WALLA WALLA — Helping a shy or timid dog gain confidence can go a long way toward making him adoptable.
Blue Mountain Humane Society volunteer Steven Barer helps introverted dogs on their journey toward a forever home. For his efforts, he was recently named the organization’s Volunteer of the Year.
Barer, from a Walla Walla family with a long history in the area, has been volunteering with BMHS for almost two years. His wife, Dawn, is a registered veterinary technician and canine massage therapist, and is in training as a behavior specialist at Animal Clinic of Walla Walla. They both share a great love of animals, with several rescued dogs and cats in the family. In addition to the animals that have joined the family, they also have fostered four dogs in the last year and a half.
The couple has collected a large library of animal behavior materials, books and DVDs. Steven bought many of the books to help Dawn with her studies, but he was intrigued and ended up reading all the books, too.
The natural next step for him was to put his new skills into use. Helping animals at the shelter was the ideal way he could do so.
“I go in after work for a little over an hour. I take dogs out and I focus on those that need a little extra help, those that are fearful,” he said. “Or those that have extra energy and need exercise, those that are real intelligent. I work on engaging their brains. That keeps their minds active and keeps them out of trouble.”
Barer’s volunteer efforts have helped countless animals and families, but the activity is also is rewarding for him.
“It recharges my batteries,” he said. “I emphasize the shy dogs, the introverted dogs.”
He and Dawn make a good team, benefiting pets and their humans.
“We can also help with cats,” he said.
“Steven has had a real direct impact, he helps us so much,” said Sara Archer, executive director of BMHS. “He socializes the dogs and works with specific behavior issues.”
Nikki Raver, director of community outreach at BMHS, agreed.
“He works on behavior training with animals that need a little extra help. He also works with the Washington State Penitentiary Dog Program. He helps dogs learn basic commands,” she said.
“He works with the offenders with dogs that need a little extra attention so they can pass the Canine Good Citizen Test. He works with them and they come back ready to be adopted.”
Raver also said Barer conducts a clicker training class for volunteers, teaching dog training using positive reinforcement.
“We have about 130 active volunteers, and they are great. Steven is just super committed. He does so much and is so willing to give. He’s a great guy,” she said.
Being chosen as Volunteer of the Year is “very humbling. There are a lot of people who work really hard there,” Steven Barer said.
For people having some trouble with a pet’s behavior, he suggested calling the Humane Society to be directed to the Barers.
If you’re confused about what your dog needs or what it’s experiencing, “it’s helpful to pay attention to them, to their body language. They try to tell you what they’re feeling. Read their body language and there are resources online to help you. They try to tell you when they’ve had too much. They say, ‘No. Stop.’ and people don’t understand,” he said.
Barer is dedicated to helping animals, working through behavior issues and getting them adopted into a stable home.
“The shelter always needs volunteers,” he said. “They have a wonderful staff — you can really make a difference.”
Karlene Ponti is the U-B specialty publications writer. She can be reached at 509-526-8324 or firstname.lastname@example.org.