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Volunteer Spotlight: Kim Tatum

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At Highland Canine Connect, our volunteers play an integral part in delivering our community programs. They take our service dog candidates out into public places – helping not only to socialize the dogs, but also bring joy to people! Whether it is a nursing home or a school, our volunteers help to make a positive difference. Our programs simply couldn’t take place without them.

To find out more about what it means to volunteer with Highland Canine Connect, we wanted to catch up with one of our volunteers. We wanted to learn more about the type of volunteer activities they have been involved with, in addition to understanding the difference they feel this has made for the people they have interacted with.

Kim Tatum has been a volunteer with us since 2019. As Kim explains in this interview, volunteering with Highland Canine Connect has been an incredibly rewarding experience for her. She talks about what she has enjoyed most, and has advice for anyone who aspires to be a volunteer with Highland Canine Connect.

(If you’re interested in becoming a volunteer, please get in touch! With more volunteers, we are able to expand our programs to more schools and nursing homes. Learn more about what is involved in volunteering with HCC, or contact us today for more information!)

Can you tell us a little bit about the volunteer activities you have done with Highland Canine Connect?

Along with several others, I have taken Highland Canine Connect’s dogs out in public to help with their socialization skills and their obedience skills. Each dog will be specialized in different tasks when placed. The handler works on that skill, plus any basic training. I have gone into places like Lowes, Walmart, and restaurants with the dogs.

On my birthday in 2019, my husband went with me. The two of us, plus four others, took six dogs into a bakery uptown. The looks on the workers faces were priceless – absolutely hilarious! They quickly recovered though, and I got a birthday cupcake. Two of us had two dogs in Mi Pueblo. The dogs were under the table, where a true service dog is supposed to be. When we got up the people around us were shocked to see the dogs – not because we had them, but because we had them and they didn’t even realize they were there for an hour!

dogs petting service dog in training

My most favorite thing I have helped Highland Canine Connect with is taking their dogs in to nursing homes and schools! That is the absolute best thing. Yes, it helps the dogs with socialization, but just as importantly, those people in the nursing home light up when they see us coming. They will be waiting at the door for us. It is truly heartwarming. And the students and schools! Oh my goodness! Some of them have never even been around a dog but will rush to get to pet one. The students read to the dogs in small groups. The dogs will be in a down/stay position. Five or six kids will read a short book. The program was designed to help children with their reading skills. It is awesome! Even though the kids are having to read, they love it.

After Covid hit, a few times I went and got a dog to spend the day with me running errands. Covid was hard on the dogs and the whole program. Those dogs were used to going places – then it stopped. We knew why. They did not. It was heartbreaking for the dogs.

What motivated you to be a part of the volunteer team?

Erin Purgason motivated me to become part of their team! I love Erin. I have known her for many years. She works part-time at my vet’s office, and that is where I met her. She has a tremendous love for animals. She has a tremendous heart for helping people. Erin put those two things together to form Highland Canine Connect. Through Erin, I also met her husband, Jason. I came to love him as much as Erin. Jason has the same love for animals and people that Erin does.

What is your favorite part of volunteering with Highland Canine Connect?

My favorite part of volunteering for Highland Canine Connect is the joy we bring the individuals in the nursing homes and to the students at the schools we visit. Some of the residents of the nursing homes do not have any visitors, then here we come with a bunch of well-behaved dogs wanting some love. It is truly amazing! I can’t wait to be able to do that again.

Have you found volunteering with Highland Canine Connect an enjoyable/rewarding experience?

Yes! Extremely rewarding! As I stated before, the looks on the people’s faces says it all. The residents will be at the doors waiting for us. The excitement of the students when we go to the schools. For some, that is the only time they get to pet a dog. I have had students read their chosen book with one hand and kept their other hand on the dog. They really look forward to the dogs coming. I wish we had enough volunteers to go to the same school each week. We don’t. We rotate between the schools that want us.

service dogs on way to reading program

What is your advice for anyone who is considering becoming a volunteer with Highland Canine Connect?

Oh please, please, please come give it a try! If you like dogs, you will love this program!  If you like bringing joy and happiness to others, you will love this program! Highland Canine Connect is located in Union Grove, NC. For some, that is a long drive. However, if you want to volunteer for the reading program, you do not have to go to their facility.  You can let them know you will be at the designated school at the designated time and they will bring you a dog! It is that simple. And I promise you – you will not regret it!

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