Can you imagine devoting your entire life to pets in need? That’s exactly what Sarah Warren has done, working 80 hours a week to save pets before returning home to care for her foster dogs.
How do you help a homeless Pit Bull? Just ask Patty Montes, who specializes in socializing and training large, hard-to-adopt bully breeds who land at her local shelter.
These are just a few of the inspiring pet lovers we’re recognizing this month as part of our Heroes of the Month series, in collaboration with Adopt-a-Pet.com. This month, we’re celebrating animal allies who’ve improved the lives of countless pets, including a veterinary technician who works tirelessly to improve the health of pets in her community; an animal lover who works to rehabilitate “problem pets;” and a volunteer who turns the simple task of a daily walk into life-changing moments for homeless dogs.
Delaware: Sarah Warren Saves Pets’ Lives Around the Clock
If you spent 80 hours each week working with animals, you might want to spend your time at home resting or catching up on the latest Netflix craze. But not Sarah Warren. This animal lover works two full-time jobs in Milford, Delaware: as a veterinary technician at a local vet practice, and as medical director of Grass Roots Rescue where she monitors the pets and keeps records to ensure each one receives the care they need. Then, when she’s off-duty, she returns home to a ragtag pack of dogs—some fosters, and some whom she’s adopted—who also need her love and attention.
That adds up to a lifetime spent in service of pets. But for Warren, the instinct to help animals in need is strong, and the rewards make all her hard work worthwhile—even if it makes her pets at home a little grumpy, she jokes.
“My personal animals are not always thrilled with it,” she laughs, “but if (a dog) is really sick or needs a little extra attention, I take them into my house. I also get the poorly behaved dogs that need to learn manners; we call it their boot camp.” In the year and half that she’s volunteered for Grass Roots Rescue, Warren has helped rehabilitate about 40 foster dogs who were later adopted.
When she’s not helping the dogs themselves, Warren is helping other foster parents in Grass Roots’ network. She’s an around-the-clock resource of information for foster moms and dads who might have questions about anything from a strange new behavior to proper care of a unique medical condition.
“A lot of our foster parents are really great and willing to try anything, so I make myself available to them, too,” she says. “If they take a medical case home and they have questions, I tell them to message me directly.”
Warren has always been drawn to difficult cases. In high school, she volunteered at a shelter in Wilmington, taking in feral cats and trying to make them adoptable. That’s when she first realized she could fill a crucial role for animals in need. And though her experience and understanding of pets and their medical needs has grown immeasurably since then, the feeling of making a difference has remained the same.
“Getting pets back to where they need to be and going off to a new family, it makes all the hard work really worth it,” she says.
Nevada: Patty Montes Is a Bully Breed Booster
Patty Montes likes a challenge. As a volunteer trainer at the Animal Foundation in Las Vegas, Nevada, she seeks out the “problem pets,” the large, sometimes difficult bully breeds and other dogs who are too often overlooked by potential adopters, and makes finding them a home her mission. Take Rocky, for example, a big, strong, hard-to-handle Pit Bull mix who had been at the Animal Foundation for more than a year.
“This dog was overlooked,” she recalls. “I noticed that nobody was asking for him.”
Montes started giving the dog extra attention by taking him for walks, and found him to be receptive to socialization. Using techniques she learned at the Animal Foundation, and drawing on her three years of expertise in training and socializing bully breeds, she helped Rocky overcome his behavioral issues. Eventually, “the right person for this dog” came to the shelter, she says, a prospective pet parent with the time, patience and know-how to continue Rocky’s progress in his forever home.
“She was the perfect fit,” Montes says. “That was a really happy adoption.”
Montes, 55, is originally from Mexico and has lived in Las Vegas for more than 30 years. An animal lover her whole life, Montes has been volunteering with the Animal Foundation, Nevada’s largest animal shelter, for about three years. She helps the Spanish-speaking community navigate the adoption process, in addition to socializing and training large and bully breed dogs and matching them with compatible owners.
“Even though I love animals, before volunteering at the Animal Foundation, I didn’t know how to interact better with your animal, train your animal, understand your animal,” she says. The Animal Foundation provided training that taught Montes how to read dogs’ body language and notice other cues that help her better communicate and connect with pets.
Today, she uses that knowledge to help with the shelter’s Academy for Canine Etiquette, which uses the Canine Good Citizen techniques developed by the American Kennel Club to help dogs become more adoptable. Then it’s a matter of finding the right human companion.
“Some of them require an experienced person who has already had animals before, and it’s not their first dog,” she said. “We take all of those things into consideration. … My purpose, my objective, is to help them find the right home.”
Colorado: Janet Bennett Walks Dogs in All Weather
Have you ever avoided walking your dog outside during a snowstorm? Not Janet Bennett. The volunteer dog walker helps out at Teller County Regional Animal Shelter in Divide, Colorado, where snow and freezing temperatures are a fact of life. And with one notable exception—the bomb cyclone, aka “mega blizzard” that descended on the Mountain West last winter—the weather has never kept her from walking the dogs.
“Cold doesn’t bother me too much,” she says with a laugh.
Far more troubling, she says, is the idea of homeless pets spending their days in cages when they could be out getting fresh air and valuable socialization. A walk with Bennett isn’t a simple stroll, she says. It’s a chance to learn about each dog and gather valuable information that can help them find their forever homes. That’s why Bennett carries a notebook and camera on her walks to document the pets’ characteristics and behaviors for potential adopters.
“A lot of the shelter dogs, because they are in kennels and cages most of the day, they so enjoy getting out on a walk,” she says. “Plus, it helps to make them more adoptable if you have somebody who can teach them to walk nicely on a leash and not jump on other people or dogs.”
Bennett would know—she’s been working in animal welfare for decades. Before she moved to Colorado to help her ailing mother, she worked to launch a humane society in Culpeper, Virginia. Now, she works full-time at a dog training and daycare facility, and also spends time fundraising and planning events for the Teller County shelter.
But her main role as a volunteer, she says, is dog-walker, a job she’s taken seriously since first volunteering with the shelter in 2006. She’s long since lost track of how many dogs she’s helped socialize on her weekly walks in every type of weather, but she knows that’s where she makes the biggest impact. The ultimate reward, she says, is knowing you’re helping the dog at the end of your leash find their forever home.
“It makes a world of difference,” she says, “when they go up for adoption, if they already have some of those basic walking and social skills.”
Find out how to support Teller County Regional Animal Shelter here.