Walking Shelter Dogs: Year in Review

About a year ago, I was surfing the Pet Ads thinking about adding a pit bull to my collection. Charmed by a photo of a brindle boy named Hugo at a nearby Humane Society, the synapses connected and I signed up to volunteer walking shelter dogs.

I’ve walked lots of dogs during the past year (see all their pictures here), and pretty much fantasize about adopting each one. As I work my way up the mile-long trail, I imagine how they would fit in with Mia and Leo. I tend to call all girl dogs “Princess” and all boy dogs “Buddy,” but sometimes I think of what I might rename them if they were mine. One sweet Dutch shepherd didn’t have a name on her kennel, but on our walk she became Heidi. At the time, the shelter was having a promotion where you could pay $5 to name a dog. I got quite excited about naming her, but it turned out she’d already been named Arlene. By my next visit, she’d been adopted.

I make an effort to walk dogs that have been there a while, not the easy dogs that everyone loves to walk. Those dogs get adopted quickly anyway. A lot of the dogs I walk can only go to homes with no other pets, which is a problem, because most experienced dog owners already have dogs, and the dogs that can’t be around other dogs often have other challenges requiring an experienced owner.

Whenever I hear of one of the dogs getting adopted, I note it in my Facebook album. Unfortunately, I don’t hear about every adoption, and even more unfortunately, not every dog is adoptable. The first dog who broke my heart was Maverick. I could tell he was losing it. After our walks, he wouldn’t let me leave his kennel. I’d go in with him to take off his harness, and he jumped and grabbed my arm in his mouth and blocked the door, trying to make a break for it as I attempted to exit. I wasn’t surprised to hear that he bit a staffer and had to be moved to the old building. What happens there we don’t like to talk about, but that’s the reality of dog rescue. Not every dog can be saved. Some dogs go “kennel crazy,” becoming less and less adoptable the longer they’re confined to the kennel.


Part of me wanted to say, Wait, wait, I’ll take Maverick. But I didn’t even know if Maverick was house-trained. He lifted his leg and peed in the corners of the shelter halls as I walked him outside. I hadn’t been able to clicker-train him to sit. I had to stand on his leash to keep him from jumping up and head-butting me. He also sat in my lap and kissed my face. I loved him.

But animal rescues have a responsibility not to adopt out dogs who might be dangerous. A woman in Tacoma has come under fire for her efforts to save all the dogs.

That’s something I’ve had to come to terms with. A few other dogs I’ve loved have gone to the old building. Some of them I think I could have adopted if I didn’t already have dogs. The other day as I walked a one-year-old girl they’re calling Sassafras but I’ve decided to call Kiki, a song started running through my head: Katy Perry’s The One that Got Away.

In another life, I would be your girl.


In another life, I could save them all.

The good news is that most of them do find wonderful homes. I’d pretty much lost hope for a heeler mix named Evan, who bounced off the walls of his kennel when I walked by, and a Lab-Dane named Clarkson, who’d been returned twice and had been there almost a year. Evan and Clarkson both got adopted on the same day in September.

So I will not lose hope again. There is a home for every dog!

Walking shelter dogs is one small thing that I can do every week to make a difference in the lives of homeless pets. It hurts too much to think of all the dogs that don’t find homes, and sometimes I feel guilty because I can only walk, at most, three or four dogs each time I volunteer. I can’t bear to look at the big picture, so I think of the Starfish Story, and know that I made a difference that day for those three or four dogs.

It made a difference for that one.

Blog the ChangeThis post is part of the Blog the Change for Animals Blog Hop.

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Published by Kari Neumeyer

Writer, editor, dog mom, ovarian cancer survivor

37 thoughts on “Walking Shelter Dogs: Year in Review

  1. Oh my gosh. I feel so bad for Maverick… And I was so wrapped up in your post, when you mentioned the Starfish story, I scrolled back up to see which dog was Starfish! Beautiful post. Thank you.

  2. The little things matter most to all dogs, in the shelter or in our homes. Every second I spend focused on my dogs and only my dogs, even if it’s just a smiling glance, makes my dogs hearts sing. And you do that for three or four dogs a week. Thank you. Thank you so much.

  3. Wonderful post. I often wonder if that challenging dog at the shelter could fit in with Veruca and Ava at our house. The answer is usually not, but sometimes we do foster those challenging dogs in hopes of giving them a chance for socialization and adoption. It really is about the what you can do in that moment to help make the lives of that animal the best that it can be. I think you are doing that with your walks at the shelter. That extra bit of attention and caring goes a long way. Thanks for sharing.

  4. Aw, geez, Kiki and Maverick. It’s a wonderful thing you do, and I know some people shy away from the tough jobs like shelter volunteering and fostering because they would get to attached or too sad, but I think it’s so important to do the best we can and honor each and every dog even when we *can’t* save them all. I’d love to do this myself – my transport requests for Norwegian Elkhound rescue have been few and far between lately. Off to read the Starfish story, and agree with another commenter that it would make a cool dog name!

    Thank you for blogging (and AUTHORING!) the change.

