By Pat Foster-Turley
January 20, 2023
It is no surprise to anyone who regularly reads my column that I am an animal lover, always looking for a chance to interact with them. And carnivores, a taxonomic category of mammals, are my favorites. I had dogs and cats as pets and spent years at Marine World Africa USA in California (now long-gone) raising and handling river otters. These days Bucko and I are a one-cat household, responding to the every whim of Dumela our 11-year-old calico.
But now, mostly retired, I have more time on my hands and crave more “carnivore” contact than a single spoiled cat can give me. I don’t know how it’s taken me this long, but a few months ago I finally visited the Nassau Humane Society (NHS) on Airport Road for the first time. And now I’m a regular volunteer there, dropping in whenever it suits me to “socialize” the cats in the cattery. Playing with and petting cats! Purrfect!
Cats are one thing, but at the NHS there are lots of dogs, too, and I miss having contact with dogs. I’ve looked into the volunteer opportunities as a dog walker, but as a senior citizen I’m afraid the large dogs will be too much for me to handle. And, looking around, there are mostly all large dogs there. Many look like mixed breeds with a lot of bull terrier in them – large heads, strong jaws, heavy weight. Small dogs get adopted quickly, but these large ones, not so much, no matter how sweet they are. And yes, most of them are sweet.
Recently the NHS started a new program called “Quiet Time” and I think I’m one of the first to sign up. Volunteers are sought to spend time alone with a dog in the visitor’s room, just petting and grooming the dog, giving it treats and keeping it company, hopefully quietly, to give the dogs a respite from the barking activity in the kennel.
My first Quiet Time was with Bella, a young mother of a litter of pups who have all been adopted. But Bella, now spayed, is still here. As a heartworm-positive dog she cannot tolerate much activity and is a perfect candidate for quiet time with her own human. But tell Bella that. I dutifully sat in a chair in the visitor room and tried to engage her in a petting session, but for the most part she was only interested in sniffing all around the room and waiting by the door, listening to all the other dogs outside. And I even had no luck with giving her treats. She happily took tidbits from me, but then carried them off to a dog bed in the corner and hid them under the bed, for later, I guess.
My second Quiet Time was much more interesting, for me at least. It was a Saturday and the visiting room was mostly occupied with people coming to interact with dogs they might adopt. So, in lieu of another space, I was assigned to visit a dog in its own kennel. With little fanfare I soon found myself on a folding chair, enclosed in a kennel with a large mixed breed dog. Remembering my past experiences with another carnivore, otters, I wondered if the dog would be territorial or nervous about someone in its home.
But this was not a problem, at least for Fig. Fig is a 4-year-old sweetheart of a dog who really wanted attention and love and was determined to climb into my lap and lick my face. A 64-pound dog in my lap on a folding chair was certainly a new experience for me. I did my best to keep Fig on the ground next to me instead of on top of me and we spent many minutes communing and engaging in petting sessions. I am eager to visit him again.
I was impressed at the design and cleanliness of the kennel that I spent some time in alone with Fig. Each individual kennel has an outdoor area facing a courtyard where dogs are taken out to play. And each has an adjacent temperature controlled indoor area with a cot raised off the concrete floor and towels and blankets, some toys, water from a plumbed faucet and fresh bowls of food. I was also impressed by the dedication and friendliness of the staff, and their efforts to make both Fig and me comfortable in our shared kennel.
If you are like me and crave a bit more dog and cat interactions, come on out to the Nassau Humane Society (https://nassauhumane.org/). There are jobs for everyone, and even me, just petting cats and dogs. And to think, the staff always thanks me for my visits. I really need to instead thank them for adding this newfound joy to my life!
Pat Foster-Turley is a zoologist on Amelia Island. She welcomes your nature questions and observations. firstname.lastname@example.org