XENIA, Ohio – Ruth White walks into 4 Paws, hands full. She is carrying a bucket of colorful blocks, a handful of coloring books and boxes full of small, metal toy cars. She makes her way into the play area, where she places them on the table and into the cubbies where they match other toys and art/crafts items. She then steps back, watching the children play and giggle and color. A luminous smile stretches across her face.
It’s what she does. She’s a volunteer.
Today is White’s first time witnessing a class’s graduation from 4 Paws, and she’s overwhelmed with glee, watching families and friends gather for their big day.
“A village comes with each kid. It’s amazing—don’t you wish the whole world, country could be like that? Gather together to solve a problem?”
She scans the room looking at not the only the children, and the dogs that will change their lives, but she also pans over to the parents, who are equally in love with their child’s new companion—bending over and giving a hug and overzealous scratch on top of dog’s head. They are adding a new family member and heading home today.
“It must be an enormous relief” to see their child wrap their arms around a “companion that licks them and keeps them safe,” says White.
The 78-year-old who lives in Tipp City is a grandma four times over, with three children and three great-grandchildren. So she understands a thing or two about children, especially since she was also a kindergarten teacher for more than 30 years. She comes from a long line of teachers—her mother, daughter and granddaughter all have the same compassion for learning and children that she does. But now she says, 4 Paws is her classroom.
White started volunteering at 4 Paws in January 2010. She came in every Thursday for a year, socializing new puppies that needed interaction with the public at stores. She harnessed them, carried them, loaded them into the van, and to places like Wal-Mart they’d go. She says that she has been fortunate to have been around long enough to get the chance to see those pups find their forever homes with their new best friends, like today.
“It makes it worthwhile. When that child hangs onto that dog,” she says with a sparkle of excitement in her eye, describing a child with a disability meeting his/her service dog for the first time.
“The feeling you get when you see the dog and the child bond, and you’re driving home… [It’s] a [feeling of] satisfaction that you had something to do with it.”
What started out as a generous journey for her in 2010, ended in sadness. By the end of the year, she lost someone very important to her, her Jack Russell Terrier, Fletcher.
White found herself in need of help, so she turned to 4 Paws, where she says; she found solace by being around dogs and puppies. The place that she lent
a helping hand or a friendly lap was now comforting her when she needed it most.
Over the years, she’s helped countless dogs learn to interact with the public. And while she is no longer able to socialize and carry puppies around store to store, after an illness in 2011, White is able to carry dozens of delicious cookies to 4 Paws.
A note on top of the metal container, overflowing with homemade treats reads, “For the best crew anywhere!” She describes them as ‘Betty’s Crunchy Cookies.’ Always thinking of children and their possible ailments, she says that the cookies are crunchy as if they have nuts, however, have only Rice Krispies and rolled oats for the crunch, in case anyone is allergic to nuts.
On a cookie drop-off and visit last week to show her great-grandson 4 Paws, she sat in amazement watching the trainers and a class full of parents work with their child’s dog.
“This is where the action is… this helps families get through life,” she said during the August class. “They’re the true heroes—forget them on TV, sports people, political people, rich people—the true heroes are the families who raise children with special needs.”
White continues to volunteer at 4 Paws about once a month, always with something in her hands and a smile on her face—ready to love dogs, all the while raising money for 4 Paws through her church.
It’s a rewarding opportunity, she says, that she is able to see come full circle—from puppy to service dog, a dog that is ready and willing to be a best friend to a child with disabilities.
“The end product of this volunteering has four legs and a tail. What we all work for is a bundle of love. How many places can you work where that’s the end product?”For her, volunteering is, “Good for your circulation of your whole body to do good” for others.
As of recent, White, along with Blue Star Mothers, Zion Lutheran Church, helped to raise money for Eagles Wings Therapeutic Riding Learning Center, in Piqua, Ohio.