Meet Mango, The Pooch That Volunteers
Whether it’s visiting hospital patients or having schoolchildren read to him, Mango the dog loves helping people
Few humans do as much volunteer work as Mango the dog. Once rescued on the beaches of Aruba by Sheila Drews of Lihu’e, Mango was a stray without a place to call home. Eight years ago, Drews took Mango in and brought him back to her then-home in Virginia.
“He was very sick and I planned to get him better and find him another home. I had three other dogs at the time, but I fell in love and just couldn’t give him up, ” she says. Drews nursed Mango (a puppy then) back to health, and soon the two were inseparable.
When Drews and her late husband moved to Kaua’i six years ago after visiting several times on vacation, they couldn’t leave Mango behind on the Mainland. These days both Drews and Mango work a total of 12 hours a week for several of Kaua’i Humane Society volunteer programs.
“When we go to long-term care, it’s very rewarding to see the people beckon us and smile,” she says. “And then those who are withdrawn eventually open up, and I love to see that change and warmth.”
Drews refers to the PALS program, serving patients at Garden Island Healthcare at Wilcox Hospital. “These are long-term care patients, so we enjoy visiting, spending quality time and fostering friendships.”
Mango has been trained to remain calm and docile, even in stressful situations. Drews explains that all volunteer animals must go through a rigorous certification and training at the Humane Society.
“This includes learning how to not react to loud, sudden noises or verbal rejection from humans,” she says.
Mango likes visiting the patients at Wilcox “because they give him nice petting sessions, lots of attention and of course treats,” says Drews. “He loves his treats!”
Drews is not new to bringing her pets to people in need.
“I started volunteering with my animals 35 years ago in Virginia. The program there is called Pets on Wheels — same concept and same reward.
“I can’t tell you why I love animals, I just do. I considered being a vet, but decided against it. My background is in education, on the administration side,” she says. “I thought if I was in long-term care I would want an animal to come and visit me … so Mango and I look very much forward to our visits twice a month to Wilcox.”
Mango also gets out to meet Kaua’i residents through another Humane Society program called Paws To Read. In conjunction with the after-school A-Plus program at Wilcox Elementary, Mango and Drews arrive at school to hear students read story-books.
“The idea is that a child reading to an animal rather than a human is more comfortable, because animals are non-judgmental,” says Drews, explaining how Mango sits attentively as children who are learning to read point out pictures and look Mango in the eye. “They start out a little shy, but by the end of the story they are really into it.”
She and Mango have been working with children since February, but already Drews says she’s seen improvement in the skills of keiki: “It’s so rewarding to work with the children and watch as Mango’s presence allows them to feel more confident.”
Mango prefers hearing books about other dogs or animals. “His favorites are the classic Clifford, The Big Red Dog and the Biscuit series by Alyssa Capucilli,” says Drews.
Borders Books and Music in Lihu’e has begun a similar program.
“Mango and I go once a month, on a Saturday morning, and do the same listening while children read us stories,” Drews says.
In addition, she gives several hours a week helping in administrative work at the Humane Society.
“I volunteer at the Human Society thrift shop in Lihu’e, sorting and sourcing the books. And I also help the people at the front desk file microchip records and license records,” she says. “It’s very good for me … my husband died three years ago; this gets me out of the house. We used to do it together, but now Mango and I continue to give our time and it’s we who feel most thankful for the opportunity.”
And if that weren’t enough, Drews also is a feline lover and has become very involved in the Humane Society’s Kitten Foster-Parent program. “Every spring there are hundreds of feral kittens born on Kaua’i,” she says. “People bring them to the Humane Society, but there is simply not enough staff or time to properly socialize the little babies.”
Drews is currently fostering three kittens that arrived at the society, each weighing less than three pounds.
“I have seven cats all together right now, mine plus the fosters,” she says, “and then there’s Mango.”
A full house — but one full of love.
“The Humane Society always wants and appreciates volunteers,” Drews says. “They hold volunteer orientations twice a month. You are required to attend a thorough orientation. But there are opportunities for all ages — children to seniors. Just keeping company with the cats, grooming them, socializing them and walking the dogs are typical duties. It’s important that humans spend time with these animals so they’re more adoptable.”
For more information or to sign up for volunteer orientation, call Sue Hansen at Kaua’i Humane Society, 632-0610 or visit kauaihumane.org.