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Shelter volunteer has soft spot for shy dogs

Rebecca Storey’s favorite dogs are the shy ones that can be easy to overlook.

The Southern Oregon Humane Society volunteer will spend days with new arrivals at the Medford shelter, hanging out with them in their kennels.

“I really like the shy pups. I like to bring them out of their shell,” Storey said. “Sometimes you just sit with them and talk and don’t even touch them so they can start to trust you. Little by little, they’ll come over. They’re scared. They’re not used to having love. They want human contact, but they’re afraid.”

The volunteer with a soft spot for the most vulnerable dogs is the January recipient of the Jackson County Board of Commissioners’ Community Service Award.

Storey started volunteering for the Southern Oregon Humane Society — also known as SoHumane — almost three years ago. She does everything from laundry to kennel cleaning to dog walking.

SoHumane takes in local dogs and cats that need homes. It also operates a Saving Train program. Storey and others travel down to California, picking up shelter dogs that have run out of time and are slated for euthanasia.

“We have great people here who want dogs,” she said of Rogue Valley residents. “We have such nice people who will give homes to these dogs who would otherwise be euthanized.”

Nationwide, more people are adopting animals and fewer owners are giving up their pets during a time of social isolation triggered by the COVID-19 pandemic. But there are still dogs and cats that need homes.

Some are adopted soon after they arrive at SoHumane, but others linger.

One of Storey’s longer-term favorites at the shelter is Shortcake. She’s a sturdy gray and white pitbull mix. Her previous owner cut off most of her ears and overbred her to churn out puppies. She’s now spayed and waiting for a permanent home.

“She’s been a sweetheart from the beginning. She’s the biggest love bug,” Storey said.

Storey moved from California to Medford six years ago following a varied career that included stints as a real estate agent and personal chef.

She’s further endeared herself to the dogs at the shelter with her chicken, rice and sweet potato meatballs. Staff and volunteers can hide medication inside the treats.

Storey said she’s not above bribing some of the shyer dogs with treats to help win them over. For dogs that need to lose weight, she makes high protein treats so they aren’t left out.

She’s taken classes on humane treatment and animal communication, which help her as she socializes dogs to be comfortable with other dogs and people.

On Feb. 6, she’ll travel to California to pick up about two dozen dogs for another Saving Train run. That will kick off an intensive week of helping them get comfortable with people, giving them medication, observing them with other dogs in the SoHumane play yard and figuring out their personalities.

During the pandemic, the public can’t wander through the SoHumane shelter. People can browse the available animals online and then make an appointment to visit with up to three dogs outside.

Adoption visits for cats are being done online through the free Zoom videoconference service.

Storey often helps with off-site adoption events at places like the Grange, PetSmart and Subaru dealerships, but that outreach is on hold for now.

She does everything she can to learn about the personalities — and sometimes the quirks — of the dogs so she can help match them with the right person.

If a dog is a climber, it’s not a good match for a person with a 4-foot-tall chain-link fence. Small, sedate dogs can be perfect lap dogs, providing love and comfort for less active people. Families or people who like to go hiking might pair best with higher energy dogs, she said.

Storey said she falls in love with certain dogs at the shelter. But watching them go is easier when she thinks about the work she and others did to find them the best homes possible.

Storey said she’s made close human friends through her volunteer work at SoHumane, and spending time with the dogs is always a mood-booster.

“They give as much to me as I give to them, especially during this whole COVID thing. They need us as much as we need them. It’s heartwarming and makes you feel good about yourself. You’re doing something meaningful by getting them adopted,” she said.

SoHumane isn’t currently taking on new volunteers because of COVID-19. It has begun to schedule volunteer training classes for March, said Judi Hanstein, support manager and volunteer coordinator for the organization.

For more information about SoHumane and adoptable animals, see sohumane.org or call 541-779-3215.

Reach Mail Tribune reporter Vickie Aldous at valdous@rosebudmedia.com. Follow her on Twitter @VickieAldous.

Andy Atkinson / Mail Tribune Rebecca Storey plays with Short Cakes, a pit mix dog, at Southern Oregon Humane Society in Medford Thursday.
Andy Atkinson / Mail TribuneRebecca Storey plays with Short Cakes, a pit mix dog, at Southern Oregon Humane Society in Medford Thursday.