Every day, our customers display incredible acts of compassion that impact the lives of animals and humans alike. Andrew Shawver is the Operations Director at the Humane Society of Northeast Iowa.
A lifelong dog owner (and eventual cat convert), Andrew Shawver wanted to get more involved in animal welfare after adopting his second adulthood dog. “I have always had a heart for animals. I also suffer from depression, so it’s always good to focus on something else other than myself. Helping others helps me.” He began volunteering at HSNEI, where he immediately connected with the dogs. Six months later, he was tapped to be the shelter’s Operations Director. “It’s been three years and I am still there. I am the longest lasting member of the team.”
Shawver’s ability to form quick bonds and understand the dogs he works with has undoubtedly had an impact on the lives of many of the dogs that have come through HSNEI’s doors. One particular dog, Zoey, a pit bull mix, was the game changer for him. “She loved people to death, but would go after dogs whenever she had the chance. I thought, ‘There’s no way that this dog will be adopted unless she’s not around other dogs.’” But that all changed when a potential adopter who was already a dog owner stopped by at the shelter. “He insisted on trying it out. I was very hesitant, but they seemed to do okay on a group walk together. He took her home and sent a video of them getting along just fine in the house. That really opened my eyes to the fact that anything is possible — you just have to give it a try.”
That mindset led to what remains Shawver’s favorite adoption stories. Rocky was hesitant after his owner surrendered him to the shelter, but he wasn’t displaying behavior that Shawver hadn’t seen before — that is, until he got into his kennel. “He was going after the walls and the door. He didn’t want anything to do with anybody.” But Shawver wasn’t about to give up on him so soon. “After getting some backstory on him, I figured out that he was teased a lot by children through a fence. I decided that I’d just sit by his kennel and eat my lunch every day and eventually he became my best bud.” Over time, Rocky slowly allowed other staff members to come near and handle him. He eventually went home with a volunteer at the shelter. “He’s become a great dog — his owner even took in a mama dog and he guarded her puppies.”
Shawver is especially interested in playgroups and experimenting with different training methods to help dogs become well-adjusted companions no matter their backgrounds. He’s attended conferences and training sessions to stay on top of the latest techniques, and is also an avid follower of dog trainer Robert Cabral. His open-mindedness and willingness to try new things recently helped two Staffordshire Terrier siblings get new leases on life. “Dixon and his brother Bud’s owners left them with a dog sitter and never returned, so they brought them to us. He was adopted once, then returned, and then with a couple fosters. He looked so upset whenever he came back to the shelter. His last foster family was a foster-to-adopt, but unfortunately, they had to move and couldn’t bring him with them. So I said, ‘That’s it, you’re coming home with me.’”
Shawver traveled to Austin Pets Alive! for a CGC (Canine Good Citizen) training session and was serendipitously drawn to a playgroup. “I learned so much. I was always afraid to try a muzzle on a dog, but they showed me how muzzling a dog-aggressive dog in a playgroup could allow them to run around and decompress without putting anyone at risk. So I tried it with Dixon and Bud when I got back. Within a week, Dixon was playing with other dogs without a muzzle on. It took Bud two weeks. Bud is now in his forever home and the first thing he did when he got there was looking for other dogs to play with.” After fostering Dixon for almost two months, Shawver officially adopted him and he now lives happily with two dogs, three cats, and two foster kittens.
Playgroups also helped transform the life of a heartworm positive pitbull mix named Kiera. “She came in with wounds and stuff on her face like she had been in fights, but she was actually the sweetest dog. Dogs have to lay low during heartworm treatment, so she started chewing at her paws and developed separation anxiety because she was going stir crazy.” Shawver eased her into some playgroups to let out her excess energy without overexerting her. Not only did she thrive, but she even formed a close friendship with another dog.
When an HSNEI volunteer’s mother stopped by to look at dogs, Shawver couldn’t wait to show her Kiera. “She walks with a cane, so she was concerned about this dog because she was jumping all over her kennel and seemed to be hard to handle. But after discussing what kind of dog she was looking for, I couldn’t help but think that that was the perfect dog for her. I convinced her to give her a chance and take her for a walk.” The rest, as they say, is history. “She adopted Kiera and renamed her Kyla. Kyla passed her CGC training and is an ambassador for her breed. She’s even going for her service dog training now. The adopter said that she has turned out to be the perfect dog for her.”
Feature image by Andrew Shawver