Sometimes the smallest acts of kindness make the biggest differences. Local hero Robert Ward has been volunteering at the Humane Society of Pulaski County for a little over six months. He is passionate about serving these wonderful animals who are so desperately in need, and he is quick to point out how they have changed his life for the better.
The HSPC is a "no kill" shelter. Because the dogs and cats stay there for the rest of their lives if they are not adopted, it is essential they get exercise and loving attention outside of the cages just like any other pet. The shelter is staffed by generous and loving folks, but in this case, more is definitely better. For this reason, they depend on volunteers who give of their time to support these dogs and cats. Human interaction makes them more adoptable and gives them socialization skills.
"These animals are, for the most part, just abandoned. Some come from other shelters. Some are involved in court cases. I chose this place because it is a no-kill shelter, and I don't see any reason why the animals should be put down if there is nothing wrong with them," Mr. Ward said.
The day of our interview, we are outside in the facility's play park with a beautiful carmel-colored Chow and shepherd mix named Desaro.
"See how he's prancing around? He's having fun," Robert said. "When he's happy, I'm happy! I'd take this one home if I had a yard. My favorite part is the interaction with these dogs because they appreciate it, they show it, and they give it back to you right away. You get the rewards immediately. It's good therapy for both me and the dogs."
In 2004 Robert moved back to Little Rock from Oklahoma, where he worked as a bail bondsman, for radiation treatment at UAMS Radiation Treatment Center. Much like the dogs, he is a courageous survivor. He's seen it all, and he has been free of laryngeal cancer for eight years.
When asked what his experience taught him he said, "Don't take anything for granted. That's why I help. I've always liked dogs. Unlike humans, they love unconditionally. They remind me to do that, too." He volunteers from four to seven times a week.
"He's here so much, I thought he worked here!" Nathaniel Patrick, a new employee at the shelter, said. "Even folks who come one hour a week make a huge difference. Robert is special."
"He's out here every day. Dedicated. Every day," said Sheldon Walker, a 12-year employee of the HSPC. "We need more like him. This is what we do: save animals. It's all we do."
Robert said some volunteers come one day a week for an hour and "that's great. Just give what you can. The rewards are many."
The shelter is caring for some animals involved in abuse or neglect cases, and they are not available for adoption until the courts have ruled.
Robert said, "I think those people should be put in the same category as those people who would abuse or neglect a kid. That's basically what they are, four-legged kids."
The shelter has many types of dogs. Tina, for example, is a Labrador and Staffordshire terrier mix, who is loving, kind and playful. "There are also nine blue healer mixed pups that were found in a box in the cemetery. Eight survived. They are about four months old and are currently being treated for skin allergies.," Robert said.
A not-for-profit organization, the shelter benefits from donations of dog/cat food, treats, bath towels, collars and harnesses, isolation gowns, alcohol, peroxide, portable electric heaters, etc. A full list of needs can be found at warmhearts.org.
If you feel inspired to give of your free time to these worthy little souls, Robert has some advice: "Mainly anyone who has experience with animals, or especially lovers of animals, would be great at this. You need to be patient too, because some of these dogs are still in training for leashes and such. If you have time, come spread the love! They need people who love cats as well."
Mr. Patrick said working with the animals gives him the freedom to just be himself. "No judgement, no expectation, just love. I can't really describe how profound it is working with these animals."
The most important piece of advice Robert has for every pet owner: "I know I'm stealing Bob Barker's line here, but, 'Spay and neuter your pets!'"
Mr. Walker agrees. "Spay and neuter! We have a lot, too many, strays that suffer. It's not necessary. People should really be responsible."
Doug Ragsdale of the shelter said many of the dogs are helping returned soldiers heal PTSD and providing loving peace for assisted living patients. When asked about Robert's contribution, Mr. Ragsdale said, "He gives them love so they can give it to others."
To become a volunteer one must attend a volunteer orientation. They are generally held every other Monday at 6 p.m. at the shelter. It's a good idea to call and check before coming.
One last bit of advice from Robert, "If you show up, you're the right kind of person [to work with animals]. You never know how far your small act of kindness will expand into the community."