ACORN gives dogs a fighting chance

by Kim Robins - Posted on Feb 16, 2011 - 05:24 PM

Photo: ACORN volunteer Boo Schwartz, left, and Gloucester-Mathews-Middlesex Animal Shelter manager Beth Hogge take a break with shelter residents Waverley, a beagle, and Aberdeen, a flat coated retriever mix, who would like to move to new homes. Photo by Kim Robins.

ACORN volunteer Boo Schwartz, left, and Gloucester-Mathews-Middlesex Animal Shelter manager Beth Hogge take a break with shelter residents Waverley, a beagle, and Aberdeen, a flat coated retriever mix, who would like to move to new homes. Photo by Kim Robins.

Among the over 200 volunteers that serve the Gloucester-Mathews Humane Society and its animal shelter, there is a small yet highly dedicated group known as ACORN.

The group’s name stands for "Animal Control Outreach and Rescue Program" and the compassionate work of its members has helped to reduce Gloucester County Animal Control’s euthanasia rate from 61 percent in 1995 to less than 6 percent in recent years.

Watching the ACORN volunteers in action, it hardly looks like work. In a kennel run at the old Animal Control building, they are playing with a large adult dog that prances about proudly with a mouth full of toy teddy bear.

Another dog enters the run and shows a preference for ball over bear, going from one person to the next in a tail-wagging teasing with his tennis ball. Some of the dogs here have never had a toy or a human to play with, and now the attention brings out a youthful spiritedness.

Part of the mission of the Gloucester-Mathews Humane Society is to "serve both animals and people by strengthening the human-animal bond," and that is just what the ACORN members were doing. These once neglected, timid and frightened animals that would back away from a human’s touch now look forward to their visitors and a romp in the run, a walk on a leash or just some loving pats on the head. And the ACORN volunteers look forward to their now people-friendly canines finding a new home and more lasting human ties.

Gloucester Animal Control takes in about 600 dogs per year, according to ACORN spokesman Tonya Higgins, who is also a doctor of veterinary medicine. Out of that number, about half get reclaimed and many of the rest are adopted. Those that are clearly aggressive and unsafe are euthanized, but that still leaves a number of dogs that are not good adoption candidates due to health or behavior problems. Those are the dogs that ACORN targets and befriends until the animals are ready to move on to new caregivers.