It can be a simple gesture – the hug. But to a homeless pet that lives in a shelter, it can be a lifeline. That’s why one retiree in Johnson City devotes so much time to the practice of hugging shelter animals. Her specialty is the doggie embrace.
“I love the dogs,” said Mary Ann Stanislowsky. “I just love ‘em all. I get so much joy and happiness from them. They’re so giving and loving, they don’t judge you, they’re always there for you.”
Mary Ann has her own rescue dog and 3 rescue cats at home. Then she spends 3.5 hours with the pups at the Washington County/Johnson City, TN Animal Shelter almost every Friday, Saturday and Sunday.
“When I first get there I give each dog a treat if they want one,” she explained. “Then while I do the treats I look in their kennels to see if they need to be cleaned – pick up poo and mop up pee – sometimes the floor needs to be squeegeed because the dogs’ water bowls may tip over. Then when all that is done I go in and just love on them or sometimes play with them but the kennel is small so I do more petting than playing.”
The gentle touch of human hands is almost unimaginable for many of the dogs Mary Ann sees.
“Some of the dogs never had any human contact. Others miss it where they probably did have love before they came to the shelter,” said Mary Ann. “Then there are the ones that just don’t trust people until someone takes the time to earn their trust. Some say that I do good by being with them, even if only for 5 to 10 minutes when I sit with the dogs.”
“Any little bit of time she can spend with the dogs that is a positive and relaxing experience for them can help make a difference,” said Ali Fleming with Off Leash K9 Training/Tri-Cities. “Dogs who spend a lot of time in a shelter can get depressed and start to exhibit bad behaviors from the anxiety they have developed from being kenneled. This [human contact] very well could save the life of that dog by helping prevent the dog from ever exhibiting behaviors that may keep them from being adopted.”
Ali added that for the dogs that aren’t so comfortable with close human contact and need their personal space, there are many other ways you can provide them with a positive people experience.
“They may benefit from being taken on a walk or having someone throw a ball with them instead!” suggested Ali.
Mary Ann does so much for these precious pets. Part of helping them get comfortable and settled as they wait to be adopted is making sure they are free of pest infestations.
“Most of the new arrivals that come in are full of fleas and ticks and that is where I come in and do my thing using a flea comb and powder to rid them of either one or both,” said Mary Ann. “The ones that I take care of are so happy that they are not being bitten anymore and once they are treated and cleaned are so much more willing to be handled and loved on. That makes me feel good that they are more acceptable to people that come looking for a new family member.”
A new family member ready for even more hugs. And it makes Mary Ann’s heart happy when she gets to witness those special gotcha moments as her beloved shelter pets become part of their human packs to live out their lives surrounded by love.
In the meantime, Mary Ann will continue the doggie embraces – making such a tangible difference for these precious lives.
“All I know is that when they see me coming they are all so very happy with tails wagging and barking for me to hurry up and get to them!” smiled Mary Ann.
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