by JULIE GRAY
Whether they are dog walkers or cat caregivers, volunteers are a big part of the operation of the Brown County Humane Society (BCHS), 128 S. Ind. 135 in Nashville. One important volunteer program, known as S.P.O.T., is celebrating its 10th anniversary this year. Twice a month, two Serving Pets Outreach Teams fan out across Brown County to deliver food and supplies directly to pet owners.
“The program allows us to meet people where they are,” says Erika Imhoof, the shelter’s volunteer and communications manager. “We can develop personal relationships.” And so, the S.P.O.T. volunteers do more than deliver pet supplies—they become pet counselors.
For example, while providing straw to line outdoor dog kennels, volunteers may talk about kinder alternatives to chaining dogs up. And when they see litters of kittens or puppies, they may talk about the shelter’s low-cost spay/neuter program.
All that talk has been persuasive. In February, the BCHS altered its 6,000th pet, and its intake of strays and unwanted pets has fallen by half since the S.P.O.T. program began.
The spay and neuter surgeries are conducted at Bloomington’s Pets Alive clinic, but BCHS heavily subsidizes the cost of the procedures. The goal is to make the surgeries so affordable, “there’s no excuse not to get your pet fixed,” Imhoof says.
Finding homes for pets that have been surrendered is one of the shelter’s most important jobs. Imhoof tells the story of Smokey Joe, a senior pit bull who was adopted and returned four times before finding his forever home this spring. The shelter staff knew Smokey Joe was sweet, playful, and loved people, so they recognized that the problem was not with the dog but with the shelter’s messaging. In order to rectify the situation, staff and volunteers mounted a Smokey Joe publicity blitz that included flyers, online videos, and community meet-and-greets.
A local family, the Hardens, was won over, but they were moving to nearby Nineveh and didn’t want to put Smokey Joe through more disruptions. When they heard he was still available after their move, however, they swept in and swept him up. “It has been working out wonderfully,” says Imhoof.