The prisoners try not to whine, waiting for the volunteers to come every morning.
But it's hard.
The cell is so small.
The exercise yard beckons.
And for many of the innocent inmates -- it's either whine or bark.
Or maybe lick.
Fortunately, the 50 dogs locked up on an average day at the Payson Humane Society's shelter in Payson can count on the kindness of strangers -- the core of about 40 volunteers who try to give each dog about 40 minutes of exercise each day, not to mention grooming, petting and fund-raising.
"I don't know how, without the volunteers, the shelter would survive," said Ellie Watson, who runs the shelter at 812 S. McLane Road.
Many volunteers work directly with animals at the shelter. They usually show up at 7:30 a.m., as the place begins to stir -- to make sure the dogs get a chance to romp in the exercise area. Often, that half-hour or hour of exercise and soothing human contact makes a big difference in the dogs' anxiety levels and health.
But many volunteers have trouble coming to the shelter itself -- since they feel so deeply for the dogs, cats and occasional exotic pet that they would quickly end up running a shelter of their own.
So these other volunteers become the mainstay of the shelter's ambitious and vital fund-raising efforts. The volunteers are the mainstay for the regular, annual fund-raising events like the September dance at the casino that last year brought in $8,000, the ongoing aluminum can recycling drive that raises about $37,000 annually, the annual chili supper at the Elks Lodge that drew about 500 people and raised $10,000 last year and the calendar fund-raiser that raised about $10,000.
Watson estimated that the volunteers bring in the bulk of the roughly 80 percent of the annual budget that comes from private donations. The rest of the money to operate the shelter comes in through contracts with Payson and Star Valley to pick up, shelter and try to adopt-out stray or abandoned dogs and cats.
The $70 adoption fee makes little contribution to the operating costs, since the fee barely covers the cost of spaying, neutering, vaccinations and other direct costs.
That means the shelter could not exist without the efforts of dozens of area residents, who give of their time.
"I think some of the volunteers who come in to work with the animals do it because they can't have animals where they live, and need that contact. The ones who come to the shelter do it because they understand the dogs need the social contact and the exercise," Watson said.
The shelter has about eight staff members and a monthly payroll of $16,000. The volunteers take the place of at least four staff members, which means they save the shelter about $8,000 a month, Watson estimated.
The shelter's vet bill adds another $6,000 a month to the need for those volunteer fund-raisers.
The volunteers who work on fund-raising play an equally vital role, said Watson. "They cannot come to the shelter because they have a problem seeing the dogs and the cats here, but they contribute in other ways. They tell us they can't come here, but they're out selling raffle tickets or participating in the Strawberry Festival or things like that."
The shelter receives about 105 dogs and 90 cats each month, plus the occasional unusual visitor like a rooster or a rabbit. Most of the animals are adopted within one or two weeks, but some spend months at the shelter. The shelter works hard to avoid euthanizing any of the animals it receives. However, animals that are seriously ill or display aggressive behavior directed at humans are euthanized. All told, the shelter handles more than 1,700 animals annually, most of which end up in good homes.
The shelter's need for volunteers will only grown in months to come, thanks to the launching of an ambitious, $3 million fund-raising plan to allow the construction of a new shelter on a two-acre parcel. The planned new facility will include a community vet clinic that will offer low-cost spay and neutering services to anyone in the community. Moreover, the new shelter will not have to keep the animals in kennels with concrete floors, which pose problems during the cold winters.
The new shelter will also include isolation areas with separate air flow, which will keep illnesses from spreading from one animal to another, said Watson.
So once again, the Humane Society will be calling on that dedicated core of volunteers.
And they'll no doubt respond to the call.
Because, when you get down to it -- they're not whiners.
Payson Humane Society Animal Shelter
Telephone: (928) 474-5590
Address: Payson Humane Society
P.O. Box 242, Payson, AZ 85547
Location: 812 S. McLane Road
Hours: 9:30 a.m. to 11 a.m./1 p.m. to 4 p.m. Monday-Saturday
Mission: To provide shelter and care for Rim Country's lost or unwanted animals, to promote adoptions, to encourage the spaying and neutering of pets, and to educate both young and old on animal care and responsibilities.
Organization history: The Payson Humane Society was established as a nonprofit corporation in 1972. The shelter is financed through cash donations, memorial gifts, town and county contracts, recycling aluminum cans, adoption fees, grants and estate gifts, food and supply donations, dog bank collections and fund-raisers.
Community projects: Pet adoptions both on and off-site, including Pups on Parade at the Dog Park. Promotes humane education in our schools via newsletters and guest speakers.
Encourages recycling by collection of aluminum cans (a PHS fund-raiser), socialization of shelter animals, e.g. walking the dogs, petting the cats.
Fund-raising events such as the chili supper, bake sales and rummage sales. Food drives for the shelter animals.
Partnering with PAWS in the Park, Habitat for Humanity, and other organizations in various activities.
Participation in community events including the Rodeo Parade through the Rim Country Regional Chamber of Commerce, the Spring Eggstravaganza at Green Valley Park in conjunction with Payson Parks and Recreation, and other programs and events throughout the year.
Officers: President, Barbara Brenke; Vice President, Lisa Boyle; Secretary, Myrna Tipps; Treasurer, Steve Finn; Directors: Ellie Watson, Fred Moldenhauer, John White, Kathleen Hughes and Steven Keim.