[Noozhawk’s note: One in a series of articles highlighting Santa Barbara’s Man and Woman of the Year awards. The nomination period for 2013 honors is now open.]

The sight of a neglected dog staring forlornly from its kennel changed everything for Lynne Shaw. After seeing it, she knew she had to work to make life better for shelter animals. Neglected, abandoned, or just lost, these animals end up at Santa Barbara County Animal Shelter where Shaw volunteers her time.

Although she has three small dogs of her own, Shaw devotes most of her free time to those without homes. She begins at 8:30 a.m., and with the help of other dedicated volunteers, takes each dog out for a walk. Sometimes they number 70 wagging tails.

When dogs arrive at a shelter they are often terrified. Some have come in with broken legs or their fur is so matted their breed cannot immediately be determined. Shaw and the other volunteers spend time gaining their trust, and for those with behavioral issues, socializing with them.

“Animals have no voice and few people to speak for them,” Shaw said. “It is amazing how much difference one can make in a dog’s life.”

Some dogs stay a few weeks, others up to two years. The volunteers’ happiest days are those when a dog is adopted.

Volunteers find that some families are reluctant to enter the shelters, saddened and overwhelmed by the number of dogs needing adoption. Shaw and other animal advocates help solve that problem by taking small groups of dogs to shopping centers where prospective adopters can talk to volunteers about what type of dog would be best for their family. A new project, Give A Dog A Home, is due to start in early August at La Cumbre Plaza.

Shaw has also volunteered for K-9 PALS, a local nonprofit organization that raises money to provide surgeries and other medical care that the county shelter cannot afford. She most recently co-founded the Diana Basehart Foundation, which helps low-income families and seniors provide their pets with veterinary care.

Shaw is enthusiastic about spreading the message of responsible pet ownership and animal protection. She has no doubt that giving so much of her time to homeless dogs benefits her more than the animals. She maintains that pets can ease loneliness, reduce stress, promote social interaction, provide unconditional love and teach us compassion. For shut-in seniors, a pet may be their only friend.

“Animals give back in spades,” she exclaimed. “They bring joy and laughter, and make a good hot-water bottle at night!”

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Volunteers enrich all our lives.

Do you know a volunteer who has made a significant impact on the Santa Barbara community? You can nominate that person to be the next Man or Woman of the Year! Click here to fill out a simple online nomination form. Sponsored by the Santa Barbara Foundation, Noozhawk and KDB, nominations are open until Aug. 30.

— Suzanne Farwell represents the Santa Barbara Foundation.