By Elle Peavy, Contributor
A small room. A desk nuzzled in the corner. Various lesson plans mounted on the wall. Faint sounds of barks and moans fill the audible background. All the while, a dog lay present, gnawing on a bone, in the corner adjacent to the desk. A woman sits upright in a wheelie chair. Legs crossed, her arms lay rested in her lap and her shoulders squared toward the direction of her conversation.
Mrs. Bonnie Wallin, age 60, has been the director of Humane Education for the Greenville Humane Society for two years now. She has been drawn to animals for as long as she can remember.
“I had a salamander. I had a turtle. And I had a rabbit for at least six years,” Wallin listed. “Oh, I had gerbils. I raised gerbils and sold them to the pet store.”
Her explanation for such a group of animals? She claimed that they always found her. Wallin admitted that this love for animals was not hereditary. Regarding her family’s appreciation for animals, she simply stated: “I do not think they fostered [a love for them]. They were tolerant of animals, but I was definitely the biggest animal lover in the family.”
“My father used to make me flush my [live] fish down the toilet. Because it would be time to go on vacation and we wouldn’t have anyone to take care for the fish,” she said, “I thought that was an incredibly calloused part of my father.”
Wallin revisited different past events that she claimed were “memories [that] are deeply etched in my psyche.” She also recalled a time when she found her escaped Salamander under her bed in a shriveled state.
While conveying these memories, which she described as traumatizing, she stopped to take notice that the dog in the room, which she referred to as Chance, was licking an empty water bowl. “I should give you some water, sweetheart,” she said. She then quickly uncapped the bottle of water on her desk, which she had been periodically sipping due to her sore throat and poured half of its contents into the dog’s water bowl.
Chance is one of Wallin’s latest projects, which “They [Humane Society animal management] really do not encourage,” Wallin said. Chance’s vague resemblance of a Pitbull and his predominantly black coat were two traits buyers tend to avoid, therefore she often gave him extra attention, she explained.
Wallin was raised in New Jersey. She attended Colgate University in Hamilton, New York, and got her first job in New York City, as a Sales Marketing and Customer Service Trainer. Then she moved to Philadelphia for a similar job opportunity. Once she was in her forties and settled in South Carolina, she received her Master’s in Education. Yet, it was not until she had her third child that she was settled enough to start caring for animals again.
“We had a Labrador Retriever – love of our lives – for 12 years,” she said. In addition, the Wallin family rescued a tiny dog that has “ended up being the bane of everyone’s existence,” she said with an eye roll and a smile. The last dog she rescued from her son’s fraternity house. Wallin took the dog to the doctor and spent $1000 on her recovery. When her son asked for the dog back Wallin replied, “Well, if you have $1000 maybe we can talk.” She added that “he went to Best Buy and bought a tv instead.” Wallin still has the dog, Sam, four years later.
The Humane Society Education department is a one-person department. Wallin has built this department from the ground up by manufacturing various lesson plans, and getting them piloted in, whilst forming relationships with various public schools and community centers. She has also recruited Furman University’s students to help with her programs. As the Education Department head, her job is to educate children of various ages, about the importance of proper animal care. She had 42 school visits scheduled in February and March alone.
Wallin said, in regards to the public school visits, “We felt that given the population we were addressing that it was important that they were educated, because a lot of them don’t have very positive role models for how to handle dogs and cats properly.”
Wallin’s goal for the department was to incorporate as many school as possible into her repertoire. She also wanted to expand the number of programs by bringing classes to the Humane Society and starting a summer camp. “We are on the up and up,” said Wallin.
“This job has really fueled my interest in animal welfare issues, because I hear so much from customers and the people I teach about how little they know and about how little money they are willing to spend and how easily they are able to surrender their pet if it is inconvenient.”
Wallin gave an eyewitness account of one man driving by the Humane Society, letting his dog jump out of the car and then driving away all because he wanted to avoid paying the 25-dollar surrender fee. “I just do not have a whole lot of patience for people,” she commented.
Wallin also spoke of a college student, who adopted a puppy last year due to medical reasons. The police found the few-months-old puppy tied to a porch one evening, shortly after the student adopted him. Some of the student’s hallmates approached Wallin trying to convince her to confiscate the dog due to maltreatment. Wallin told the hallmates that she was not legally able to take the dog without any physical evidence of harm being done.
“In France, dogs are considered a life worth protecting. In the United States they are still considered personal property,” she said, with her shoulders visibly sagging for a moment.
Chance, the dog, then paced throughout the room, knocked stacks of paper off the table and then relieved himself on the floor. Wallin responded slowly. She re-stacked the papers, cleaned the mess and placed the pup on her lap to cuddle.
“We must always remember how much the voiceless need us to be their advocates,” Wallin said, smiling while cradling Chance.