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UC student develops shelter system

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- When Nichole Perry had to choose a community service project for her "Issues in Medicine" class at the University of Charleston, she immediately thought of the local humane society.

She's from Indiana, and grew up around animals.

"I like being around them," she said.

Still, when she started volunteering as a dog walker at the Kanawha Charleston Humane Shelter, she thought she would put in the 15 hours required for the class and then stop coming.

Instead, those 15 hours became the first of many, and jump-started a project that will help the animals at the shelter for many years.

She saw that what she was doing was helping -- she could see that the walks she took the dogs on made them feel better. So she kept coming back, and bringing her friends -- mainly her teammates on the basketball team at UC.

"I just told them what I was doing, and that I saw that the dogs needed help," she said. "I told them about how there are so many dogs and they're all locked up in a cage. I felt bad for them because I didn't know how long they'd been locked up because the people there are so busy they couldn't walk them all that often ... and they were on board."

But it wasn't long before she wanted to do more than just show up and walk the dogs. She noticed a kink in the dog walking system, and she wanted to fix it.

"There are 50 or 60 dogs and they're lined up on both sides. You walk in and they're barking so loud you can't really think," she said.  "So I'm walking up and down and thinking which ones do I walk. I'm only here for two hours, I can't walk them all, 'How do I know which one?'"

She wanted a system that was fair.

"A lot of times they pick the cute ones and walk the cute ones again and again," she said. "I didn't want to do that so I would be walking around thinking 'Do I walk the energetic one?' 'Do I walk the one who is laying down?'"

So Perry devised a system: she realized that the shelter needed calendars, so volunteers can make a note every time they walk a dog. That way, it's easy for the next volunteer to see which dogs have been walked more or less recently, so all the dogs get walked regularly.

"It's so simple," she said. "Somebody just had to do it. It took some time to do it that no one else had."

So Perry took it upon herself to get the calendars made. She took the idea to her professor, who referred her to some UC administrators. The school covered the cost and had more than 70 calendars printed and laminated.

Now outside of each dog's cage at the shelter is a calendar with a dry-erase marker. Volunteers walk down the line of dogs and can easily identify which dog needs to be walked.

Perry's basketball teammates helped her hang the calendars last month.

Contact writer Shay Maunz at or 304-348-4886.


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