Happy holidays at Humane Society

Volunteers spend Christmas caring for animals at Vancouver shelter

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To help out at shelter:

To volunteer at the Humane Society for Southwest Washington:

o Visit the group's website.

o Email: Michelle Borum at mborum@southwest humane.org

o Phone: Call the shelter at 360-693-4746.

To help out at shelter:

To volunteer at the Humane Society for Southwest Washington:

o Visit the group’s website.

o Email: Michelle Borum at mborum@southwest humane.org

o Phone: Call the shelter at 360-693-4746.

All was quiet along the streets of Clark County on Christmas morning, but that wasn’t the case at the Humane Society for Southwest Washington.

The woofs and meows of residents were met with friendly chatter from a host of volunteers, who come out — whether it’s a holiday or a normal day — to share their love.

“Everybody’s excited and wants some attention,” said Catherine Costa, petting a few especially friendly felines as they rubbed against the bars of their cages.

She and her husband, Joe Costa, have been volunteering at the center since March, she said.

“We’ve both liked cats our whole lives,” Costa said. “Every time we go to the shelter we want to take them all home, but of course you can’t.”

A group of five volunteers shifted through the cattery, cleaning litter boxes, wiping cage floors and petting any cats who wanted a little extra interaction.

“We call it room service,” Joe Costa said with a grin. “We knock on the cages and say ‘room service!’ “

Before they volunteered, the two were afraid they might want to adopt all the cats, but actually the volunteers are more like a cheer squad for animals, Catherine Costa said.

“We kind of build relationships with some of them when they’re here for a long time,” she said. “But when we come in, there’s a list of who got adopted, and we always look and say ‘oooh baby cat got adopted’ or ‘oooh, Enzo got adopted.’ We all really celebrate and are happy for them.”

The couple spend two hours every Thursday morning volunteering with the cats, and they’re almost always with the same group of five. The team works easily together.

It’s the same in the dog area, where volunteers take turns walking the animals and cleaning kennels.

“Most of us get to know each other pretty well,” said Jack Evans, who’s been volunteering with his wife for about a year. “We’ve been retired for about 10 years, and we decided to do something more than just sit around or go to the casino. We love working with the dogs.”

Bill Drummond, a volunteer with the dogs for more than 10 years, said he can’t have a dog at home, so working with the animals is a way to get his “doggie fix.”

Returning from a walk with a grinning medium-sized pup, Drummond looked content.

“They need to get their sniffs,” Drummond said. “They need to smell nature.”

If an animal stays in the shelter for a long time, volunteers will write a story about the dog or cat and its personality to be shared with the public.

That often helps it find a home, but there are other avenues the Humane Society uses if an animal still isn’t adopted, said Nikki Patino, a shelter staff member who started out as a volunteer.

“If they don’t get adopted we’ll transfer them around with other rescues in the region,” Patino said. “Sometimes a new set of eyes will get them adopted.”

As for working on Christmas Day, Patino and the volunteers said it wasn’t much of a chore.

“It feels nice to be with the animals because they’re alone on the holidays, too,” said Patino, who said she volunteered for the shift after her husband found out he had to work that day. “It’s nice to give them some love.”

Volunteers work in shifts throughout the day at the shelter. From 8 to 10 a.m., the first shift comes through, cleans cages and does some socializing with the animals. From 10 a.m. to noon, a crew that specializes in socialization comes in for more one-on-one time. And from noon to 6 p.m., volunteers do a variety of tasks, including talking to the public about adoptions.

You wouldn’t necessarily think that cleaning cat boxes was something to look forward to, but Catherine Costa said it’s actually a highlight of her week.

“I really like coming in for the animals,” she said. “Sometimes on Wednesdays I’m like ‘Oooh, Thursday’s almost here, kitties!’ “

About 55 staff members and 540 volunteers keep the facility at 1100 N.E. 192nd Ave. running throughout the year, said Denise Barr, director of marketing for the facility.

That may sound like a lot of volunteers, but the shelter could use many more, she said.

“The volunteers, they put in an immense amount of hours,” Barr said. “Some are there every week or even more than that. They’re really like an extension of our staff. There’s just no way we could operate without them.”

Volunteers are especially needed to staff a thrift shop at the facility, which helps bring in funds to feed and care for the animals.

“There are always jobs at an animal shelter,” Barr said.

New recruits go through a general orientation, followed by a more specific orientation when they decide which area of the shelter they’d like to volunteer in.

Patino said there’s a place for just about everyone, much like there’s a place for all of the animals.

“It’s such a good feeling,” Patino said. “And it’s so rewarding to see the dogs and cats when they get adopted by their forever family.”