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Local woman tries to bolster the image of shelter pets, increase volunteerism
Mary Thompson takes a picture of a pooch while Hall County Animal Shelter Program Coordinator Cindy Langman holds it steady at the animal shelter on Barber Road. Thompson regularly takes photos of the animals and posts them online to help them get adopted.

Hall County Animal Shelter

Where: 1688 Barber Road, Gainesville

Adoption fee: $85, which includes spaying/neutering, microchipping, vaccinations, deworming and a combo test for cats

Contact: 678-450-1587,

After bringing a stray dog to the Hall County Animal Shelter, Mary Thompson realized she might be able to help the animals find permanent homes using her skills as a real estate appraiser.

Thompson often takes photos of the homes she’s appraising to highlight their unique features.

Now she’s doing the same for the dogs and cats at the shelter, just one of the volunteers helping to care for and promote adoption of the animals housed there.

Every Saturday for the last month, Thompson has organized a photo shoot for the animals. She and other volunteers take one animal at a time outside for a little exercise while Thompson snaps their picture.

"I try to get a real close face shot and then a body shot," Thompson explained. "If they’re real active, that’s when we definitely bring them outside and they can relax and sniff around. Usually I’m just shooting the whole time."

Thompson said it’s easier to get the animals to participate in their modeling debut by using a squeaky toy to get their attention. Particularly enthusiastic pets may have to be held or loved on by the other volunteer in order to get a decent photo.

After the photo shoot, the animals are highlighted on The Hall County Animal Shelter Facebook page.

Thompson said she thinks having specific photos that show a bit of the animals’ personalities can help them find homes.

"I just like to get up close and get those eyes," Thompson said. "Some of the dogs’ eyes are absolutely gorgeous. That’s what gets to people. When they pull the photos up and go ‘Oh God, I’ve got to get this one.’"

Thompson said it can be difficult to get good photos of animals but that’s not the hardest part of the job.

"When I first walked in here I thought ‘I don’t think I can do this’ because I’m a real softie when it comes to pets," Thompson said. "I see them in their cages and I want to take them out and go home. But then I thought ‘You know what, you need to get over that because you’re here to take good pictures with the ultimate idea of getting them adopted.’"

It can be difficult to track how many animals are adopted as a result of the photos and social media exposure, but it certainly doesn’t hurt. One photo album filled with photos of puppies and small dogs that was loaded onto the shelter’s Facebook page Feb. 9, was shared more than 800 times and "liked" by more than 200 people.

Just a walk makes a difference

Mike Ledford, director of the shelter, said the work the volunteers do to help these animals find good homes is much appreciated. While they don’t always end up taking the animals home themselves, volunteers make the odds better for dogs and cats to find good families.

One of the best ways people can help homeless animals at the shelter is to volunteer a bit of time to simply take them for a walk.

"It makes them way better adoption candidates when they’re able to go outside and spend some time out of that cage and with people," Ledford said. "That is the goal behind everything we do. We want as many adoptions to good homes as we can possibly get. This is just one process that makes that a little bit easier."

Ledford said the shelter specifically needs volunteers to play with dogs during the week.

A consistent group of people tends to show up Saturdays but not as many come during the week, meaning some animals could spend days and weeks in their cage without going outside.

The shelter is open 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday. Ledford said the shelter ideally needs another four to six people to volunteer during the days.

Volunteers can spend as much or as little time as they are able and can make a huge difference for the animals. Teens 16 and older are allowed to volunteer without a parent present. Younger children can come with a parent. Ledford said children ages 10 and older are generally better equipped to handle the dogs.

Not only does going outside give the housebroken dogs a chance to relieve themselves — something they are reluctant to do inside of their cages, which makes them uncomfortable — it gives the animals a better chance of making a good first impression.

"When you’re looking for a dog you don’t want to see one who is jumping and literally bouncing off the walls because he’s been in a cage for two weeks," Ledford said. "He’s not as attractive of an adoptable candidate as one that’s up at the cage, letting you pet him and play. He’s not bouncing all over the place. In reality, the one that’s jumping all over the place wouldn’t be that way if he’s been out of the cage for a while."

Ledford encourages any family that might be considering adoption to visit the shelter and get to know a few of the animals by taking them outside and letting them play.

"This is a great application process that you can go through," Ledford said. "Just come and see what different breeds you like, how they interact with kids, adults and other dogs. It’s really a good process if you’re looking for one."

Every animal a ‘sweetie pie’

Helping pets get adopted isn’t limited to dog lovers; cat people also can volunteer to take cats and kittens into the interview room at the shelter and play for a while.

All the animals at the shelter are temperament tested to be sure they aren’t a danger to people or other pets.

The shelter does euthanize animals that are either too ill or who have too many behavior risks to be adopted. A full-time veterinarian helps animals recovery from nonfatal illnesses and injuries before putting them up for adoption.

"Just because they’re here sick does not mean it’s the end of the road," Ledford said.

Thompson said her short experience at the shelter has been eye opening. She said every animal she’s met has been a "sweetie pie."

"Every week I am really surprised because man, there are a lot of good pets over there," Thompson said. "It’s not like they’re all emaciated or sick or mean. Nothing like that. These are sweet, good, adoptable dogs."

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