ASCMV Volunteers Know How to Walk the Walk
Written and photography by Susie Ouderkirk
The Las Cruces Farmers Market is one of the best in the nation, thanks to the creative artisans who populate it every Saturday. Along with the vendors, the market boasts musicians, experts of all kinds, folks eager to interact, and, of course, shoppers, often with children and pets in tow. One group in particular has a notably positive presence at the market: the Animal Services Center volunteer dog walkers.
Bless their hearts, this plucky group of seniors has been bringing adoptable shelter dogs to the Farmers Market every Saturday for more than 15 years. They’re recognized by their matching Animal Service Center of the Mesilla Valley (ASCMV) t-shirts as they set up portable kennels at the north end of the Downtown Mall to introduce some of the adoptable dogs searching for homes. This isn’t a sober, restrained group, it’s a lively pack of tireless volunteers who happen to be of retirement age.
ASCMV Executive Director Clint Thacker understands the importance of his “older-and-wiser” volunteers: “Seniors—most of them anyway—have realized that giving and receiving love is really what makes the world go round. When a homeless animal is paired with a human being who has learned this ‘magic trick’ of life, the idea that giving and receiving love is incredibly essential, nothing but positivity can stem from that.”
Every Saturday, the walkers leash up the prospective orphans and walk them up and down the length of the market, stopping to chat with vendors and shoppers alike, introducing the dogs to potential owners. Often the dogs wear vests that say, “Adopt Me,” to spark conversation. When the dogs aren’t walking the mall, they rest in kennels where people can come up and meet, pet, and play with them.
Interested families can get information about the adoption process and can put a hold on a dog to provide time to make arrangements. The volunteers offer up information about each animal, and add in a good dose of arm-twisting.
Clint adds, “Seniors at the market are able to provide these animals with such a sufficient amount of love, because they are wise enough to know how important it is and how effective it can be. Love is a tool, and they utilize it well to help save animal lives.”
Faith St. Marie, who has volunteered for seven years, estimates that the group is responsible for hundreds of adoptions. “If we’re here 50 weeks a year, and just get one adopted each week, that’s 350.” And the number keeps growing as these indefatigable seniors continue to give up their Saturdays to make matches between hospitable humans and homeless canines.
Former municipal judge for the town of Mesilla, Susan Krueger, has turned her attention from the law to the paw. “A funny thing happened,” Susan says. After serving as a judge off and on for 15 years, she thought to herself, “You’re not listening like you should be. You’re listening with old ears. And each brand new client who comes before you deserves your full, new attention. So I retired!” Volunteering with ASCMV is “the one thing that makes every Saturday morning special.”
In December 2017, “our incredible volunteers gave the animals 760 hours!” Clint says. “Without our volunteer program, there is no way we could staff these programs or give the amount of attention to the animals as the volunteers give.”
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You don’t have to give a lot of time or even come to the shelter to volunteer. If you are interested in hearing the ways to volunteer, please contact volunteer coordinator Dominique Clark at 575-382-0018.
A Happy Ending
Shelly and Bryce Richard, with Pata Viva Farm, have been vendors at the Farmers Market for a year and a half, selling their produce, eggs, pecans, ceramics, and photographs. Every Saturday, they say hello to the dog walkers, and give a friendly pat to the animal in tow. Shelly often found herself wanting to take a dog home, and Bryce was compelled to say “no,” for sensible reasons: they were moving into a new home and bringing in Shelley’s 90-year-old grandfather.
“One day Faith walked by with this really scruffy, scraggly, pathetic-looking white dog,” Shelly explains. “He was really, really sweet, but he was so matted and he was dirty.” Knowing a dog would be a good companion for “Papa,” Bryce finally said yes, and Caleb found his forever home.
“He was pretty rough for a while,” Bryce adds. “But now, he’s just the cutest thing!”
Caleb has become an important part of the family, recently waking Shelly and Bryce when “Papa” woke up with intense neck pain and needed assistance.
Bryce says, “It’s worked out really well!”