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Monica MacNeille bonds with her new dog, Franco. She since renamed him Sam.


Spreading the four-legged love

13 animals find new homes during Clear the Shelters day at Windham County Humane Society

BRATTLEBORO—Thirteen animals found new homes on Aug. 15 when the Windham County Humane Society (WCHS) participated for the first time in the nationwide Clear the Shelters event.

On this Saturday only, humans in need of new cats and dogs could come to participating shelters across the country and pay what they wanted to adopt a furry friend.

Normally, the Humane Society charges adoption fees from $30 to $300, depending on the species of the animal and its age.

Two hours into the event, director of operations and self-described “queen of all things” Carolyn Conrad walked into the shelter’s lobby and announced to staff and visitors that participating shelters had thus far adopted out 3,441 animals.

By the end of the day, more than 10,000 animals were adopted nationwide in the program organized by NBC Universal-owned television stations.

Choosing this time of year for Clear the Shelters is strategic, said Conrad, explaining that WCHS’s busiest time of year is July and August.

The shelter always takes in many strays and kittens and, with many people moving during the summer, those who abandon their animals also bring them to WCHS.

“Right before this, we were absolutely full,” Conrad said during the event. ”We’re hoping to empty so we can take in other animals.”

The capacity at the shelter varies, she said. Depending on the animals, Conrad said, the Humane Society might be able to co-house more dogs within the 14 kennels. WCHS has room for 45 cats.

Determining how many animals to accept into the no-kill shelter is “a balancing act,” Conrad said.

“The more animals there are, the more stress there is on animals,” she said. But on the other hand, too few animals under the WCHS roof might not provide enough of a selection for potential adopters.

Conrad said many of the shelter’s dogs come from Puerto Rico. “These dogs do speak Spanish,” she said.

The canines find their way from Puerto Rico to Brattleboro via Keene, N.H., where a transport partner who “made a lot of money on Wall Street” now dedicates his time to rescuing dogs.

She said the volunteer rents an airplane and “fits as many dogs on it as he can.” He flies them into the Dillant-Hopkins Airport in Keene, and then they come to the shelter.

The Northeast specifically receives many dogs from Puerto Rico because of this area’s high adoption rate, no-kill shelters, and strong spay-neuter programs, Conrad said. She noted that New England’s shorter breeding season also leaves the area with fewer cats and dogs than in warmer climates.

At the beginning of Clear the Shelters day, Conrad said the WCHS had 12 dogs from Puerto Rico. Nine were available for adoption that day.

Meeting new families

Valerie, a shy, long-haired dog, was being processed for adoption partway through the day for one couple, accompanied by two children. The man threw out suggestions for Valerie’s new name to the children, who apparently had exclusive voting rights.

“How about ‘Poquito’? That means ‘little,’” he told the kids.

“No!” they yelled in unison.

After a few more tries, the man sounded defeated.

“How about ‘Dave’?” he asked.

Meanwhile, Conrad said to a visitor, “You must meet Sebastian!”

She then brought out a five-year-old Shih Tzu mix with a wiry, gray-and-white coat. Without much prompting, Sebastian proceeded to kiss anyone within licking distance of his face.

Vicki Shepard, one of WCHS’s adoption counselors, introduced Blondie, a 7-year-old dog who circled around the lobby, looking for treats and someone to scratch her behind the ears.

“I met her in Puerto Rico,” Shepard said. “She’s so much less stressed now than she was there.”

Shepard, who also spends a lot of time with the shelter’s cats, assisted adoption counselor Jessalyn Pennington with Vaughn as the black-and-white kitten interacted with his new family in the shelter’s Cat Room.

Marci Henderson and Lynn Manning, Vaughn’s new owners, have an older blue point Siamese cat and a Persian mix, but the two cats do not interact much, Henderson said.

She and Manning decided a friendly, playful kitten is what the Siamese needs.

“He’s so lonesome right now,” Henderson said.

“Kittens are all potential,” Shepard observed.

Shepard said that earlier in the day she adopted out Twix, a “long-term cat” who was her favorite.

”She’s a little chubby. She has her own little fan club. We’re so glad she found her home,” she said. “I used to cry at almost every adoption. I miss them all, but mostly I cry from relief.”

The circle of life

Back in the lobby, as Monica MacNeille was signing some papers at the desk, she told a visitor she felt a little blue when she woke up that morning.

She said she immediately thought, “I’ll walk Savannah.” Spending time with her dog always made her feel better.

Then MacNeille remembered Savannah is no more. A few weeks ago, she had to put down her beloved dog when Savannah was suddenly beset with seizures — she might have had a stroke, MacNeille said.

“I guess I’ll bring Savannah’s things to the Humane Society” as a donation, MacNeille thought to herself.

But she knew that in all likelihood, she would bring a dog back home with her.

”I called my best friend and asked her if I should adopt a new dog,” MacNeille said. After a question-and-answer period, the friend told MacNeille she heard no compelling reason for her not to get one.

“I am adopting Franco,” MacNeille said happily, referring to the energetic young dog with the wiry, black-and-white coat who tugged at his leash as he sniffed around the room.

“But I’m going to change his name, because, you know, the dictator,” she said.

“You know he’s a street dog, right?” Canine Specialist Charlene Dandrea asked MacNeille.

After noting Franco’s medical exams checked out and he is in good health, Dandrea asked MacNeille about other pets in the house. When MacNeille mentioned her chickens, she also acknowledged her understanding that Franco might kill some of them.

“I’ll introduce him to the biggest roosters first,” she said, hoping that would teach the young dog a lesson.

”He’s probably not house-trained. You need to teach him leash-walking,” Dandrea said.

“That’s okay,” MacNeille said. “I’ve house-trained other dogs.”

Franco — or the dog formerly known as Franco — is MacNeille’s second dog from the Windham County Humane Society: Savannah also came from the shelter.

MacNeille described the entire decision-making process that led her to adopt Savannah.

“She put her paws up on the little door” separating the staff area from the shelter’s lobby, MacNeille said. “She gave me kisses, and then I took her home.”

Savannah was 12 years old when MacNeille adopted her. “I highly recommend people adopt senior dogs,” she said. “They’re so well-behaved. Senior dogs are awesome.”

MacNeille said she encountered no problems teaching the old dog new tricks.

“I taught a 12-year-old dog 10 tricks!” she said.

Upon overhearing that, a volunteer remarked, “Yeah, it’s only people who can’t learn new tricks.”

Then MacNeille led her new dog out the door. And, from one end of the leash to the other, the training began.

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Originally published in The Commons issue #319 (Wednesday, August 19, 2015). This story appeared on page A1.

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