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ST. MARYS — The Auglaize County Humane Society recently created a program that gives its animals the attention they need and crave, and provides area residents with all the benefits of being a pet owner without spending money or owning a pet.
The “buddy system,” organized by Events Coordinator and Volunteer Coordinator Sonya Osting, pairs a volunteer or “buddy” with a specific animal residing at the humane society.
“You can visit all of them, but you concentrate your efforts on that pet, and it’s usually a pet that needs some work,” buddy Terry Leudeke said.
“Like Larry,” she said, referring to the dog she worked with from early November to early 2013. “He was afraid of everybody and everything when I came here. At least I got him over being afraid of people. And there are some noises he doesn’t mind anymore. He was abandoned here, tied to the fence. Nobody knew where he came from, didn’t even know his name, so he had to get used to a new name. That’s really rough for a dog.”
Leudeke took Larry to a few training classes, took him for walks, and spent close to six hours a week with him during her time as the dog’s buddy.
“The staff doesn’t always have enough time to spend one-on-one time with the animals,” Osting said. “So, this way, with our volunteers doing it, we can get more information about the animal’s personality, any quirks they may have, and then we have volunteers keep a log of what they do with the animals, which is good for adopters, too. We can tell them if they have any issues or what they need work on, if anything.”
People wishing to become buddies simply fill out a volunteer application, attend a short orientation, and then are given their pick of any of the cats and dogs available to work with. Buddies can take the animals home and foster them for a weekend or a night through the humane society’s foster program. They are asked to track the animal’s progress by writing about the animal’s behavior during each visit.
“It’s pretty simple — they just spend time with the animal,” Osting said. “You don’t have to be a professional trainer or anything like that.”
Leudeke said she decided to volunteer her time after moving into a small apartment in Wapakoneta.
“I’ve had a couple dogs,” she said.
“My most recent one died two years ago. I lived in a big house in the country and decided to get out of there, so I moved into town. (I) can’t have a dog in my apartment — it’s too small, but I miss my animals. So I said, ‘I’m going to volunteer at the humane society,’ so I can come get my dog fix whenever I want to. Get slobbered on and kissed, drug around the yard. It’s just like having a dog.”
Leudeke became extremely close with the dog she buddied up with.
“He never ate a dog treat,” she said.
“He would not play with toys. But I was out walking him one day, and he found a stick ... You don’t have to buy that dog toys; give him a stick — he was in heaven. It was pretty funny.”
After just a week of working with Larry, the difference Leudeke observed in his behavior was drastic.
“When I first came, and I went up to his pen to get him out, he would run to the back corner and just cower,” she said.
“By week two when I came, he was running up to the front of the pen, going “she’s here! she’s here! she’s here!” That was a good sign. It took me a couple more weeks when we were out walking before his tail would come up occasionally.”
Larry’s new owner, Wapakoneta resident Ryan Rumple, appreciated the time spent with his dog.
“It helped out a lot,” Rumple said. “We had him the first day and he decided he wanted to run away, and he wouldn’t come to us. He’d come to her.”
Osting emphasized the importance of human interaction for every animal at the shelter — not just those who are more skittish or nervous around people.
“It’s very good for the animals,” she said.
“It can help socialize them, teach them new things. It’s good for us at the shelter. Because a lot of times, the staff doesn’t have as much time to spend one-on-one with the animals. And it’s good for the adopters because it gives them a little more insight into the animal’s personality. And it’s good for the buddies, too. It’s a very fulfilling thing to do, to know that you’re helping a homeless animal.”