If everyone could be as forgiving as Eve Ward is, the kennel at Pinellas County Animal Services would probably be empty. (More on that later.)
But the reality is, people and their pets pour through the doors all day long, filling dozens of cages with barking, whining, anxious dogs of every size, shape and temperament.
Three times a week, Ward spends eight hours volunteering at Animal Services on Ulmerton Road.
“I’m usually one of the last ones to leave. I get up at 3:30 in the morning, open the YMCA on Highland at 5 a.m. and I work until about 8:30 in the morning and, depending on what day it is, I come here,” Ward said.
“So I spend all day cause it’s so much fun … and I’m losing weight! It’s a free weight loss program,” she joked.
Ward’s enthusiasm doesn’t fail her as she enters a room filled with barking dogs, just begging to go on a walk with her, get a pat on the head or a tummy rub.
“It’s not their fault that they’re here,” Ward said.
Ward checks the white board with a spreadsheet listing which dogs have and have not had a walk recently. She decides on “Trixie,” a Shih Tzu brought in just two days ago, and takes her to an outdoor play area. Several other volunteers pass by at a brisk pace with their dogs in tow.
The volunteers clean up, too.
“We tag team cleaning the kennel so they don’t go back to a dirty kennel. I give them fresh water and a Kong (a plastic chew toy that doesn’t disintegrate) to play with,” Ward said.
“You can put goodies (dog treats) inside them. It keeps them occupied a little bit and something they can do inside the kennel and not go totally bonkers.”
Ward said the volunteers buy the Kongs because Animal Services can’t afford them. She spreads the word to other volunteers and donors about needed supplies through social media.
“I’ll put on Facebook, ‘We need grocery bags’, ‘We’re running low on cookies, treats.’ We try to do things because they’ve had a lot of budget cuts."
Eve shows compassion each time she walks or lavishes attention on a dog waiting to be adopted. But she’s also practicing what she preaches.
Five years ago, she adopted a very sick pit bull and introduced him to her current dog, a Labrador named Brandy.
Before opening her heart to Mater, though, Eve had to make sure she had gotten past an incident when she watched another pit bull attack Brandy. Eve said that pit bull was trained to be violent. And that’s what she believes makes all the difference.
“Before him I had negative things with pit bulls. Now I’m on the other side of the spectrum. I know the negative and I know the positive,” Ward said. “It’s a big step for me. It’s not the dog’s fault. It’s the people behind them.”
Now, five years later, Eve said both dogs get along well and are protective of each other.
Eve also volunteers with Rugaz, a pit bull rescue out of New Port Richey.
Ward and other volunteers are trying to make up for a lack of weekend adoption hours at Animal Services by holding adoption clinics around the county. Interested families can actually take an animal home with them from the event; the adoption fee is $20.
“As long as they pass the adoption preview, they can take the animal home that day.”
Ward is also helping another volunteer on a program to help senior citizens adopt “senior” dogs. I live so close by … so I thought what better way to occupy my time?” Ward said.
“I just try to help as much as I can wherever I’m needed.”