Nicole Fox, a junior at Western Carolina University, enjoys spending her spare time playing with dogs at the Jackson County Animal Shelter.
It almost makes up for the time the 20-year-old can’t spend with her own dog, Ellie.
Spending time with animals waiting on adoption is a stress reliever for her, she said, as she works on degrees in secondary education and history.
“I’m a big believer in giving back to the community,” Fox said. “Since WCU students take up a very large percentage of the population, I believe students should find a way to give back in some form or another.”
The volunteer program started a year and a half ago, as a way to socialize dogs to make them more adoptable.
“Some of the dogs are in the shelter for several months before finding a home and the 10 minutes they get to go outside with volunteers is the best part of their day,” Fox said.
The program is open to anyone ages 18 or older. There is a background check and a 30-minute training session. Those younger than 18 can volunteer with adult supervision.
Shelter volunteer and obedience-training expert Jane Finneran encourages WCU students to help. There’s no minimum time commitment. Volunteers can schedule time Monday through Saturday.
“We have the university almost across the street,” Finneran said. “There are enough students over there that we could get a dog walked every day.”
The Jackson County Animal Shelter is on Airport Road in the Cullowhee community.
The volunteer program provides community members opportunities to spend time with animals – without making the commitment to adopt.
“A lot of the students, especially when they get their own place, go out and buy a dog,” Finneran said. “A lot of those students are not in a position where they can take care of a dog, and six months later they end up at our shelter.”
Allison Padgett has volunteered at the shelter for three-and-a-half years. She said the program gives students the chance to cuddle animals.
Thanks to socialization, fewer shelter dogs face euthanization, she said.
“We have not had to euthanize an adoptable dog for space in over two years,” Padgett said. “If we’d had more volunteers, some of the dogs we put down would not have had to be put down.”
Since the shelter houses about 16 dogs at a time, Finneran hopes for 16 volunteers each day so that every dog has a chance to go outside.
Fox said she plans this semester to return as a volunteer.