and across Colorado," Harmeyer told the volunteers.

Ring also started an organization called the League of Animal People of the Summit. LAPS raises money for the shelter's spay and neuter program, as well as providing financial assistance for low-income families to help pay for a spay/neuter. Learn more about LAPS at SummitLAPS.org.

The Summit County shelter is an "open admission" shelter, which means that they will accept all animals. Unlike a no-kill shelter, the shelter does euthanize animals that are sick, suffering or a danger to humans and other animals. However, the shelter doesn't have to do that often, as it has a 97 percent live release rate. The required live release rate for a complete no-kill shelter is 90 percent.

"Everything we do revolves around our mission statement: Provide a secure shelter environment for animals, and give them the best opportunity for placement into responsible homes," Harmeyer said.

Many of the shelter's dogs are transfers from other shelters that are overcrowded, but the shelter also has quite a few cats, some that have been waiting quite a while for a home. Aside from educating and volunteering, humans can also help animals by donating to the shelter and organizations like LAPS.

To see all the cats and dogs available for adoption, visit the shelter's website. Also check out events going on this week in support of LAPS and the shelter, including an adoption event at HighSide Brewing on Tuesday from 2–4:30 p.m.