Spring 2013 Magazine

Volunteers Helping Animals

A Gift to Animal Humane | New Mexico

By Nancy Marano

What do you do with your time when you retire? You might play golf, travel, or take up a new hobby. Donna Bradley chose to use her newfound freedom to volunteer and give back to the community.

Bradley taught fourth grade in Albuquerque's elementary schools. When she retired, she wanted to help others. She started by volunteering to help students get their GED certificates.

"I did that for a little over a year but it was too much like what I'd done in my work life so I stopped. Then I read something about Animal Humane | New Mexico (AHANM) needing volunteers and thought I'd get involved. I'd never worked with animals before but we'd had dogs so I thought I'd try," she said.

When Bradley started at AHANM seven and a half years ago, she was a dog walker. The training was different than it is now. "I went to one orientation class and they handed me a leash. They said, 'Here, walk the dogs!'"

Not satisfied with just walking dogs, Bradley also began volunteering at New Mexico Animal Friends (NMAF). "I mainly worked in the office taking calls for them. Then I was in charge of handling the information for the spay/neuter program they ran where low-income people could bring their animals in and have the surgery for free.

After working with NMAF for six years, she accidentally broke her wrist and was out of commission for about six weeks. "I decided to just work with AHANM after that. If you are doing things you like to do, you need to watch out because volunteering can become a full-time job," Bradley said.

As a matter of full disclosure, Bradley has also been delivering issues of PETroglyphs all through the Northeast Heights area of Albuquerque for many years. The PETroglyphs staff is very grateful for all her efforts to get the animal news to our readers.

Her work with AHANM has continued to change over the years. She is at the facility about three hours per week but she works on many projects on her computer at home. This adds up to about 500 hours of volunteering in the last six months.

She was a founder, along with several other AHANM volunteers, of Enchantmutts. "We all volunteered at AHANM. We thought we would take dogs who weren't doing well at the shelter for one reason or another and put them in a foster home. It was our hope that with some one-on-one attention they would be adopted," she said. Enchantmutts is now a non-profit rescue group in its own right.

When you go the AHANM website to look at all those adoptable dogs, you notice that each listing has a lot of information about the dog and a profile of its personality. "I am the team leader of the profile writing team," Bradley said. "We have a lot of information on the dogs which we incorporate into the profiles. Each dog takes the ASPCA's Safer TestT which predicts sociability and the likelihood of aggression. We also do a Meet Your Match® test that predicts a dog's playfulness, energy level and ability to focus, as well as their motivation and people manners. Dogs are given a color code based on how they rank in the test. A potential adopter takes the human version of this test. The adopter is then matched with compatible dogs. We use all of this background information to write the website profiles," Bradley said. "I used to do the kennel cards, the cards that are on each dog's cage to tell you about the dog, but now I have help doing that."

She also helped start a group at AHANM known as the Petables. "We work with dogs who need more attention and training. If a dog is too rambunctious or mouthy, we might recommend those to the behavior staff. The dog learns not to nip at people. We train the dogs on basic training commands such as 'come,' 'wait,' or 'settle.' We give them extra walks and take them on play dates off-campus in Nob Hill or somewhere like that," Bradley said.

It would be almost impossible to work with dogs every day at AHANM and not either foster them or adopt them. Bradley has done both things. "We fostered a dog named Benny. He was in hospice and not expected to live very long. When Benny got into our home, he perked right up and lived for another two-and-a-half years. Then we adopted Guapo He'd been brought in from Roswell. AHANM takes a lot of small, adoptable dogs from Roswell to give them a better chance of being adopted here. He was a sheltie who amazingly didn't bark like other shelties. Within a week of coming to our house, he went into full barker mode. He was being true to his breed. Guapo likes other dogs but not big dogs so we adopted Mico, a terrier/poodle mix as a buddy for him. It has worked out beautifully," she said.

Bradley has worked with hundreds of dogs in her time with AHANM. The ones she remembers most are the senior dogs and the ones who get adopted and returned multiple times.

"The senior dogs have grown up in their families for 10 or 12 years. Now they are in the kennel and they are sad. They might be there because of a death in the family or because their family has moved," she said. "These are difficult adoptions because people think the dog won't have much time with them and they will be faced with large vet bills."

When asked why she volunteers as much as she does, Bradley answered, "I've devoted a lot of time to AHANM because I think they've just made so many good changes in the time I've been there. I see improvements all the time. The euthanasia rates are way down, there is more networking with other groups and they are willing to try new things that benefit the animals. It is very encouraging."

She would like to see more people volunteer. She has introduced her husband to the joy of helping animals at AHANM. He started with the Big Dog Walk and now works with the Petables and one of the satellite adoption centers.

"I would encourage people to volunteer. They shouldn't be stopped by feeling they would be depressed at the shelter. They can work in a satellite space or the gift shop or various other things. If you are retired or just want to give back to the community, the animals need your help. Most animal groups are volunteer-based. They couldn't do what they do without the volunteers," she said.

To explain why she does what she does, Bradley said, "You need to do something beyond yourself that gives you a purpose and goal. It gives me a lot of satisfaction to know that I've helped this animal find a home."

For more information on the SAFERT and Meet Your Match® tests go to www.aspcapro.org/aspca-safer.php and www.aspca.org/adoption/meet-your-match/.

Nancy Marano is an award-winning writer who is owned by two cats, Callie, a tortoiseshell, and Max, a black, panther wannabe. She is a member of the Cat Writers' Association and Dog Writers of America.

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