Society cares for lonely pets

Jennifer Fry suffers from a severe case of puppy love.

The MU graduate decided to volunteer at the Central Missouri Humane Society while enrolled as a student two and a half years ago.

"I cleaned the puppy cages," Fry said. "I always loved animals. I knew the Humane Society needed volunteers."

Fry now serves as the interim manager of the not-for-profit society, which takes in homeless or abandoned animals from 20 counties in Missouri. The society's objective is to place animals, originally unwanted, in good homes.

"We take anything," Fry said. "We take animals at our front door. Just last week, we took a dog tied to a post at our front door."

Most of the Humane Society's clients are of the cat and dog variety.

When animals are taken in, adoption agents evaluate the health and temperament of the animals. Animals deemed healthy are put up for adoption. The average stay for an animal is seven days, Fry said.

People interested in bringing home a furry friend can browse the cages and get a feel for the animals' personalities. Several dogs and cats will be up for grabs Thursday, including two litters of rottweiler puppies and a staff favorite, Jack, an English Setter.

Diane Richards is just one customer shopping for a new puppy. Richards, who is from Ashland, is no stranger to the Humane Society.

Four years ago, she adopted Alex, a collie-shepherd mix, when he was just a pup. However, a hunter's stray bullet killed Alex in November.

Richards spent more than an hour playing with Tabla, a brown ball of fur and affection, in the "puppy parlor." It's love at first sight for Tabla, a husky and blue heeler mix with one blue eye and one brown eye, as Richards cradles the sleepy pup like a baby.

"Everybody wants one that's obedient, but that doesn't always happen," she said.

Richards is in search of a good-natured puppy that matches her personality.

"They each choose their own person," she said. "I'll decide today, or he'll be gone."

When browsers find a compatible animal, adopters meet with adoption agents for a 30-minute interview.

"Basically, the point of the interview is to try to educate the potential adopter and make sure they're a good owner," Fry said.

Humane Society staff make sure potential adopters understand the financial and time commitments associated with a pet. Those who live in apartments are required to show signed rental agreements stating that pets are allowed. If adopters own other pets, they must show proof of the vaccination of those other pets.

Fry said they frown upon selecting animals as gifts.

"Adopting for gifts is not a good idea. We suggest gift certificates," Fry said. "January and February, we see a lot of returns. We try to prevent the problem."

While many animal lovers such as Richards keep coming back to the Humane Society, they make every attempt to promote their clients. A web site lists profiles of the available cats and dogs along with photos. Animals also charm during appearance on the local television show Pepper and Friends on Tuesdays and Thursdays.

A local television station features "Pets on Parade," and photos of animals are displayed at The Music Cafe.

Of the 7,000 animals taken in by the Humane Society in 1996, about 3,000 were adopted. Animals that are not adopted or are not fit to be pets are euthanized. Although seeing animals euthanized is difficult, Humane Society secretary Colleen Hale said it's more humane than allowing them to starve to death on the streets.

Hale said she answers critics with statistics.

"One mother cat and her litter can produce 480,000 cats in seven years," she said. "One dog and its babies will produce 60,000 dogs in the same period."

Hale is one of more than 20 employees and 183 volunteers who work at the Humane Society. Volunteers, clad in green aprons, perform a variety of tasks, including walking dogs, cleaning cages, pet visitation and bathing and grooming.

"Most of our volunteers are students, so when the semester changes, or over the summer, we lose them," Fry said.

Volunteers go through a training session, held the third Monday of every month.

Most visitors initially come to play with the dogs and cats. Fry said human contact is crucial for the animals.

"It's really important, especially for puppies, who are at that socialization age," she said.

Hale said she works at the Humane Society for one simple reason.

"I think we all work here because we love animals," she said.

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