The holidays have a way of bringing people together. In this series, The Times shares stories of what draws people together in community.
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Sometimes a family is unconventional.
Two Gainesville women found their second family in their mutual love of helping rescue animals.
Lori Van Scoten and Linda Baker are in a group of the Humane Society of Northeast Georgia’s most dedicated volunteers. Van Scoten was even one of eight that showed up on Christmas Eve to walk the dogs.
“It’s definitely not your average 9-to-5 relationship you would get in a workplace,” Baker said.
These volunteers, collectively called the WoofGang, spend their free time with the bigger dogs at the Humane Society.
“All the volunteers are awesome,” Baker said. “We all fill in for each other and help each other out.”
They are two among a group of around 70 individuals in the group, who have their own T-shirts and a Facebook page. Baker said there are about 15 to 20 people who are there every week and are dedicated.
“I would definitely recommend it to anyone,” Baker said. “It’s very satisfying and rewarding. I feel so good after I go.”
She also said it’s an easy way for people who aren’t necessarily “people persons” to volunteer their time.
“If you don’t want to, you don’t have to talk to anybody. Or you can volunteer out front and talk to everyone that comes in. There’s something for everyone,” Baker said.
Van Scoten said they are always looking for more volunteers, especially people who can be there during the week.
“I would encourage anyone who loves dogs to do it,” Van Scoten said. She said the volunteering has taught her things about dogs she never could have known from just owning one, like a dog’s body language.
Body language is one thing the dog-walking group notes on its posts. The group members are in daily contact with each other through the Facebook page, where they share anecdotes of the day, including any unusual behavior or if any dogs got adopted.
“We also have any updates on the dogs, on anything that needs to be done or noted or praised,” Baker said.
Some volunteers have specific days they donate their time, and others stop by when they have time. Van Scoten has a full-time job as a dental hygienist, so she can only volunteer on Saturdays.
A couple of people have been involved longer than others, and Van Scoten is one of them. She’s been volunteering since the summer of 2012, and Baker drove past the Humane Society every day on her way to and from work for 32 years when she worked at the Cargill plant in the merchandising and sales department.
She always had the animals in the back of her mind, and she would always ask her company to remember the Humane Society when donating came around.
“I always tried to get (the company) involved in any way we could be,” Baker said.
A little over a year ago, Baker retired and decided to spend as much time as she could helping animals.
“I went home and told my husband that’s what I wanted to do, so that’s what I did,” she said.
Now, once or twice a week, Baker can be found playing with, socializing, feeding, training and walking dogs.
She also occasionally helps with adoptions and certifying foster families.
“I try to do everything I can,” Baker said.
Not only has volunteering at the shelter brought joy to her life, but it’s also brought her a pet.
Baker had always had purebred dogs before volunteering, but she ended up adopting a dog from the Humane Society.
“I’ll never go back to buying (purebred dogs),” Baker said.
Since she’s started at the Humane Society, she has also adopted dogs for her daughter, her mother and her niece.