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Go Walk Shelter Dogs
Guest Editorial

Last August, my dogs and I took an eight-week road trip across the West, and it was awesome. We hiked through painted hills in rural Oregon, made a memorable drive to Idaho’s Silver City, marveled at the colors of fall in the Rockies, toured Best Friends Animal Sanctuary in Utah, survived the Loneliest Road in America (U.S. 50 through Nevada) and fell in love with the California coast. Maybe you saw us; we were towing a 1969 Airstream travel trailer, and the sign in the rear window asked you to do something: go walk a shelter dog.

Did you know that some shelter dogs rarely leave their kennels? I made this discovery a year ago when I started volunteering at my local animal shelter. Naïvely, I asked the staff, “How do you get all the dogs out in the morning to potty?” I was stunned to learn that it’s common for shelter dogs to pee, poop, sleep, eat and wait within the chainlink walls of their kennels.

In the beginning, volunteering as a dog walker was just about unbearable. My heart ached for all the sad, scared and forgotten dogs. But day after day, I promised to return because these simple walks were making a huge difference. I was giving shelter dogs exercise, a chance to potty outdoors, lessons on manners, praise, confidence and the human companionship they greatly missed.

After months of walking shelter dogs, and driving home troubled because I couldn’t walk all of them, I decided to ask for help. I wanted my local shelter dogs—and shelter dogs everywhere—to get a daily reprieve from their kennels. Thus, go WALK shelter DOGS was born.

As I cruised the West, I learned that while my hometown shelter wasn’t alone in lacking dog walkers, some shelters have the luxury of a new volunteer waiting list. And while the media does a good job promoting a variety of shelter causes—pet of the week, foster, spay and neuter, donate supplies, give money—walking shelter dogs doesn’t make headlines. I can only assume there are people out there, dog-loving people, who don’t know they are needed. Why else would shelter dogs not get walks?

The mission of go WALK shelter DOGS is to raise awareness, recruit people with time and compassion, and encourage animal lovers to visit their local shelter to learn about volunteer opportunities. Do you know if your local shelter dogs are getting walks? Do you know how else volunteers can help shelter animals? Is there an application process for volunteers, an age requirement, an orientation meeting?

If dogs aren’t your thing, how about cuddling cats? There are plenty of shelter cats waiting for something to purr about. As any shelter director will tell you, volunteers are always needed, and are vital in saving and improving animals’ lives.

Animal shelters are everywhere in every size; they may be kill or no-kill, they may be privately owned or government run. Though no two animal shelters are alike, one thing remains constant: they give our best friends a second chance.

Walking shelter dogs won’t end pet overpopulation and it won’t stop animal neglect, but I believe it adds momentum to help us reach those goals. Plus, it’s the right thing to do.

This article first appeared in The Bark,
Issue 78: Summer 2014

Debbie Sporcich is the founder of go WALK shelter DOGS.

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Submitted by Chantelle | June 3 2014 |

Yes! Thank you for this post. When I started volunteering at Austin Animal Center six years ago, I was mortified to learn that dogs don't get out of their kennels unless customers or volunteers taken them out. This meant the potty-trained pups would "hold it" until they were in incredible discomfort after 48+ hours without a break. And since most of the dogs that entered the shelter were energetic types, they quickly went kennel crazy without walks. I've volunteered for causes all over the world, and found walking dogs at the shelter to be the most immediately-rewarding task I've ever done. I highly recommend it to anyone looking for a meaningful volunteer activity.

Submitted by Jennifer Winn | July 16 2014 |

I am fortunate to know Deb personally. We met one day a few months back at our local shelter when we were both there walking dogs. I've been volunteering in that manner off and on for the past few years, but it's been Deb's go WALK shelter DOGS movement that now has me at our area shelters every weekend. She has not only taken on the role of Volunteer Coordinator at our locale Humane Society, but has taken on an arguably even more important volunteer role for our animal control shelter: She has organized a group to walk the shelter dogs even on the days the shelter is closed to the public. That means these dogs are getting out EVERY day of the week thanks to Deb's tireless effort to recruit and encourage volunteers. And having been a once-a-month or once-every-few-months kind of volunteer in the past when it was rare to ever see any other volunteers at the shelter, the change in these dogs' demeanor and behavior is truly dramatic. There was one dog who had been at the shelter since December 2012 who was kennel stressed, couldn't be walked by just anyone, was dog reactive, and definitely never got introduced to children. Just this week (July 2014), this dog got pulled from the shelter by a rescue group! In the past several months, thanks to daily walks, socialization with dogs of all sizes and people of all ages, and some basic training, she became the dog that we all hoped she could be. If it weren't for the dedicated volunteers in Deb's group, that dog may never have left the shelter. Thank you to Deb for championing this great cause. And thank you to Bark magazine for publishing her story and bringing awareness across the country.

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