BROOKSVILLE — Everyone seemed to have a tale — if not a tail.
Willis Harkness of Hudson told how he had taught his dog to do its business in a bag.
Susanne Whelan of Spring Hill said she had lost the paper she'd signed for her husband, promising she wouldn't adopt another pet.
Rosemary Davis of Spring Hill talked about the Facebook page she had launched, Missing Pets of Hernando County.
The trio were among more than 20 people who turned out for a recent training seminar for a new undertaking at Hernando County Animal Services where volunteers walk dogs and cuddle cats that reside at the shelter.
After classroom instruction about rules and pet handling, professional trainer Mary Peter put her lead dog, a German shepherd named Buckshot, through several maneuvers: leash walking, sitting, no jumping.
Said Peter, of Stillwater Dog Training in Brooksville: "Oh, I can teach a dog to sit in about five seconds."
The volunteers looked on in amazement.
With leash in hand, Peter demonstrated: Tilt the dog's head upward; with the other hand, gently "touch behind his hiney" below the tail.
"Don't push on his butt, which could injure dogs, especially those prone to hip dysplasia," she instructed. "Don't goose, or he'll bolt."
As for jumping up, the dog doesn't know when a person is wearing good clothes, she pointed out.
"Gently knee the dog in the chest," she said. "Don't use a hand up. They may jump at it."
Although jumping is a dog's normal greeting, Peter said, "we need to teach them not to."
Well-mannered dogs are more adoptable, said Animal Services manager Liana Teague.
"We want them to learn good habits," Teague said.
That's where the volunteers come into play. With only four kennel staffers on hand and four field officers, time is limited for teaching, exercising, grooming and loving.
"Quality of life is what we really need you guys for," Teague told group members, ranging in age from 15 to 77, each of whom is asked to commit four hours a week at the shelter, walking or cuddling pets.
Pets are brought to the shelter because of abuse, owners' inability or financial constraints to care for and/or feed them, an owner's move to new living accommodations, family breakups, neglect.
"Sometimes," Teague said, "a pet (being) here is the best time of their life."
Most of the volunteers came to the initial training session to serve as outdoor dog walkers. Feline fanciers will take cats from their individual cages for petting and grooming.
"Take a chair in (to the cat room)," said Whalen, a longtime volunteer who is coordinating the current program. "Hold the cat in your lap. Hopefully, you'll be rewarded with a purr."
Adoption of incoming pets at the shelter is the goal.
"We'd love to see Animal Services become an absolute no-kill shelter," Whalen said. "I think we can do it."
Added Teague: "Euthanasia is the most difficult thing we do here."
The extreme measure is employed due to health problems, behavior, personality and space limitations.
"We're an open admission shelter," Teague noted. "We don't have the luxury of turning animals away."
Some 5,000 animals — from exotic birds to rats, pleasure horses, farm livestock and farm fowl — move through the shelter each year, Teague said. December marked last year's highest adoption rate, with 51 animals going to new homes. Only healthy, non-aggressive animals are put up for adoption.
They are examined and vaccinated by a veterinarian, who also treats injuries and administers medications. PetLuv of Brooksville offers free spaying and neutering.
In pursuit of good animal handling, PetSmart and Pet Superstore, both of Spring Hill, have donated leashes, collars, pet treats and toys to Animal Services. The stores, along with the Humane Society of the Nature Coast and the SPCA of Hernando County, cooperate with adoptions.
Beth Gray can be reached at [email protected]