he New Rochelle Humane Society celebrates its 100th birthday in 2011. The local Humane Society services 17 communities in lower Westchester to rescue lost, injured and abused animals. It provides training to staff and volunteers as well as medical services and lots of love to animals. The organization found homes for approximately 500 dogs and 900 cats last year, and returned hundreds of lost animals to their owners.

Without volunteers, the New Rochelle Humane Society would not be nearly as successful as it is. There are three levels of volunteers, including adults over age 18, juniors ages 14 to 18, and children ages 10 to 14, enrolled in a family program.

The family volunteer program is the latest addition to the Humane Society. It began because it was obvious how much the youngsters adored and cared for the animals when they visited the shelter with their parents. Parents also requested the program as churches and synagogues in the area require kids to do community service before confirmations and bar and bat mitzvahs. Having kids volunteer with the animals seemed like a win-win situation. However, staff members lacked the time to supervise these children. Thus, the organization decided kids could volunteer only if parent became involved too. Parents and children would work as a team.

Each child and parent volunteer is required to attend an orientation. The parent can then attend the Humane Society’s dog walking class. Only the parent is allowed to walk the dog, while the child walks alongside. The dog can be taken into the training room or any of three outside pens, where the child is able to interact with the dog. Kids enjoy tossing a ball or toy to dogs, encouraging the animals to use a piece of agility equipment and watching dogs swim in one of three kiddy swimming pools in the summer.

Dogs are social creatures. The more they interact, then the happier and healthier they are, and therefore more adoptable. The shelter’s aim is to find “forever homes” for all its animals, and this playtime helps immensely. The children also assist in training the dogs to sit for treats, to come when called and not to jump— all assets in terms of getting the dogs adopted.

In addition to socializing with dogs, the family volunteers spend many hours socializing cats. Cats are also more likely to get adopted when they are people friendly, and the more people cats are in contact with the better. Learning to trust makes felines less fearful and more apt to react positively toward potential adopters.

Child volunteers also do jobs to help the staff. Sydney and Julia, two volunteers who started volunteering at the New Rochelle Humane Society before their bat mitzvahs, say they enjoy coming so much because “there is always something to do.” They fold laundry, help clean up, prepare treats for the animals and aid in drying the dogs after a bath. But playing with the cats, kittens and puppies at the shelter is definitely the best, according to the pair. Both Sydney and Julia plan to continue volunteering after their required service is finished, remarking “It’s so much fun.”

When Gabe and his mother Roxanne began volunteering in the family program, Gabe was in 7th grade and needed to fulfill his confirmation volunteer/community service obligation. It’s been three years since then, but the mother and son return to the shelter on Sundays and holidays to do whatever is needed. Gabe and Roxanne both say their favorite shelter activity is playing with the dogs and teaching them manners to help get them adopted. “The most rewarding part to us is when a family adopts a dog or cat,” says Roxanne. “Everyone huddles in the main office to say their goodbyes. It is tears of joy as they start their new life with their new family.”

Gabe and Roxanne also praise the dedicated staff members, the other volunteers and the board members, all of whom work together to care for the animals.