AKRON, Ohio — Frances Kline is an animal lover through and through. She has three rescue dogs of her own and helping abandoned animals is close to her heart.
“I want to give back to these dogs,” she said.
Even after retiring from her job at Summit County Animal Control in 2018, she volunteered at the shelter four to five days a week.
“Just to get the dogs out,” she said. “You could take a dog out and sit with them and play with them, as volunteers we could help staff out.”
She often took the dogs for walks or runs.
“Instead of seeing a barking dog going kennel crazy, which is a real thing, they would be settled down because they had their exercise and they had their attention,” said Kline.
In March of 2020, when the pandemic began, volunteering at the animal shelter stopped.
“I think we were all very patient and understanding that this was going on,” said Kline.
But 18 months later, volunteers are still not allowed at Summit County Animal Control.
Greta Johnson, the director of communications for the county, said it’s a needed precaution to keep the 11 workers at animal control safe.
“We're trying to mitigate the contact between people, and I think that our staff over at animal control are just as important as the people who are on the executive floor here in the building,” said Johnson. “We've heard from the volunteers and we know that they are anxious to get back in there.”
Kline is anxious and said she and other volunteers are willing to do whatever they may need to get back inside, including showing negative COVID-19 tests, wearing masks and proof of vaccination.
“The core group of us have bent over backwards to figure out a way to get back in,” she said. “Why can’t we come back?”
Johnson said the county is working to revamp the volunteer program all together, making it an appointment based-online system.
“It really just makes the most sense, especially now with the pandemic really still raging, that we make sure that we're monitoring how many people are in our facility at one time,” said Johnson. “It allows for our staff better budget their time knowing how many people are going to be in the facility, not just hoping or waiting to see who shows up.”
The county is working to procure computer software to make it user-friendly and will be hiring a volunteer coordinator that can oversee the online system.
“It's something that we discuss nearly every day in our office. What's the best way to do this? What's the quickest way to do this?” said Johnson. “It's trying to find the right online system where we can get people signed up, but it also allows for sort of keeping track of what they need to do to get on board the online training video, that in-person training, the application, the liability waiver.”
But in the meantime, Kline wants to get back to the animals and worries about the amount of exercise and socialization they’re getting.
“We have to be their voice and I could turn away and say ‘they’re fine, they’re fine,’ but I know in my heart that they could use volunteers there,” said Kline.
Johnson did not give a specific date as to when the volunteer program would be up and running but said it would be in the near future. She also wants to assure the public that the animals are well taken care of with trained staff and a full time veterinarian.