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Local humane society survives with help of volunteers

When most people think about volunteering at the Friends of Animals Humane Society in Cloquet, they think of playing with cute, fuzzy little puppies. While this can be true, there is a wide variety of openings that need to be filled to keep the s...

Alicia Roehler
Alicia Roehler prefers to help with the cats when she volunteers at Friends of Animals. Jamie Lund/Pine Journal

When most people think about volunteering at the Friends of Animals Humane Society in Cloquet, they think of playing with cute, fuzzy little puppies. While this can be true, there is a wide variety of openings that need to be filled to keep the shelter operating smoothly.

Courtney Kovatovich, 23, is the volunteer coordinator, as well as weekend supervisor at the animal shelter. She also has a full-time veterinarian technician job and volunteers at jobs that just "need to get done and no one else is doing them," such as updating and maintaining the FOA Facebook page.

Keeping the animals updated in all of the various media outreach sites is very important because it maintains the exposure needed to keep adoption rates up. It makes a huge difference, Kovatovich said. Without it the general public would not know which animals are available for adoption.

On average there are roughly 12 dogs and 20-plus cats at the shelter on a given day.

When looking for a volunteer, Kovatovich looks for someone who loves animals, will play nicely with them and is willing to do some "dirty" work. If a volunteer discovers the job they are doing just isn't their cup of tea, Kovatovich will try to match them up with something else more suited to them.

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Some of the volunteer opportunities available right now include helping clean kennels, walking dogs, repairing kitty condos or repairing old blankets and cutting them down for other uses after a bored dog has chewed them up. (To view more opportunities, a full list is on the shelter web site, www.foaonline.org .)

Currently there are about 50 volunteers working a variety of jobs around their lives, school and work.

Jim Nelson is one of those volunteers. The lanky 63-year-old volunteered to walk dogs after he retired in October 2007. He had wanted to volunteer for a while, but it never fit into his busy schedule. The walking helps keep him healthy as he has type 2diabetes, a win-win situation for Nelson and the animals he cares for.

Nelson also brings a dog to the Tuesday Tails television show for a five minute segment on the Channel 6 news at 5 p.m.

"It's so rewarding ... it makes you a better person," said Nelson. "I'll be here 'til I die."

Nelson has adopted two shelter dogs, Lady, a basset mix, and JR, an energetic Jack Russell, who are best friends.

His nightmare-come-true story happened several years ago with a pug/Boston terrier mix-breed named Oreo. Nelson put on the leash and opened the door; immediately, the little dog popped his head out of the leash and ran off. A dismayed Nelson tried to catch Oreo but he was not going to give up his new-found freedom so easily. The volunteers searched for the little runaway, but finally had to give up. A few hours later a tired little Oreo came to the back door of the shelter and barked to come in for dinner. Now all dogs are double leashed.

Fifty-three-year-old Alicia Roehler works full time as an account representative for an export company in Duluth but still volunteers six or seven hours on Saturdays to help with the cats.

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A first-time volunteer, Roehler likes animals, but has a full house with eight cats, all rescues. Roehler plays with the cats at the shelter and grooms them.

She also takes their photographs and uploads them to the petfinders web site.

"I enjoy the satisfaction of someone saying 'I saw your pictures on a web site,' then they adopt" she said.

She said the group of volunteers is fun to work with.

Nelson agreed.

"They become family," he said.

What Roehler dreams of some day is a special housing for feline leukemia-positive cats similar to Home For Life based in Stillwater, Minn. Placing the cats is very difficult because the leukemia is contagious, so they cannot be placed in a home with healthy cats.

Volunteer groups are accepted on an individual basis. There are Girl Scouts who use the volunteering to fulfill badge requirements. While they are not allowed to work with the animals due to insurance issues, they help clean, wash dishes and organize, which is also necessary.

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A non-profit organization like the Friends of Animals relies on volunteers to keep operating.

"This would not be possible without them," said Kovatovich. "We love them dearly."

In order to volunteer at the Friends of Animals in Cloquet, you need to be at least 16 years old, have your own insurance and be up to date on your tetanus shot. Call 218-879-1655 or visit www.foaonline.org for more information.

Related Topics: CARLTON COUNTYCLOQUET
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