Meows and barks greet shelter volunteers

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High-pitched barks and deep woofs from the shelter dogs—mostly pit bull-type dogs and mixes—echoed against the concrete floors and walls at Stray Animal Rescue of St. Louis. The cacophony always grew louder when a volunteer took a dog out of its cage to go for a walk.

Dr. Rachel Tapp, one of the dog walkers, and more than 50 other volunteers donated their time July 16 to be a part of the American Veterinary Medical Foundation's fourth annual Our Oath in Action Shelter Rehab project. It combines volunteerism and tourism to put the Veterinarian's Oath into action while offering AVMA Annual Convention-goers a closer look at the community.

Dr. Tapp, a small animal practitioner from Rock Hill, S.C., said she participated because she thought it would be nice to "not be a veterinarian for a day, but to spend time with animals and not worry about the medical stuff."

Her efforts and those of the other volunteers helped to socialize the dogs and keep them happy, said Tami Zahrndt, volunteer coordinator at Stray Animal Rescue, a no-kill shelter. Since its opening in 1998, the organization has grown by leaps and bounds. It now has three facilities—one with an on-site veterinary clinic—that house a few hundred dogs at a time, thanks to the efforts of 28 staff members and hundreds of volunteers. Last month, adoptive homes were found for nearly 100 dogs, Zahrndt said.

Anna Migneco pours paint at the Animal House
Anna Migneco, a second-year veterinary student at the University of Missouri-Columbia, pours paint at the Animal House, a shelter exclusively for cats, as part of the American Veterinary Medical Foundation's fourth annual Our Oath in Action Shelter Rehab project. (Photo by Malinda Larkin)

Another local shelter happy to see some extra volunteers was Animal House. It is a stray cat rescue organization that opened in August 2010 after the city shuttered its animal shelter. Animal House took the cats while Stray Animal Rescue took the dogs.

Brandyn Jones, executive director of Animal House, said the shelter has been busy this summer with a high number of intakes and an active kitten season.

The Animal House building is large and airy and holds 100 to 200 cats and kittens, all waiting to be adopted. Most remain in cages, but the shelter is working on building more cat rooms with scratching posts and shelves that hold 10 to 12 cats at a time.

Volunteers such as Anna Migneco and Erin Willis—both second-year veterinary students at the University of Missouri-Columbia—painted the walls of Animal House eggshell blue. The two roommates hoped to help the shelter by volunteering and, if possible, by also adopting a cat to join the other one they own.

Migneco's father, Dr. Ed Migneco, helped select the four shelters that partnered with the AVMF for the event, the other two being the Clowder House and Five Acres Animal Shelter. Dr. Migneco owns the Hillside Animal Hospital in downtown St. Louis and works frequently with these shelters to provide care for the animals.

The AVMF provided all volunteers with lunch and T-shirts. The event was sponsored by Hill's Pet Nutrition.