What’s In A Name?
Sometimes, More Than You Might Think
By Donna Knox- NHSPCA Volunteer

I recently moved to the Seacoast area and, after learning the basics—like where each of the three Portsmouth bridges would get me, the rule about waiting my turn to enter a rotary and the importance of figuring out where to put my snow pile—I decided it was time to get involved in the community. When I went searching for opportunities, I found the New Hampshire SPCA in Stratham.  Though I never gave much thought to what the SPCA actually does, I guess, if asked, I would’ve thought in terms of SWAT teams raiding cock fights in smoky back rooms, or uniformed personnel showing up in response to reports of fifty or sixty dogs living in a one-room apartment without food or water.

The New Hampshire SPCA campus is lovely- inside and out.


What I hadn’t pictured was—well, let’s call it a ranch—sitting on six lovely acres, with a barn, multiple corrals, and a compliment of haystacks and pitch forks scattered about. That is to say nothing of the impressive shelter, adoption center or training facility that stand at the end of landscaped walkways. I mean, I want to live there.

But all of this is just the aesthetic beauty that we’ve always been taught is not what counts. It’s what’s inside that matters. You know: the heart; the soul; the kindness. (I also kinda like beautiful surroundings, but that could just be me.) Anyway, I reported for my first day of training one Saturday and left two hours later with an understanding of what true caring and respect for animals looks like—inside and out.

The facility has 44 paid staff members and over 700 volunteers. There is one creed that runs throughout the culture at the facility: the animals come first. A stroll through the kennel area bears this out. The kennels have beds…often more than one. And blankets. And toys. The door to each animal’s space is plastered with all things pertinent: dietary restrictions, allergies, physical ailments; temperament likes and dislikes.
The day I had my training for dog care, one little cutie sat snuggled in the lap of a volunteer on the floor. Just a little lovin’ time. Before long, another volunteer strolled from kennel to kennel, handing treats to anyone who wanted one. They all did.

It can be heartbreaking to think of animals without a home, living in a shelter; sitting in a ‘cage’ alone instead of curled up at the foot of a bed. But my time at the NHSPCA inspired thoughts beyond this limited view. The animals there are treated as individuals. People know them and care about them. I saw not the first indication of a ho-hum attitude. On the contrary, people bustled about in devoted service to the four-legged ones (and the birds, too). There was no question who mattered most.

Would it be better if they had a family and a home of their own? Yes. The NHSPCA is not that. But it is a wonderful landing spot for animals in transition. And the adoption rate is surprisingly high. Most animals stay only a few weeks or months, depending on circumstances. During that time, they are in a home-away-from-home, waiting for the right somebody to come along and scoop them up.

Jack feels safe and loved while he waits for a family.


The day I trained in dog care, I spent two hours with Jack, a small and spunky little guy of Jack Russel origins. Outside, Jack wanted to run free, but he was on medical restriction for a few more days so there could be no time running around in the outdoor play yard for him. Instead, we walked the grounds with Jack on a leash, giving him plenty of opportunity to bark at the horses as though, if they ever came to blows, he would win. He stared, quivering with intrigue, at other dogs out on their walks, and he peed on every bush we came upon. Can’t let some other guy be the last to leave his mark.  Sometimes we’d stop and sit on a bench. Jack was up in the trainer’s lap—or mine—and then off again depending on what caught his attention. One thing was evident: this dog felt safe and had plenty to occupy him throughout the day.

Back inside, the trainer and I went with Jack inside his kennel and sat on the floor to talk. Jack ran around the space flipping and tearing at toys. He crawled into our laps for a few hugs every so often, then was off again. The cookie lady came around while we were there. Jack tore over to get one.
After a while, I started to worry about Jack’s chances of getting adopted when I noticed that he barked at members of the public when they walked by his kennel. Faced with that, the visitors moved on. He’s such a sweet and fun little guy but there he was, in a new environment, going through who knows what kind of emotional adjustment, and he barked at the very people who might give him a real home. I was reminded that first impressions can be wrong. I hope the right somebody comes along who will smile when Jack barks, then go in and let him crawl up for some lap time and kisses. That’s the real Jack.

The other animals have similar stories. Whether it was Pippa the pig, or one of the horses or some of the doves (who must be adopted with their mates because they are coupled, and they love each other). From time to time there are goats and chickens and alpaca or sheep. Every kind of wheel-spinning small animal you might think of inhabits a certain wing of the shelter. As I walked from one area to another, I had to remind myself over and over: You’ve got two dogs at home, Donna. You don’t need more pets. I’m surprised I didn’t walk out of there with a couple doves, a bunny, Jack and another dog, and maybe even Pippa. I showed amazing restraint.

Part of the reason I could do that was because I felt good about where these animals are. They are in a safe and happy environment. One by one they will find homes. I’m waiting to hear that someone saw past my buddy Jack’s initial nervousness and went in to find the real little guy who wants only to love and to please someone. Making that happen is what the NHSPCA does.

For more information on Volunteering at the New Hampshire SPCA, visit our volunteer info page here.

*Shortly after this blog post was written, Jack found his forever family!