    1. Thanks for tipping me off about the blog hop! Kiki is really calling to me … If I can get Rob to meet her, and if she gets along with Mia and Leo… Who knows… Just when things are going so smoothly with our current dogs, I start pining to mix things up with another one.

  5. What a beautiful post. I have the same “save them all” mentality, which can be really hard to deal with. I need to get back in the routine of walking dogs at our local shelter again. I feel guilty that I haven’t been around in a few months.

    1. Thank you. I know how it is. I feel guilty that I can’t do more. But we can only do so much, you know? When I see other volunteers there, I’m hopeful that there are enough of us to keep those doggies happy.

  6. You are awesome for walking shelter dogs – and I wouldn’t be surprised if you said doing so was your favorite part of the past year! You are so right, there is something each and everyone of us can do to help shelter pets. Based on our time, talents, interests….we all can make a difference for one or more pets. What lucky dogs – enjoy!

    Thank you for being – and blogging- the change for animals!

  7. It is wonderful that you take the time to walk the shelter doggies. No matter where they end up, at least they had some fun time with you. Thanks for linking up to the Barks and Bytes hop.

  8. I walk/play with dogs once/week at the shelter too. Sounds like we have very similar thoughts! I fantasize about bringing some of them home. Usually as soon as i have the thought “If you’re still here next week, I’m SERIOUSLY going to consider bringing you home” then they’re never there the next week.(I’ve found this is a power that can’t be abused. 🙂 I gotta really mean, and then the dog gets a home!) Also, I do the same – the girls are all Sweetpea and the boys are all Buddy. And I also have come to terms with the fact that not every dog can (or even should…) be saved. Sometimes it’s just too risky. But, at the shelter where I volunteer the vast majority of the dogs get adopted out, eventually. And they get a lot of love from all the volunteers and the folks that work there. Some days I feel lazy and don’t want to go all the way up there, but it’s always very rewarding and totally worth it!

  9. You are doing such a great thing!! I hope that the happy stories outweigh the sad ones. It can’t be easy, and I admire you for doing it. Maybe some day one will come along that will fit into your household.

    1. The happy stories do outweigh the sad ones. I was pretty shaken up the day I found out about Maverick, but I always leave feeling happy about the time I got to spend with the dogs I walked.

  10. Every time you walk those dogs they’re getting a treat. What a wonderful gift.

    We foster dogs for our local shelter. Because my dog Honey is so tolerant we occasionally take dogs that don’t have great dog skills. But the greatest need is for foster households that don’t already have other dogs.

    Those are the ones who tug at my heart too.

  11. I’m so glad you walk the dogs, it’s such an amazing gift to be able to give them. A chance to be a dog once in a while. The kennel crazy dogs break my heart – they’re usually the ones that had me crying during their surrender as they start to panic. It’s so hard to see them watch their owner walk away, it’s heartbreaking. Thank you for being courageous enough to deal with the heartache and give them something to look forward to. I’m always having to remind myself that I can’t save them all either, no matter what my heart is feeling, I just can’t.

  12. What a lovely post! I’m glad I read this since I’m thinking about volunteering at an animal shelter again. Everyday at my work as a vet tech is often filled with sadness, but I’m glad you reminded me about the dogs at the shelter who break your heart like Maverick. As hard as it is, you just have to keep reminding yourself that you’re doing something good for them to hopefully make them happier if even for a minute, even if it’s in their last days. I think as long as you’re doing something, no matter how tiny, to make a difference, it’s worth it.

  13. What a beautiful post, thank you for adding it to the blog hop.

    The sad reality of rescue is not all dogs can be saved. It’s a very hard, sad lesson to learn. I’m glad the dogs at least have someone that cares for them and walks them and works on training them. You are making a difference, every time you walk a dog, or teach a command you are making a difference. Hold on to that, especially when the ones come along that break your heart.

  14. I’ve thought occasionally about volunteering at the animal shelter. What holds me back is the heartbreak I know awaits. A post like this makes me reconsider. You have such a strong spirit. So true, that no matter what the issue, we can only do what we can do.

  15. I love that you was the dogs who don’t get that attention from others. Volunteers certainly have limitations and, in my rescue, we absolutely understand that not everybody can handle the 95 pound ball of pure energy. But these truly are the dogs that need walks the most. You philosophy is what saves dogs like them. Thank you for giving them the best chance possible. Beautiful post.

    Thanks for blogging the change!
    Kim C. at Be The Change for Animals

  16. Thank you so much for doing what you’re doing! I’m sure all the dogs love you! 🙂
    Thanks especially for walking Sassy. She used to be our family’s dog and we had to give her up. It was so nice to see pictures. 🙂

    1. Thank you so much for commenting. Sassy is the most beautiful dog, and I fell completely in love with her the first time I met her. That must have been hard to give her up. Every time I walked her, I wanted to bring her home with me, so I was just delighted when I saw the picture of her with her new family. Pretty sure they love her as much as we do.

      1. Thanks. 🙂 It was pretty hard, but it helped still having her brother, Bullwinkle, still. Two hyper puppies was just a little much. 😉

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