Julianna Roche

Winston and Bridget stare silently from their pen, puppy eyes filled with more than just longing. The youthful, 1-year-old Beagle puppies look out with the experiences of an aged dog behind them.

Winston and Bridget are not alone.

One pen after the next, dogs are just like them. Dogs waiting for someone to take them home to play fetch, throw them a bone and provide companionship.

There is Helmsley, a lovable 6-month-old all-white Boxer, who barks and jumps for attention whenever a visitor comes near him.

There is Baron, the happy and easygoing 3-year-old Shepherd Pointer mix.

There are Cowboy and Nugget, playful Labrador Shepherd mixes and best friends, who wag their tails and bark with smiles at you whenever their names are called.

And then there is Sylar, a very shy German Shepherd mix who arrived at the Animal Adoption Foundation (AAF) shelter as a stray almost two years ago.

Of all the dogs, Sylar has been at the shelter longest.

Picked up as a stray in Hamilton when he was 5 months old, Sylar was timid and cautious around people.

Like the other animals at the shelter, Sylar is slowly regaining his affection and confidence around humans-even if he prefers to be prompted with a treat.

A safe haven

Eric Johnson, executive director of the AAF shelter, said most of the animals at the shelter, like Sylar, fell prey to a damaging home life and now don’t trust humans.

“Ninety-five percent of the time, when a dog bites a person or does something out of character, it is human error,” Johnson said. “And that’s one reason why we never give up on pets here.”

The AAF shelter, located on Ross-Millville Road in Hamilton, is a no-kill animal shelter. No-kill animal shelters allow dogs and cats to reside in the shelter until they can be adopted instead of euthanizing the animals.

According to Johnson, the facility opened in 1977 with the help of a $1 million donation from the Bever family of Oxford. Since the construction, Johnson said the AAF shelter has operated entirely on grants and donations from the community, meaning items-from post-it notes, hand sanitizer, cat litter and dog food to big “wish list” items such as a van to transport the animals to veterinarians or storage sheds-are completely dependent on monetary help from the community.

According to Johnson, the AAF shelter can currently house up to 30 dogs and 75 cats. Johnson said the facility includes kennel areas for the dogs, screened-in porch areas and kennel areas for the cats, solitary rooms for sick animals and newborn puppies or kittens and an outdoor fenced in area for the dogs.

Johnson said there is also a room nicknamed “The Ollie Room” in honor of a black and white spotted Great Dane named Ollie, one of the shelter’s success stories.

“Ollie came to us after witnessing his owner commit suicide,” Johnson said.

Johnson said Ollie subsequently suffered emotional problems, leading him to bite two people. Johnson said Ollie spent less than two years at the shelter, working with trainers and volunteers, before he was adopted.

“He was a good dog deep down, and we worked with him to the point where now he has a home in Cincinnati,” Johnson said.

After Ollie’s adoption, Shadow, a black Labrador now resides in the room. According to Johnson, Shadow suffered severe abuse and neglect at a Miami University fraternity and lost the ability to trust humans.

“He’s doing a lot better now,” Johnson said, “but it’s going to be awhile before he’s ready for his forever home.”

Pet pals

Until pets like Shadow and Ollie are ready to be adopted, Johnson said steps are taken to help the animals prepare to live in a permanent home.

Each Saturday, Johnson said orientation sessions are held for new volunteers to become acclimated to working with the animals.

After attending an orientation session, volunteers are free to visit the AAF shelter and interact with the animals at any time.

Jill Black, a sophomore zoology major, recently became a volunteer at the AAF shelter.

“I think all the pets there are so sweet,” Black said. “Future volunteers just have to realize that (the animals) have a lot of energy because they’re used to being cooped up.”

Black became a volunteer because of her love of animals and visits the shelter once or twice a week. Although she does not plan on working with animals in the future, she said she is certain she will have pets.

In addition to welcoming volunteers like Black, Johnson said the AAF shelter developed the “Doggie Date” program to help the animals retain and develop necessary social skills for adoption.

Johnson said participants are available to “date” pets for the afternoon or the entire night. The AAF shelter provides a collar, leash, food and litter boxes. After the date is over, Johnson said caretakers are asked to fill out an evaluation form. Johnson said he and other board members use the information to gain a better understanding of the pet’s personality and behavior in social situations, leading to a better adoption fit.

Johnson said all 30 dogs and 75 cats are eligible to participate in the program after a general screening process unless the animals are sick.

Tom Heraghty, a sophomore marketing major and AAF volunteer, said the doggie date program is helpful because it allows possible adopters, many of whom are Miami students, to see if they are ready to make the commitment.

“By giving people an option to adopt the pets for a night, it really helps them see if they’re ready to commit,” Heraghty said. “A lot of times people think they want a pet, but then they’ll adopt them and realize a month into it that they aren’t prepared. Then the cycle starts all over. The animal becomes neglected and it’s not fair.”

Johnson, too, said he has mixed feelings about the ability of college students to properly care for pets.

“College students should think long and hard before getting a pet,” Johnson said. “It’s a big time commitment, and many college students might not have time to do it. I’d say think about after graduation. What happens to your dog when you graduate, move to Chicago, and can’t take him with you?”

Yet for Johnson, the success stories are what keep him going.

“Every time I see one go to a good home, it completely revitalizes me,” Johnson said. “It’s hard to see the animals go through hardships, but it’s always rewarding in the end.”