Homeless Mid-Columbia shelter dogs can get lonely inside their chain-link kennel as they wait to be adopted.
But thanks to a small group of dedicated volunteers, the animals get exercise and companionship.
Debbie Sporcich of Pasco is one of the volunteers who makes time each week to walk the dogs.
"I walk about seven to 10 dogs several times a week," she said. "I try to give each one a unique experience, and they are so happy to get out of that kennel for a while."
Sometimes the dogs are at the shelter for months before being adopted and they need exercise. A good walk also eases their loneliness, Sporcich said.
More volunteers are needed so all the dogs get time outdoors.
"It's so hard to see dogs locked up," she said. "On the average, there are about 90 dogs at the Tri-Cities Animal Shelter, and that's near capacity."
Karen Day of Kennewick walks dogs once a week for the shelters in Pasco and Kennewick.
"I started doing this about four years ago. It's a rewarding experience to bring a little joy into a shelter dog's lonely life," Day said. "I usually walk three dogs each week, and give each one about a 45-minute walk. They love the exercise, and so do I."
Day also brings her camera along and takes photos of the dogs during the walks.
She posts them on the Pasco shelter's Facebook page, adding tips about each dog's behavior so potential owners will get a good idea about the dog's personality. (Search for Tri Cities Animal Shelter & Control Services on Facebook.)
"I had my first experience with pit bulls doing this," Day said. "I'd heard all the horror stories about them, but when I started walking them I found out how sweet and gentle they can be -- not ferocious at all."
Shelters are in need of many volunteers because so many animals are being abandoned and end up in shelters, Day said.
The Benton Franklin Humane Society and Pet Over Population Prevention also welcome volunteers to walk dogs.
"Volunteers can come by themselves if they have gone through our hour-long orientation and are 16 years old," said Elaine Allison, director of the Humane Society.
Allison adds that dogs in shelters have little stamina being cooped up in a kennel all day, so even a short walk can wear them out.
"They are usually pretty happy to go back to their bed and a chew toy after a walk," she said.
The humane society also welcomes volunteers to read to shy dogs, play with kittens or adult cats and take animals off site for field trips.
"We use an online program called Volgistics where our volunteers can log on and pre-select their times based on their schedules," Allison said.
Day said the time investment is nominal and the joys abundant.
"I'm able to walk the dogs at the Pasco shelter any time I want without committing to a schedule," she said. "The Humane Society prefers to have their volunteers sign up for specific days and hours, which I'd be happy to do but it just doesn't work for me."
Day works full time and doesn't always know in advance what day of the week she'll be able to walk, which is why she sticks with the Pasco shelter where there is no set schedule.
"I would feel bad if I signed up for a shift and then had to cancel because of work," she said.
Sporcich said she's "met some amazing dogs on these exercise jaunts. And you just can't imagine how grateful these dogs are when you give them some undivided attention. It just makes you feel good."
Allison and Angela Zilar, director of the Pasco shelter, agree that when volunteers drop by and walk dogs or play with cats, the interaction makes for happier, more content animals.
For more information
Want to be a volunteer dog walker? Contact these animal agencies:
-- Tri Cities Animal Shelter & Control Services, 1312 S. 18th St., Pasco; 545-3740; www.tri-citiesanimalshelter.com
-- Benton Franklin Humane Society, 1736 E. Seventh Ave., Kennewick; 374-4235; www.bfhs.com
-- Pet Over Population Prevention, 524B Warehouse St., Richland; 943-4722; www.popptricities.org
-- Benton County Animal Control facility, 1116 N. Grant Place, Kennewick; 460-4923; http://bit.ly/bentoncountyanimalcontrol