Small group donates much time, money and love to rehabilitate animals

Pumpkin peered out the window of Suzanne Steele's car on Friday, watching the Del Norte County Animal Shelter volunteers approach with interest.

With Steele's help, Pumpkin, a 6- to 10-year-old shar pei terrier mix, hopped from the car and received head scratches from the other volunteers. One knelt down and gave Pumpkin a kiss on her nose. She enthusiastically returned that kiss.

"She would be somebody's perfect couch potato sidekick," Steele said.

Steele, Liz Carver, Shelly Peandntilde;a and other volunteers were treated to a barbecue at the Del Norte County Animal Shelter on Friday. The event was a way for the shelter to thank the volunteers for their hard work, said Jim Buckles, deputy agricultural commissioner. Volunteers worked a total of 2,667 hours last year, he said.

A total of 10 volunteers currently care for, feed and walk the dogs at the animal shelter, said Liz Carver, who has been a volunteer for four years. A core group of five volunteers are the most reliable, she said. They have also cared for horses, goats, sheep and geese, Carver said.

The animal shelter housed 25 dogs as of Friday, according to Buckles.

In addition to walking, feeding and cleaning their kennels, the volunteers also help pay to get the dogs spayed or neutered, Carver said. She pointed out that in California dogs and cats that are up for adoption must be spayed or neutered.

"Volunteers pay for spaying and neutering because the county can't afford it," Carver said. "In a perfect world all (the animals) would leave spayed or neutered."

According to Buckles, the shelter's animals are spayed or neutered if they are put up for adoption. Animals that are redeemed by their owners are not spayed or neutered, he said.

The shelter's volunteers also bring the dogs home and nurse them back to health if they are sick or injured, Carver said.

Steele, who has volunteered at the shelter for about a year, has been working with Pumpkin since she came to the facility in September 2013. Pumpkin was malnourished, suffering from mange and was covered with mites, Steele said.

The volunteer took the pup home, gave her special baths and rubbed her skin with coconut oil. Before long, Pumpkin's coarse fur began to return. She has a thick coat of honey-colored hair along her back. About a month ago, Pumpkin's fur began to return on her front legs, Steele said.

"She just needs one bath a week and some good grain-free food," she said.

Following the barbecue, the volunteers began visiting their charges. Peandntilde;a brought out a high-strung Jack Russell terrier named Mister.

When he came into the shelter, Buckles said, Mister was "all teeth," and would nip at anyone who approached him. Now, Buckles said, he's a "lover boy" to his caregivers.

Carver said this change is due to Peandntilde;a's "hot dog therapy" of using wieners to reward good behavior. Mister covered Peandntilde;a with kisses when she picked him up.

"Mister Mister kisser kisser!" Carver shouted.

"Hope your husband doesn't get jealous," Buckles joked.

While the animal shelter's volunteers get such joy out of playing with and caring for their charges, Carver said their most important job is to promote the animals and get them loving homes.

"We volunteer a lot of time and money," Carver said. "We network them all over Facebook and Petfinder. We usually take their pictures and put them on KCRE."

Steele said when she began volunteering at the shelter, she was scared that she would get too attached.

"But they really get such good care that I don't feel that bad to leave them," she said.

Carver agreed.

"You just want to make them adoptable and help them get successful good homes," she said. "More than food and water a dog needs companionship. They thrive on companionship."

Reach Jessica Cejnar at