Joyce Chubb is retired, but visitors to the Cape May County Animal Shelter and Adoption Center in Cape May Court House might think she was an employee for all the time she spends there every day.

"The more you go, the more involved you get," the Avalon resident said. "We all love the animals."

While employees of area animal shelters take care of the basic needs of the animals and the business, dozens of volunteers play a crucial role in socializing, exercising and even training them to help make them more adoptable.

"The staff is so busy running the shelter," said Terry Petruzzi, volunteer coordinator at the Atlantic County Animal Shelter in Pleasantville, which has about 20 regular volunteers. "The volunteers walk the dogs, socialize the cats, give out treats, mostly just give the animals extra attention."

In June, 47 volunteers worked 432 hours for the Cape May County Animal Shelter, about half at the shelter and half at the PetSmart in Rio Grande where they help clean cages for shelter cats and host an adoption table.

"That's been a fabulous partnership for us," said Judith Davies-Dunhour, manager of the shelter. "It gives us a lot of visibility and we couldn't do it without the volunteers."

Volunteer Larissa Smith, of Middle Township, staffs the adoption table on Wednesdays and said it has generated more adoptions.

"Some people don't know there is a shelter, or where it is," Smith said. "We'll have about eight cats here, or we can refer them to the shelter."

Volunteering at an animal shelter can be demanding. There typically is some training required and most shelters require volunteers be at least 18 years old, or come with an adult.

"I can't afford a gym membership, so I come here and walk dogs," said Merrilee Clayton, of Lacey Township, who volunteers at Popcorn Park Zoo and Humane Society Animal Care Center in Forked River which has both shelter volunteers and a zoo patrol. "I can't adopt them myself, but at least I can give them love. And it's great exercise."

She typically comes three days per week, and generally stays for one to three hours.

"I try to stay as long as I can," she said. "They will look at you like 'Don't leave yet.' I miss them when I'm not there."

The Cape May Court House shelter recently added an animal behaviorist, Carol Siegrist, to work with the animals, and several volunteers have also been training animals, including Chubb and Connie Funk, of Avalon. Funk just began volunteering last summer after she retired from teaching.

"I'd be there seven days a week if it weren't for my husband," Funk said with a laugh. "Once I got there I got hooked. The trainer is fabulous. I thought I knew how to walk a dog. But we are learning how to make them obey and not get distracted, which makes them more adoptable."

The former high school teacher said people will ask how she can work with sometimes large and not well-trained animals, but she said pit bulls have nothing on a room full of high school seniors.

"There's never been a dog I've been afraid of," she said. "Sometimes I do get black and blue from playing, or when they jump. But they're just so happy to see us."

Shelter volunteers can be divided into the dog people and the cat people, though a few do both. Chubb has also fostered rescued kittens, including one called DK or "Dumpster Kitty," whom she fostered for two months. She's taken animals out for rides in a car to see how they'll behave and to the farmer's market in Wildwood to see how they act in public.

Diane Rinier, of Cape May Court House, got involved not so much because she loves animals, but because she loves her granddaughter, Kayla Cranmer.

Kayla wants to be a veterinarian, so volunteering at a shelter is a great way to get experience with animals. But at 15, Kayla is too young to volunteer at the Cape May Court House shelter unless an adult stays with her. Rinier offered to be her chaperone, and while she admits Kayla does most of the work, Rinier said she enjoys both the time with her granddaughter and the animals.

"I didn't think I'd enjoy it so much," she said. Kayla takes care of kitten cages at PetSmart and also walks the pitbulls, typically volunteering twice a week.

"She does the walking and I carry the poopy bags," Rinier said with a laugh.

Bill Hollingsworth, executive director of the Humane Society of Ocean City, said they have more than 50 volunteers, about 30 who come on a weekly basis. He said people come and go so volunteers are always needed both at the shelter and for special events like rabies clinics.

"We try to offer something for everyone," he said. "The volunteers take the same training as the employees," he said. "We couldn't exist without them."

For those who don't want close contact with animals, shelters said volunteers also help in the office and with their web sites.

As much as they get attached to the animals, the volunteers said the best day is the day an animal they have worked with gets adopted.

"When they first come in, they are so scared, shaking, huddled in a corner," said Laura Gural, of Toms River, who volunteers at Popcorn Park. "Sandy (Hickman, the volunteer coordinator) works with them. Then, before you know it they're happy again. The best thing is when a dog that would have been passed by before, gets adopted."

Hickman, of Waretown, started as a volunteer herself before being hired. She uses her 20 years of experience managing grocery stores to organize the volunteer program, running volunteer orientations, and making sure the 70 dogs get walked, the cats get brushed, and the zoo is patrolled.

Chubb recalls a dog that was at the Cape May Court House shelter for about 14 months. He had arrived at about six months old and he was so disobedient Chubb was sure he would never be trained, even with help from Siegrist.

"He just got adopted," she said with glee. "Now he's perfect. It took time, but we trained him."

Contact Diane D'Amico:

609-272-7241