Some people have a natural talent for connecting with animals, but when you grow up on a farm with 120 horses, that skill comes by necessity.
Renee King, a long-time administrative assistant in the Department of Applied and Engineering Physics, learned to interact with animals as a child growing up on her family’s Dryden, N.Y., farm. She remembers one particular instance training a former race horse named Swizzlestick. “He was a dynamite. You couldn’t walk into the stall. There were so many things you just couldn’t do with him. Well, after six months of working with him, it just clicked,” said King.
Today, King shares her love and knowledge of animals with the community through various programs run by 4-H and the SPCA. And it’s the kind of patience she learned by working with Swizzlestick that she now exhibits when working with children and rescue dogs.
King is an active member of the 4-H Youth Fair Board and the Consumer and Family Science Program Development Committee. She also works with low-income children ages 9 to 15 through 4-H programs like Kids in Charge of the Kitchen and Sew Fun.
“These students present many challenges, and it takes a very special volunteer to work with this audience,” said Brenda Carpenter, extension community educator with 4-H Youth Development. “Renee is one of those special volunteers. She seems to have an endless supply of patience and understanding when working with the students.”
King also works with youth through the 4-H Animals and Medicine program, which invites teenagers to learn about different animals at Cornell’s College of Veterinary Medicine. Students have the opportunity to get hands-on with horses, cows, reptiles, dogs and cats. They learn to check pulses, temperature and other vital signs, and use a stethoscope to listen to animal hearts and digestive systems.
King says it’s rewarding to watch some of the teens come out of their shells when they see an animal they find interesting. “We had one young man who put his hood up and listened to his iPod when we went through the horses. But when we got to the birds, that hood came down, he was talking to us and asking questions. It was just so exciting to see him interact with other people and have a focus that he really enjoyed,” said King.
King’s ability to bring people and animals together has also been valuable to the SPCA of Tompkins County—a no-kill shelter for unwanted and rescued animals. Among her volunteer activities, King trains new volunteers and helped revise the organization’s training guidelines. “For instance, if you’re a ‘green’ dog walker, you can’t walk a ‘purple’ dog because a ‘green’ person can only visit and talk to the dogs,” said King, who added that the purple classification means a dog has special needs, such as it’s unusually timid or aggressive. Volunteers can attain new classification levels by taking advantage of training sessions offered by the SPCA.
King says pairing the right person with the right dog is also important when it comes to adoptions. She says dogs can sometimes live at the shelter for more than a year before that special person comes along. “We had a German shepherd and we could not get that dog to stop barking. And very few people could go in there withher, she wasn’t being responsive,” recalled King. “Eventually there was a German shepherd person who came in and said ‘I want her.’ They just clicked. They walked out with her and now that dog is viewing the country.”
King felt the same bond with Nala, a rescued Rottweiler she adopted after meeting her during an event hosted by the SPCA of Cortland County.
“I wish we had an army of Renees,” exclaimed Lynne Conway, volunteer and philanthropic programs manager at the SPCA of Tompkins County. “Her calm, pleasant demeanor is very helpful when working with our dogs—many of whom come from less than ideal circumstances. She’s a treasure.”
When asked what drives her to share her passion for animals, King answered “I don’t know. I just feel the most comfortable there. It’s unfortunate that some people don’t realize how much animals have to offer.”