SUNBURY — What’s 85 dogs look like? At the Mostly Mutts shelter, situated on 12 acres out of town, it looks like a lot of hard work.
But it’s worth it, according to owner Cheryl Hill and her corps of volunteers.
During the school year — late summer and through the fall, the rescue has as many as 50 people who come to help exercise the dogs and maintain the grounds. But at this time of year, as college students are on spring break, and into the summer, Hill’s helpers drop to about 16.
“I’m very fortunate to have who I do,” Hill said Tuesday. “They’re for the dogs.”
She recently posted flyers in area businesses, in hopes that more people will consider volunteering at the shelter.
“Everybody has their own niches,” Hill said.
And, not everyone interacts directly with the canines.
“We have all kinds of people who come here,” she added, mentioning 4-H clubs and Scouting organizations. “I have 20 people who do fundraising and outside events.”
Another helper comes specifically to organize the sheds full of donated blankets and supplies.
Someone who could transport cans and metal to the recycling yards in Sunbury “would be a big help for me,” Hill said. “Everything here is recycled — all of our dog food cans” and old fencing that no longer is useable.
For those who prefer to work with their hands there are chores such as maintaining the kennels, painting, caulking and electrical jobs.
“In the summer, we have to mow the grass and whack weeds,” Hill said.
Of course, there’s always dogs to walk and they also need to be bathed and groomed. When the rescue has fundraising events, drivers are needed to transport the dogs to and from locations.
“I just marvel at what Cheryl Hill does. Twenty-four/seven, they’re her responsibility,” said Cheryl Ziegenfuss, one of seven volunteers who were on the grounds Tuesday.
Ziegenfuss, who was born in Shamokin and lived in Gowen City, has volunteered at Mostly Mutts for nine or 10 years with her husband, Dennis. The couple, in their 70s, now live in Sunbury.
“We love dogs and animals. We’ve always had dogs, mostly rescues,” she said. “We got two sisters — German shorthair pointer mixes — from here.”
They started out walking dogs and now also handle cleaning.
“I feed and water them and give them fresh blankets,” Ziegenfuss said, “and he (Dennis) does the outside” kennel cleanup. “We do it for the dogs.”
The majority of the volunteers on site this particular day were retirees. Sunbury resident Audrey Eroh, however, still works at Susquehanna University. She makes a point of scheduling her week so she can be off on Tuesdays, when she and her husband, Doug, spend about six hours at Mostly Mutts.
“Right now, we care for 12 dogs. We walk them, clean their kennels, give them fresh bedding ... and give them love,” Audrey said.
“My favorite part is giving them hugs and kisses, and they give them right back,” Doug said. “It keeps me young. It’s the highlight of my week.”
The Erohs began volunteering nearly two years ago.
“It’s hard work and it’s dirty but it’s still fun,” Audrey said. “When you see the faces and the eyes on these dogs ... and the hugs and kisses they give you ... it makes you feel good inside.”
The couple adopted their dog, Toffee, from Mostly Mutts. The mixed breed — Doug thinks she is an Italian greyhound/miniature pinscher cross — “is the most well behaved” dog, he said, despite starting her life in an allegedly abusive atmosphere prior to her arriving at the rescue.
“I felt I owed the shelter,” Doug said. “I absolutely love it here. And the dogs all just want to be loved and petted.”
For five or six years, Dee Hartman and her husband, Steve, have driven almost an hour from their home in Mifflinburg to volunteer. Usually, Dee’s sister comes too.
“We clean the beds, dishes and floors and walk and bathe the dogs,” Dee said. “You just do what you are able to do. It doesn’t have to be everything.”
Anyone who wants to volunteer can fill out an application, which is available on the shelter’s website at mostlymuttsonline.com/forms, or call Hill for more information at 570-988-6483.
When the volunteer coordinator sets up a schedule, new volunteers each get a tour of the facility.
“We don’t want to ever turn anyone away,” Hill said, making a statement that appears to apply both to volunteers and dogs. “We were taught as kids, if someone needs something, you should help in any way you can.
“We take in a lot of older dogs, sickly dogs, those with behavioral issues. We work very hard with our dogs,” she added. “And we help any way we can.”