Volunteers Are Our Gentlest Strength

A veteran volunteer repairs the bonds between man and her best friend.

“Oh yes. I definitely remember our first encounter,” says Janie Stowell, Spokane Humane Society volunteer. “As I approached his kennel, he lowered his head down, and he was just backing away, growling. No trust at all.”

This was “Polar” — a massive white Anatolian Shepherd mix who had recently been removed from a dangerous hoarding situation. A dog with this background presenting these traits is not often headed toward a bright future. But it was early in Polar’s time at the Spokane Humane Society. And even in that moment, Janie had a vision.

“Being extremely unsocialized and untrusting, we could see he needed that extra time and attention,” Janie remembers, a smile finding its way into her eyes as she remembers the season she shared with Polar.

“Being extremely unsocialized and untrusting, we could see he needed that extra time and attention,” Janie remembers, a smile finding its way into her eyes as she remembers the season she shared with Polar. “That started a process of several months, when we were able to build back the trust and social skills, slowly but surely,” She remembers. “He and I certainly bonded along the way.”

Polar formed a bond with Janie, and more importantly, he formed the ability to form bonds again. That's the gift Janie gave to him. And as much as she fell in love, she knew her own household’s pet capacity was full, and of course, the point was for Polar to move on.

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He didn't make it very far, though. Polar’s foster family — volunteers who offer their home as that first therapeutic step toward a permanent placement — well, they just couldn't resist. Soon they knew they wouldn’t be letting go of this large, furry sweetheart. He was already home. Janie she still checks in on him every now and then. While it is difficult to let go, he is now thriving, and these are the stories that energize her work with that next challenging dog.

Time, care, expertise, and consistency: in any team working toward a goal, these traits are highly valuable assets when present, and hugely limiting factors when absent. So what happens when the mission and goals of an organization are as audacious as Janie was, looking at scared, defensive Polar and visualizing a future best friend to a local family?

In a landscape with seemingly never-ending need, the Humane Society relies on dedicated volunteers to fill that gap, accomplishing so much more than paid staff could ever do on their own.

In the case of the Spokane Humane Society, Janie is what happens. In a landscape with seemingly never-ending need, the Humane Society relies on dedicated volunteers to fill that gap, accomplishing so much more than paid staff could ever do on their own. Often, as in the case of Polar, they go above and beyond to pour out the extra care that operations staff simply cannot give each and every animal.

For Janie, even after giving many hours over the past eight years, she feels that she is the one receiving a gift.

"It's really rewarding to take an animal that has no trust, and give them an opportunity to have a normal life,” she says. "When it's a wonderful happy ending like that, it really doesn't get any better."

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Janie is also quick to point out that she's just one example of many, many others who put their gifts and talents to work for the Humane Society. “I don't care if it's one hour a month, or once a year chipping in at an event; whether you want to work directly with the animals or offer something else behind the scenes. Whatever it is, the Humane Society has a place for you!” She says. “I love and have experience working with scared, traumatized dogs who need extra help. But that's just one of many ways to serve.”

As Janie’s experience shows, allowing every volunteer space to do what they’re best at is a vital part of the Spokane Humane Society’s larger mission and story: finding the right place for every animal to thrive.