One paw at a time; volunteer dog walkers make a difference

Carla Clark | For The Republic Abby is walked by Eva Cagwin, volunteer at the Bartholomew County Humane Society, Monday, February 26, 2024.

Volunteers at the Bartholomew County Humane Society come from various walks of life, but they share a common passion. They believe all dogs and cats belong in families and they aim to find them safe homes.

Over the last fifty years, the Humane Society has grown into an organization that has eight paid staff members – three workers for felines, three for canines, a veterinary technician, a front office manager and the executive director, but what volunteers contribute is indispensable. The sheer volume of animals housed in its south side facility requires the attention of a lot of people.

One task that adds enrichment to canine lives is dog walking. It provides a change of scenery and a chance to learn about interacting with humans. Roger and Eva Cagwin are both dog walkers for the society but take slightly different approaches. Eva takes a less structured approach than Roger, characterizing herself as “the party girl.”

“I wanted to contribute to the good things happening in Columbus,” she said.

When Roger became a walker, he did some preparation by learning Pack Fundamentals and Puppy Fundamentals at Dog World.

“You have to establish yourself as the human as the pack leader,” Roger said. “You have to exhibit confidence, maybe not look at them right away when you first enter the room.”

The Cagwin’s moved to Columbus from Jamestown, New York, in 1995. Roger is now retired from Cummins, capping his career there in the worldwide functional quality area. Eva retired from Bartholomew Consolidated School Corporation, where she was coordinator of tech operations.

Eva has walked dogs for the society since 2018. Along with a lifelong love of dogs, she’s always valued volunteering her service wherever she’s lived. There are generally four to six dogs on a walk. Roger handles bigger breeds. He and Eva walk at the same time, but usually not side by side.

“When you first enter the room, it’s chaos,” said Eva. “What Roger brings to it is that he walks up to them right away, and they think, ‘Why isn’t he chaotic?’ They generally realize he won’t open the cage for them until they calm down.”

According to Eva, the Columbus area is “very fortunate to have three strong organizations” focused on placing animals in homes: the Humane Society, the city’s Animal Care Services and the Community Animal Rescue Effort Inc. (C.A.R.E.), which coordinates dog and cat fostering and is always looking for dog walkers.

Kris Harmon works in the area where cats with health issues reside. The Wisconsin native is retired from teaching fourth grade at Parkside Elementary and has volunteered at the Humane Society shelter for five years. She cleans food bowls, litter pans and cages, and does what she can to socialize the cats.

“Some are very easy to work with; some are very afraid,” she said. “Most of the time, they don’t have a chip or a collar. It’s really unfortunate.”

The ones who get along with others have access to the free-roam area.

Her attachment to animals is evidenced by the fact that at home, she has two foster fails – fosters she wound up keeping, a cat and a dog. However, she had to overcome the desire to take all the cats she works with home. “I know they’re fed and safe, and that’s good enough.”

Kathy Bealmear has volunteered at the shelter for two years, after a career at CenterPoint Energy.

“I started out thinking I’d be a dog walker, but after one walk, I could see that most of them were too big for me,” she said.

Now, she works in the more spacious cat room. She said cats are almost always scared when they come in. She finds the work rewarding.

“I pet them and hug them and see if I can provoke them into purring,” she said. “I feel like I’ve done something to make the world a better place, at least for the cats.”