An 88-Dog Day at Tisbury Animal Shelter; a Viewer Is Reminded of Rodeo Wranglers

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By CHRIS BURRELL

If the Vineyard suddenly smelled a little better this weekend, you can thank the army of volunteers at the Tisbury animal shelter who scrubbed, lathered and towel-dried 88 dogs Saturday.

At 12 bucks a pup, this dog wash was a bargain for pet owners and a boon for the town-owned pound. The dog-wash - which also offered a $5 pedicure for paws - netted $1,700.

That's more than enough cash to accomplish objective number one at the shelter: building sun shades for the outdoor dog runs.

"The sun-blocking shades are made of black mesh and will cool the area by 20 to 25 degrees," said animal control officer Sharon Rzemien. "Our outdoor runs are all on the south side of the building."

Ms. Rzemien was staggered to hear the final count on the day's earnings. "We would have been jumping for joy if we hit $1,000," she said.

The money was hard-earned. Washing cars is one thing. They pull up, park and obediently take a dunking. Not most dogs.

Take Caesar, for instance, a four-year-old Wheaton vacationing this summer near the Lobster Hatchery in Oak Bluffs. When his number was called and owner Al Codino from New York started to escort him into one of the chainlink stalls, Caesar started bucking.

"He thinks we're leaving him," said Mr. Codino, "and he doesn't like to go to the kennel."

Washing a dog can start to resemble a rodeo. You have to wrangle a recalcitrant canine with one hand and keep your spray lasso steady and well-aimed with the other.

There were six dog-washers on hand and three stalls. You could easily spot the volunteers who stepped up for shampooing duty. They were the ones soaked from the waist down.

Lisa Wilson's blue jeans were now a dark blue. An eighth grader at the Tisbury School, she was logging some public service hours and greeting the masses of dogs that descended on this little campus up by the old town landfill.

By 1 p.m., the place looked like a beauty shop run amok. Picture 20 dogs - German shepherds, a Weimaraner, Boston terriers, bassett hounds, labs, boxers and mutts of every size - all waiting a turn for their coiffure.

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Fortunately, there seemed to be an equal number of children who pitched in to help with the operation. They tossed tennis balls, doled out generous portions of dog biscuits and even practiced their math skills, manning the cash and raffle boxes.

Five-year-old Seasal Vaughn of Tisbury volunteered to take the leash of a little black dog and walk her around the grounds."When's going to be her tubby time?" he asked at one of the stalls.

Back at the welcome table, Katilyn Saulnier, a seven-year-old from Tisbury, was making change for a dog owner with a little help from her father, Tisbury chief of police Theodore Saulnier.

Elsewhere, dog owners grabbed a seat and waited, chatting with each other and sipping cold lemonade.

"It gets everyone more involved in the pound," said Ron Whitney, director of the MSPCA animal shelter in Edgartown. "The groomers are talking to people, telling them what to do about ticks, what to watch for."

Debbie Whitney, owner of Canine Clippers, had volunteered to trim nails, a procedure resisted by many a dog.

"You need to start early with them, massage their toes and nails and get them used to having their feet handled," she said. "Don't turn it into a tug-of-war."

A $17 soup-to-nuts spa treatment Saturday functioned something like an assembly line. Mr. Whitney, just back from fetching the pizzas donated by Louis' Tisbury Cafe & Take Out, was making sure wet dogs departed in a state of relative dryness. "Here's one for the dryer," he would holler out.

In the final stages of having their patience tested, dogs hung in for a rub-down with a fresh towel and then maybe even a blow-dry from a contraption that looked more like one of those industrial vacuum cleaners.

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Not surprisingly, a fair number of dog owners could tell stories about coming to a shelter much like this one to adopt a pet. Paul Watts of Tisbury shared how he came to own Peanut, a cross between a whippet and a Jack Russell with a tawny-colored coat offset by a white neck and chest.

"She was a Portuguese hunting dog from New Bedford," he said, explaining that these dogs are often killed or abandoned after hunting season.

"We took someone out of the execution line," said Mr. Watts. "She's 20 pounds now, but when we got her, she weighed only 12."

Ronald Roberts of Oak Bluffs also found his dog at a rescue shelter, this one in New York. His name was Tuck, a five-year-old black lab.

Mr. Roberts stood watching Tuck turn into a cleaner dog, and he wore an expression of pure relief. Someone else was washing Tuck.

"We wash him in the outdoor shower," said Mr. Roberts, "but I don't look forward to it."

Maybe that's what made a chaotic event seem so relaxed - dog owners serenely handing off one of the wetter and wilder chores of life. Groomers even pulled ticks.

Ms. Rzemien said the event was so popular they may do it again in August, during the real dog days of summer.