NECCOG volunteers offer animals food, water and affection

By Denise Coffey - Staff Writer
Dayville - posted Thu., Feb. 14, 2013
Pat Cunningham holds Pita, an 8-year-old Chihuahua mix. Photos by D. Coffey.
Pat Cunningham holds Pita, an 8-year-old Chihuahua mix. Photos by D. Coffey.

Pat Cunningham opened the door to a cage and a reddish-brown Chihuahua mix came out. The dog stretched and looked up at Cunningham until the NECCOG Animal Shelter volunteer picked her up. “I love her under-bite,” Cunningham said, holding the dog.
Pita, as she's been named, has been at the shelter since before Christmas. Volunteers found her tied to the post of the shelter door one morning. Cunningham estimates the dog is 8 years old. “She's housebroken, crate trained, is very clean and seems to get along with cats and dogs,” Cunningham said. “She seems to be afraid of men, but once she gets to know a male, she's fine with him.”

Her assessment is indicative of the work done on all the animals when they come into the shelter. Signs on the dog cages list the animal's name, breed, age, sex, disposition, and whether it's housebroken and crate trained. The signs also list if the animal likes cats, dogs and children, and why it is in the shelter. Some animals are surrendered, some are picked up by the animal control officers. The information helps potential adoptive families make good decisions on which animal to take home.

Cunningham has been volunteering at the shelter for three years. She spends between 18 and 24 hours a week there, cleaning cages, feeding and watering animals, walking dogs, and doing a variety of other chores that need daily attention. With 20 pens for dogs, twice that for cats and seasonal fluctuations in the animal population, there is much that needs to be done on a regular basis. There is administrative work, and recently the shelter started a Facebook page.

When Cunningham decided to spend time volunteering, she knew it had to revolve around animals. She has three dogs and two cats at home and she moves with a certain authority around the animals. “You have to know a dog's body language to know whether or not they're okay to approach,” she said. “You have to know to proceed by the looks on their faces, the way they're holding themselves, whether their tails are up or down, and whether they are barking and snarling or have a friendly face. You can't just run up to a dog. You have to assess their behavior first.” Cunningham put Pita on the ground. The dog stayed close, looking up frequently.

The NECCOG shelter serves the towns of Brooklyn, Killingly, Pomfret, Canterbury and Sterling. More than 200 dogs pass through the shelter annually. At one time, there were more than 60 cats. According to Cunningham, only those animals that are too aggressive, too ill or severely injured are euthanized.

One volunteer was walking dogs. Another was prepping a cage for a cat expected later that day. Millie Simone cleaned the front office, where cats lounged in their cages. “They all have fresh food, water, beds and cat litter,” she said. “They're all happy.”

Simone has been volunteering for only a few months, but she loves the work – and the cats. “Here you go, sweetie,” she said to one cat rubbing up against her cage door. “I'd take one home, but I already have three,” she said. One cat slept in a pet bed on top of a file cabinet. “More people should volunteer,” Simone said. “Animals need attention just like humans do. But they have to be caring and like animals and willing to work. Otherwise, it isn't for you.”

For more information on volunteer opportunities, call 860-774-1253 or visit the website

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