Richland County Dog Shelter Volunteer Goes Above and Beyond for Puppies

April Friend wasn’t sure if she could volunteer at the Richland County Dog Shelter.

“Three years ago I came here,” she said. “I wanted to see if I could take a dog and walk it without getting angry.

“I took out a little beagle. I fell completely in love with her.”

The beagle, also named April, came to the shelter on Friend’s birthday.

It was fate.

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A friend said she couldn’t work at a shelter where animals that aren’t adopted are euthanized. Richland County has been no-kill for several years.

The volunteer goes above and beyond to help. She started posting selfies of herself with the dogs on Facebook.

“I was getting a lot of friend requests,” she said.

Dogs get candid photos on Facebook

Friend eventually launched a separate Facebook page titled “My Dog Shelter Friends @ the Richland County Dog Shelter”.

“I wanted to show people how the dogs were outside the shelter,” Friend said. “It gives people a much more personal view of dogs than our brief biographies give them. It allows people to see dogs in a different light.”

Friend, who brought detailed notes to an interview with a reporter, has nearly 5,000 subscribers online.

A shelter can be a stressful atmosphere for any dog. People who see dogs in a kennel are probably not seeing a dog’s true personality.

“I love bringing dogs that have been here a long time at McDonald’s,” Friend said. “I offer them a cheeseburger or maybe an ice cream.”

The Richland B&O Bike Path is another frequent destination. Everything to get the dogs out of the shelter and seize the opportunities for candid photos.

At the same time, Friend wants to dispel the idea that shelters are bad places.

“Dogs get love, attention and food. They get a second chance at a loving family,” Friend said. “Who knows what their life was like, but we want to rewrite their story.”

Rewriting a dog’s history often involves medical attention.

After-hours event generates $11,500

Last week, Friend held an after-hours event at the shelter for people who work regular hours. It included a 50/50 drawing, a bake sale and 68 baskets that were auctioned off.

“Everyone was bidding on what it was worth,” Friend said.

The event, which also included the sale of t-shirts, generated $11,500. She hopes to make it an annual event.

“I was shocked,” Friend said, adding that she wanted to thank everyone involved. “I wanted to raise money for medical expenses. They come here, and often they are in bad shape.”

The after-hours event went so well that the shelter will be open from 4:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. on the first Tuesday of every month going forward.

“It will be the volunteers who know the dogs,” Friend said of the staff situation. “We can help people find a dog that would be right for their family.”

Friend thanked fellow volunteers Susan Kochheiser, Samantha Russell, Kim Boehm and Erika Boucher for also spending time with shelter dogs and Facebook updates.

Dog Warden Missy Houghton said Friend’s efforts benefit the shelter, which also raises funds through licensing.

“We are a self-funded facility,” Houghton said. “We get unexpected charges for the dogs. They could be hit by a car or sick.

“We never worry about whether or not we can afford to take a dog to the vet.”

Houghton said if the shelter needed anything, Friend sent out requests.

“He’s a great person overall,” Houghton said of his volunteer.

Volunteering is a time of relaxation

A friend tries to come to the shelter every day, stopping after her office work.

“It’s actually my downtime,” she said of whether to play and cuddle the dogs or walk them.

Friend, 41, lives in Ontario. She and her family have a dog, a Goldendoodle.

She likes to say that she has many more animals at the shelter.

“These are all my dogs until they have families,” Friend said. “I am their mom.”

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Twitter: @MNJCaudill