Isabella County

Love and care: Volunteers help animals with training, socialization

Fowlerville freshmen Megan Baldus poses for a photo with Carlos the cat as Livonia freshmen Libby Siecinski takes the shot Monday afternoon at the Mount Pleasant Animal Shelter, 1105 S Isabella Road. The pair volunteer at the shelter once every week. (Trisha Umpfenbach/ Staff Photographer)

Fowlerville freshmen Megan Baldus poses for a photo with Carlos the cat as Livonia freshmen Libby Siecinski takes the shot Monday afternoon at the Mount Pleasant Animal Shelter, 1105 S Isabella Road. The pair volunteer at the shelter once every week. (Trisha Umpfenbach/ Staff Photographer)

Volunteers play a major role in comforting and socializing animals at the Isabella County Humane Animal Treatment Society.

At 1105 S. Isabella Road, HATS houses more than 100 animals, but with less than 15 employees, it’s hard to give each animal as much attention as they would like.

That’s where volunteers play a large role.

“They see us everyday, all the time, and when we’re working, we don’t always have the time just to hang out with that dog one-on-one,” said Canine Care technician Katherine Bleavins. “We have a system we have to make our way through throughout the day, so having a volunteer coming in to walk a dog or play with the dog outside is amazing for them.”

Whether it’s people who come in for class, community service hours or just for fun, the time animals spend with humans means more to them than many people realize.

“It gives them the chance to feel like they’re loved; a scratch on the ear might mean their whole day,” said Canine Care supervisor Chelsea Tenwalde.

The 35 dogs and 88 cats at the shelter have been saved from abandonment, mistreatment and other unfortunate situations, but the majority of their time is now spent in a kennel.

Dogs are given four 15-minute breaks throughout the day to go outside, but with the help of volunteers, they can be given even more opportunities to get out and play.

Tenwalde said the shelter has a handful of volunteers who have been coming in weekly for years, thanks to the Humane Animal Treatment Society which opened in 1999.

“We have a vast variety of volunteers, people who just come in once a week to walk a dog or somebody that’s never been here and they decide to come play with cats,” Tenwalde said. “It’s day-to-day with volunteers.”

However, sporadic schedules are often a problem with volunteers.

“There (are) days when we don’t get any volunteers at all, or there (are) some days where we’ll have a sports team or a club come in and we’ll have 20 to 30 volunteers at one time,” Bleavins said.

Volunteering isn’t just walking dogs; people who come to visit the animals have a variety of options.

“People who are more cat people can hang out in the cat adoption room and socialize with the cats,” she said. “For dogs, a lot is dog-walking, socialization and playing when them outside.”

Seeing volunteers come to the shelter not only brightens the animal’s day, it brings joy to the employees as well.

“We have great volunteers who come in and walk eight dogs in a day,” Bleavins said. “They hang out with them, pet them, love on them, that’s really important to them. It’s important to us too. I like to see it.”

The shelter is open Monday through Saturday and volunteers are welcome anytime.

“If anyone is interested in volunteering, they should come up here,” Bleavins said. “The process is super easy, they can easily get started and it’s a lot of fun for our volunteers.”

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