If there’s one thing Rhonda Montgomery knows, it’s puppy poop.
After 2,000 hours volunteering in the Kern County Animal Services puppy room at its Fruitvale shelter, Montgomery has seen her share.
But it hasn’t fazed her in the three years she has spent cleaning up after pups and helping to train other volunteers.
And as this is National Volunteer Week, it’s appropriate that Montgomery’s service will be recognized Wednesday morning when one of the puppy rooms is officially renamed the “Rhonda Montgomery Puppy Room.”
“They call me the crazy puppy lady and I guess I’m guilty as charged,” said a bubbly Montgomery when we spoke last week. “I really didn’t know what volunteering would open me up to. And I’ve definitely had my meltdown days. But then you see these puppies and you love them and want to be part of something bigger that’s going on.”
She’s at the shelter “knee deep in poop” three days a week for about three hours a day, sometimes more, sometimes less depending on what needs to be done.
The job isn’t for everyone, she said.
Animals coming to the shelter haven’t had the easiest lives and for some people the fact that some will have to be euthanized is just too much.
For Montgomery, though, every minute she can spend giving the puppies a safe, clean environment — with lots of cuddles — is her contribution to making that animal’s life just a little bit better.
“Yes, there are tears and parts that are flat-out infuriating. It all goes with the package. But if anyone is having second thoughts, just think about the difference you can make in one animal’s life because it’s so well worth it.”
If she sounds like a recruiter, well, she kind of is.
Montgomery was one of the first “volunteer ambassadors” at the shelter, meaning she also trains newbies, according to Volunteer Coordinator Jeff George.
“When I first started in 2014, I was giving a volunteer list of 26 people,” he said.
So he started holding recruitment drives. And the public responded.
Which was great.
A little too great.
“When we got up to 100 volunteers and I was training each one, it just became too time-consuming so I created the ambassador program in January 2015 and Rhonda was my first pick.”
He said there may have been longer-serving volunteers at the shelter. But no one was keeping records until he came on board.
“So she has the most hours since I’ve been keeping count,” George said. In fact, she actually hit 2,000 hours on March 24, so she’s actually working on her next 1,000.
George added that Montgomery has really gone the extra mile learning all the proper cleaning procedures as well as humane laws and department policies.
In her past workaday life, Montgomery was a bookkeeper for a realty management service so she’s kind of a stickler for procedure.
“We work really hard on cleanliness,” she said as she scrubbed kennels in bleach-stained sweat pants and work shoes. “We don’t want any cross-contamination. We learn UC Davis-recommended procedures and that’s all part of our training. It’s pass or fail and not many people fail.”
I commend Montgomery’s dedication and all the volunteers for their service.
I’m not so sure my heart (yes, I have one!) could take working in a shelter, seeing abandoned, abused and unwanted animals every day.
But Montgomery said she plans to keep at it.
She has an adopted daughter, now 6, who wants to come work with mommy when she’s 16.
“I’m 50 now so I always joke with her that if my knees and back are still working, I’ll be here.”