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Kennel stay makes you dog's best friend

By Dan Dewitt, Times Staff Wrietr
Published February 20, 2008

Sunday's twilight falls over the Humane Society kennel. The society is looking to raise $1-million to expand their facility to handle more dogs and cats and lower the rate of euthanasia of stray animals brought in.
[Photo by Will Vragovic]
[Photo by Will Vragovic]
Chrissy Sherrow, 17, of San Antonio, Fla., spent her 24-hour shift Sunday with Dog at the Humane Society of the Nature Coast's fundraiser in Brooksville. She wants to be a veterinarian so she volunteers at the kennel to gain experience.

[Ron Thompson | Times]
Times staff writer Dan DeWitt spent 24 hours in a Humane Society kennel in Brooksville to help raise funds to expand the facility.

I didn't even like the dog, a pointy-snouted mixed-breed named Charlotte.

I certainly didn't like the kennel, barely big enough to hold a cot, that I'd be sharing with her for the next 24 hours.

I didn't like all the barking or the background odor of scrubbed dog.

I wasn't crazy about the conversation of the half-dozen other "inmates" at the Humane Society of the Nature Coast. I liked them, of course, and defy anyone not to like the warm and tireless executive director, Joanne Schoch.

But they were all dog lovers, most of whom had agreed to live in the kennels for a full week as part of the Humane Society's Heart to Heart fundraiser. They called dogs "sweetheart" and talked about their pets' saintly levels of forgiveness and understanding. Schoch told me: "My first, best friend was a dog, and it's been that way ever since."

I agreed to stay for one night because my editor suggested it and I've never been able to relate to the sentimental treatment of animals. And nothing, it seemed, could be more sentimental than a no-kill shelter such as the Humane Society, which plucks a few lucky animals from the stream of unwanted pets euthanized every year.

That's what I thought. And I was wrong.

After a couple of hours of nonstop advocacy, Schoch convinced me that a society should be judged by "what we're willing to inflict on the helpless - children, the elderly and animals. ...Our feeling is that as long as there is one animal being euthanized in our community, everyone in the community is responsible."

In Hernando County, that means we share the blame for the 5,700 dogs and cats put down by county Animal Services last year.

Many towns in New Hampshire and Vermont, meanwhile, have eliminated routine euthanization of pets by encouraging spaying and neutering and by placing animals into homes from no-kill shelters, Schoch said.

"It can be done."

The Humane Society found homes for nearly 500 animals last year, working out of headquarters on Wiscon Road near Brooksville with room for 17 dogs and 60 cats. Schoch said she could place many more if she had space for 25 additional kennels. She organized Heart to Heart to help raise money for a $1-million building on the site and to develop empathy for the animals' cramped conditions.

Before long, surprisingly, I also started to feel for the dog.

Charlotte has lingered in her kennel since November, Humane Society workers said, partly because she was "rambunctious." Or hyper, I thought, as I watched her leap against the chain-link walls of her kennel.

But she was surprisingly obedient on our first walk - and strong and healthy, I noticed, with a sleek, cedar-red coat. Back in the kennel, I offered her a treat. She licked my hand and settled right down.

It was a comforting feeling, and dimly familiar.

I had my own friend when I was a kid, a golden retriever that followed me when I went running or sledding, that listened to baseball games on the radio with my father and me, waiting to snap up kernels of cheese popcorn thrown his way.

I started to think about what my sons were missing.

At dinner, I asked my dog-owner kennelmates questions such as "How much does it cost to build a good-sized dog run?"

Afterward, as we settled into our cots in the glow of laptops and book lights, Schoch could sense I was going soft.

"Look at how peaceful Charlotte is. Usually, she's pacing," Schoch said. "Wouldn't that be a great ending to a news story: Reporter adopts his kennelmate."

I called home to see if there was any way. There wasn't.

Tuesday afternoon, when it was time to go home, I patted Charlotte on the head and ignored the hopeful look on her face as I closed the kennel door behind me.

[Last modified February 19, 2008, 20:04:24]

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