First Place Winner of Tails of Triumph Story Contest - Donna Mullenix

Tuesday, December 16, 2008 : 2:27:38 PM
My name is Donna Mullenix, formerly Donna Chenault when I went through the program. I decided to go to ABC because I saw a need for shelter dogs. I asked my local Humane Society, Tuscaloosa Humane at the time, why so many dogs were going un-adopted. I was told that a lot of the dogs had behavior issues of some kind, or were just not well behaved. My solution was to go to school so I could learn and be able to teach the dogs that were in such need.

I volunteered my services to them on any occasion that I could, and evaluated dogs that had been deemed un-adoptable. What I found was that many of the dogs just needed some exercise and a little training. One dog in particular was said to be dog and cat aggressive and her time was running out. They called me before her final verdict, to have me evaluate and report back to them on what I thought of her. What I found was a beautiful Golden Retriever that had been at a vets kennel for over 2 months, of course she was a little nutty. I took her out to a large field where there were walking trails, and where I knew people who walked their dogs their and had socialized many dogs in the course of my training. The car ride was a little hairy, but once we got there it was like her eyes lit up. I got her out of my truck and the first thing we did was run at full speed across the field. I know people must have thought I was nuts, but it wasn't about me, it was about her. She was having a ball. Once we got some of the energy out I began to evaluate her. I asked people if they minded me approaching their dogs with her, and because they had seen me doing this on many occasions, they all said yes. She never aggressed at any of the other dogs, she wagged her tail and was happy to be outdoors. I walked her for quite some time and then I started asking for some basic obedience. She acted like she'd known it her whole life. Then when it was time to wind down, I took her to a bench where I knew the squirrels loved to play and sat with her, she watched but never offered to chase. It was then I knew her problem wasn't aggression, it was no exercise or human interaction. I then had to take her to another vets office to be boarded. The look on her face was "How could you?". I felt awful leaving her but quickly got home and got in touch with one of the board members. I told them that if they allowed her to be put to sleep, they were crazy, she was a wonderful dog. I offered to give anyone who would take her free obedience classes to help them place her. That night they took my advice and gave her another shot. Within 2 weeks she was adopted. I gave the Humane Society of Tuscaloosa a prescription of sorts to give to the new owners, letting them know what she would need as far as exercise and that I would do the in home classes. I got an update later on her and was told that she was now very happy in her new home, she shared it with a cat, who shared its toys with the dog. The new owners did not ask for the classes but did follow my instructions of exercise and play with the dog to use up all of her excess energy. She is now a very happy dog.

My mentor, Chris Amick, had arrangements with the Greater Birmingham Humane Society, that any dog adopted over 40lbs was free in his obedience classes. He also taught me that you guarantee your work. If a person wants to come back 10 times through the same class because they feel their dog needs a refresher, then thats just one more dog that is being well cared for and properly socialized. Under his guidance I learned what a true Dog Trainer was. It wasn't someone who was in it for the money, but for the love of the animal, no matter how goofy the dog may seem.

I have now gone on to become the Director of the Muhlenberg County Humane Society in Greenville, KY. A Humane/Shelter with a very high intake and when I started, low adoption rate. When I took over I wasn't sure I was up to the task, but I could see the need. The building was sub-par, the kennels were not in the shape I would have liked to see, and the dogs looked forlorn and hopeless. There was a lot of illness and I found it was a very high kill shelter. After taking over I discovered a there was a lot I had to learn. Coccidia was one of my first lessons. The shelter had not been updated since the 80's and old vents ran along the tops of kennels with insulation dropping into the cages below, rats infested the building and puppies were being put into unsealed kennels, sometimes while they were still on their mothers who had never been given any innoculations to fight against any disease. I learned the smell of Parvo and the signs of Coccidia. I saw the effects of shelter life and with the help of my staff and their families, we did something about it. We took a weekend and completed gutted the building of anything that could harbor the mice that were spreading the Coccidia to the dogs, I purchased bins that the mice could not get into. We cleaned every kennel with anti-bacterial, anti-fungal, anti-viral, anti-everything to get the place clean. It took us three days and about 10 people, but we got it done. I then purchased shots, so that every puppy that came through the front door was inoculated and put into isolation for at least 72+hrs. I was going to make sure that if I was going to run the place, I would run it properly.

I was lucky to inherit a staff that was willing to put up with my attention to the details and found they too wanted to learn all they could to make our animals healthy. I have only been here for 7 months, but in that time we have gone from the shelter people who cared for animals would not go to, to the shelter people in the community are helping plan fundraisers for. I go to one of the local elementary schools weekly and take a dog for a TV spot, I go into schools and talk to the children about how to care for their animals, be it dog, cat, or horse. I have gained much support through the community and our adoptions and donations have gone up as well. I have people come in to sponsor our dogs and cats now. The shelter now has a foster program.

I also took over the Death Row Dog Program which I inherited from one of the former directors. I have the opportunity to pull 20 of my shelter dogs that may otherwise go un-adopted and take them to the Green River Correctional Complex, a maximum security prison. It is a program that tests me weekly and daily sometimes. I train 40 inmates and 20 dogs per class. Classes usually last around 10wks, and we have a 100% adoption rate. I have to use every skill I learned from ABC. I have to use my behavior modification, basic obedience, and evaluate each dog and trainer on the style of training that will be the best fit each dog. I also have to use a lot of quick, off the cuff thinking, because my trainers don't have the benefit of training aids, they are only allowed a leash, a buckle collar, a squirt bottle, a shaker can, a clicker if they choose, and their wits. It gives me a lot of challenges sometimes because I know I could solve problems faster if I had proper equipment, but somehow we make it work and every dog comes out well trained, with about a quarter of them going as therapy dogs of some sort. I love it. I have trained 3 classes so far and am getting my 4rth class ready as we speak.

As of next week, I am going to come full circle and do what my mentor taught me. I will begin offering free obedience classes to anyone who adopts one of our dogs. Size won't be an issue for me as we have a little bit of everything and anything getting adopted is a plus.

I still have a long way to go, but I am getting there. Our shelter still puts down more dogs than I would like, but we now rarely have to euthanize for space, only temperment and illness. I never had any intentions of becoming a Director of a Humane Society/Shelter, but they found me. Luckily I was armed with the skills I needed to take on the challenge, and I have ABC and Chris Amick to thank for it. I was told when I took over that I was over qualified and underpaid, and as far as the underpaid it is true, but I do it for the love of the dogs, not the income that it brings me.

When I started here I told my employees, "If you would not feel safe bringing your dog to work with you every day, or leaving them here overnight, you are not doing your job." I now have a Great Dane that came through the shelter and won me over, and she is introduced to everyone as the Co-Director. I would feel comfortable bringing any of my dogs to work and I have my incredible staff to thank for that.

I am a success story because I took a shelter that no one wanted, and I've made it an extended family. I love my staff, my Pres. and VP are people that I can call friends, and I can see it in the dogs that they appreciate what we do. We've had dogs return for visits and on occasion they wanted to linger just a little longer. It makes us feel good to know that our love for the animals is reciprocated, but it makes me feel like going to ABC and learning what I did actually is changing the landscape of a lot of dogs lives. I would not change a thing and I am happy every day that I chose to go to school and do something to better the lives of animals. My motto is "If you are not part of the solution, you are part of the problem." I took a pro-active stance and am doing what I can to be a part of the solution.

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