By Cathy Adams
A Vestavia Hills resident is being honored for her devotion to the four-legged residents of the Over the Mountain area.
Ruth Henry was recently named the Adopt-a-Golden Birmingham’s 2014 Volunteer of the Year.
“I joke that I left a job working 10-15 hours a week making pretty good money, for a job working 10-15 hours a day earning nothing but a happy heart,” Henry said.
The Golden Retriever rescue group, which has found homes for 300 dogs since its founding in the spring of 2012, is an all-volunteer army of around 90 members, 30 of whom are most actively involved in monthly “Meet and Greets,” foster care, transport, communications and fund raising. As Adoption Coordinator, Henry is hands-on with every adoption, devoting a minimum of six hours a day, six to seven days a week to her volunteer work.
Retired after 30 years as a professor of dance at Birmingham-Southern College, Henry first learned about AGB from a 2012 newspaper article announcing the group’s formation by Lorraine Donald and John Sellers.
Henry said she saw Adopt-a-Golden as the perfect opportunity to spend time with the full-blooded and Golden mixes for whom the group finds forever homes.
“I retired from BSC in 2010 after having both hips replaced,” she said. “I could not lift more than 35 pounds, and when my 80-pound Golden, who was suffering from cancer, collapsed while my husband was out of town I knew that our days of having dogs that large were over.”
Henry and her husband Tom, a corporate pilot, found their personal “Golden bandaids” as parents to two Golden Doodles, half Golden/half poodles Pepper and Coco.
Many of the dogs surrendered to the program or found as strays arrive at intake with medical issues. About 50 percent require treatment for heartworms, a preventable condition.
Henry said her training and career in ballet would prove invaluable background for her work with rescue.
Henry has committed hundreds of hours to AGB, including a lot of time devoted to physical and emotional therapy with orphans Coosa and Periwinkle, both of whom arrived at AGB with serious orthopedic conditions.
On Memorial Day weekend of 2013, Coosa was thrown, with a broken leg, from a boat into the river of the same name and rescued by a Good Samaritan. While generous strangers followed Coosa’s saga on Facebook and contributed funds toward her surgery, Henry fostered the young dog for the six weeks that she was in a cast and for weeks after in a grueling rain-or-shine rehab regimen.
The South Alabama couple that ultimately adopted Coosa christened their new pet Coosa Ruth in honor of Henry’s devotion to her rehabilitation.
Equal praise comes from the young Atlanta man who now shares his life with Periwinkle. Surrendered by owners who were unable to provide the extensive surgical repairs necessary after she suffered two broken legs when hit by a car, the young man said his dog, Miss Winkles, also benefitted from Henry’s expertise.
Henry said finding dogs like Coosa and Periwinkle the forever homes they need is the most rewarding part of her work with AGBB.
“The most rewarding moments of my work involve watching the great matches, seeing families with tears in their eyes the day that the adoption of a dog becomes official,” Henry said. “This is particularly true with senior and special needs dogs. Good and kind people are willing to give love to aging dogs and to those with long term health issues.”
Henry said she was honored by the Volunteer of the Year award but said all the organizations’ volunteers are equally deserving of the recognition.
“AGB volunteers come from diverse backgrounds and represent the greatest bunch of giving people I’ve ever met,” she said.
Henry received her award at AGB’s third annual “Night of Golden Opportunities” fundraising auction held in September. The event raised $40,000 for the group that has yearly funding needs of more than $100,000. The nonprofit rescue group was also recently honored with a grant from Ken Jackson’s Remy Foundation through the Community Foundation of Greater Birmingham.
While her role at AGB means she occasionally witnesses “some really heartbreaking situation,” Henry said that for the most part, her work has joyous endings.
“Often when walking away with their new forever families, the dogs turn and come back to me as if they are saying thank you,” she said. “Goldens are so expressive. We routinely receive adoption applications stating the wish to be a family to a breed described as happy and smiling. Goldens are not only beautiful, they stay child like for their entire lives. People tell us that they just want that ‘Golden fix.’”
For more information on AGB or to fill out an adoption or volunteer application visit www.adoptagoldenbirmingham.com.