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Looking for Joey? You'll probably find her at the shelter

For Joey Kirkwood, who is an avid dog-walker for the Sault Ste. Marie Humane Society, dogs are a 'woman's best friend'
Kirkwood with Jed the bloodhound.

Because of COVID-19, almost everyone has had to make a change to their regular routine. Luckily for animal lover Joey Kirkwood, helping out at the Humane Society is something she is still able to do despite the ongoing pandemic. 

The Sault native has been volunteering her free time every day at the shelter for months. 

“I’m self-employed so I'm able to offer my volunteer services during the day which is great,” she said. 

Kirkwood spends most of her time volunteering at the shelter during the day, and works as a financial consultant at night. “I’m really fortunate that I can work around the things I would like to do,” she said. 

She first started volunteering with the Humane Society 25 years ago, and just recently started back with them last Christmas. She wanted to devote more time to helping and caring for animals when her own dog passed away recently. 

“When our dog passed away we decided that it wouldn’t be fair to get a new one right away. It wouldn't be fair to the dog, a dog needs lots of attention and time and we couldn’t devote that yet, so we didn’t get one. But I’ve always enjoyed being with dogs so I thought I could volunteer and walk them and spend some time with dogs without actually having one. That's part of what led me back here last December,” she said. 

Along with dog walking, Kirkwood also fosters animals in need.

“Fostering is a commitment you make to look after a dog or cat, most often it’s very young kittens and a mother cat, or just the kittens without the mom, who would really benefit from a home environment as opposed to a shelter environment,” she said. “I just returned a mother cat and her litter recently.”

“I have a spare bedroom that I’ve set up as kind of a Disneyworld for cats. We’ve got all kinds of cat gyms, toys and climbers in there so that’s where they live while they’re with me,” she said. 

When the kittens are about 7-8 weeks old they are taken back to the Humane Society for their vaccinations and then they’re available for adoption. Kirkwood says that any injured animals that would benefit more from a home environment would be available for fostering as well. 

Kirkwood is happy to dedicate most of her free time to volunteering at the shelter, and has been enjoying every minute of it. 

“There’s so many things I enjoy about volunteering. One of my favourite parts these days is walking this great big bloodhound named Jed. He’s probably the biggest dog I’ve ever seen,” she said. “He always gets excited for his walks and prances towards me with his bum swaying and his nose up in the air and ears flopping. He doesn’t care what the other dogs think and just goes towards the exit door when he’s ready for his walk. It makes me laugh every day. It’s little things like that that make it really fun and worthwhile to volunteer. If I didn’t look forward to it I wouldn’t come every day.”

Kirkwood loves all kinds of dogs and cats, but if she had to pick her favourite breed to spend time with, it would be a retriever. 

“I grew up with labs and Chesapeake retrievers, but I get to meet all kinds of dogs and cats every day so that’s really fun. They each have their own quirks and personalities,” she said. 

One of the more rewarding aspects for Kirkwood is seeing the improvement of the dogs’ behaviour. 

“A dog might come in who’s shy or overly nervous, and then with practice and consistency you can see the improvement in their behavior and comfort level. It feels like you’re building a relationship with each dog. I think they know if I’m there, and I think they look forward to that time outside. It’s pretty rewarding knowing that every day I’ve hopefully made their day a bit better,” she said. 

Volunteering during COVID-19 has changed a few things, though. 

“I’ve been so fortunate that they’ve invited me to come even during the lockdown,” she said. “I’ve had to make a couple small changes to my normal routine, like wearing a mask. The route that I take to get outside has changed, I no longer go through the public areas so that I’m limiting the exposure.”

Kirkwood hopes to keep volunteering at the shelter for a long time. “As long as I can balance between this and my job, I hope to volunteer until they tell me to stop.”