Dogged volunteer earns monthly Jefferson Award

March 24, 2009 | Features, UToday
By Kim Goodin

Renee Valtin can tell when Connie Donald reports for volunteer duty at the Wood County Humane Society.

The dogs give Donald away.

“I can tell by their bark,” Valtin, shelter manager, said. “To the dogs, Connie means ‘We get to go out for a walk.’ As soon as the dogs see her, they know something special is going to happen and they go crazy.”

Donald, a registered nurse at The University of Toledo Medical Center, has been honored with UT’s second Jefferson Award for her outstanding community service. She’s been a volunteer dog walker, kennel cleaner and all-around girl Friday at the shelter for about 18 years.

She will receive her Jefferson Award certificate and pin during the town hall meeting Tuesday, March 24, at 11 a.m.

“I’m flattered,” she said. “There are certainly a lot of people at the shelter who deserve this award. I feel thanked every time I go there and work with the animals.”

She remembered a time when, as a renter, she wasn’t allowed to have pets. She signed on at the shelter to help needy animals and get a little exercise.

“I had no idea what I was getting into!” she said and laughed. “It used to be just me. There would be 12 dogs waiting and one walker. They didn’t all get long walks, but every one got some exercise.”

With Donald’s steady presence has come an influx of volunteer dog walkers; so many, in fact, that dogs outnumber walkers only about 2-to-1 nowadays, rather than 12-to-1. Four times each week, Donald and the crew gather the leashes and treat rescued dogs to long strolls.

“It’s so rewarding,” Donald said. “The majority of these dogs have been horribly neglected or abused, and the socialization makes them more adoptable. It’s great to see them blossom after coming in scared to death.”

Valtin said Donald’s contributions go much farther than simple dog walking. Donald reports for duty on a moment’s notice, spends holidays treating sick or injured animals, and helps with rudimentary medical testing. She’s also an outspoken ambassador for the humane society.

“I don’t know what we’d do without her,” Valtin said.

Donald, who knew from kindergarten that she wanted to care for people and animals, doesn’t feel her volunteer efforts are extraordinary. Grateful tail wags are more than enough thanks.

“I’ve been to the park or out in the community and had dogs remember me from the shelter,” Donald remarked, noting she now has four dogs and two cats — all from the humane society. “I just really love the interaction with the animals and the people.”

Nominations for UT’s third Jefferson Awards winner are being accepted at until Wednesday, March 25. Honor someone who has made a difference in the community or in the lives of others with a nomination for this prestigious award.

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