Need a friend? 'Pets as Pals' program can save a life

News-DemocratJuly 23, 2013 

Usually there is nothing like animals to wow a crowd, and that was true Tuesday at Programs and Services for Older Persons in Belleville.

Mandy, a 3-month-old shepherd puppy mix, and Loretta, an 18-month-old cat, both from the Dr. Tom Amlung St. Clair County Animal Adoption Center, 1250 S. 11th St. in Belleville, showed off in different ways.

Mandy sniffed around curiously, mixing with all the people, happily licking any hand offered her and even checking out a loaf of bread in one woman's cart.

Loretta also showed her curiosity but in a more aloof cat way. The white cat with gray markings swished her beautiful fluffy gray tail as she paraded back and forth on a table.

Together they charmed the small group of people there to learn more about pets in the "Pets as Pals" program sponsored by the St. Clair County Office on Aging.

Unfortunately one presenter was unable to attend because of an emergency at an animal clinic, so the program was cut short. People still received some handouts outlining the benefits of having a pet, which included companionship, comfort, health, exercise, fun and adding structure and routine to your life.

Tabitha Keefe, community affairs coordinator, and Chelsea Gutgsell, manager of the Amlung adoption center, asked the group for volunteers to help with the center's animals.

The idea is to get people who will interact with the pets that are up for adoption. It will help the pets and make the people feel useful as well, Keefe said.

The center offers an orientation program for new volunteers at 11 a.m. every Saturday in the adoption center lobby.

After that, volunteers can help at a number of things, including adoption events where the animals go to a business for more exposure to possible adopters, walking dogs, bathing dogs and socializing cats.

"We don't make you clean," Keefe said.

Volunteers can work any number of hours, any day when the shelter is open, which is 1 p.m. to 5 p.m., Monday through Friday and 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Saturday.

The two women also promoted pet adoption, at their center or anywhere else animals are sheltered.

"When you adopt an animal, you're saving that life and you're saving the life of another animal that can take its place in the center," Gutgsell said.

For more information on volunteering, or adopting, you can call the adoption center at 618 235-0585, ext. 2.

Have a column idea? Call Wally at 239-2506 or 800-642-3878; or email: wspiers@bnd.com

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