The first day Freyda Hyman volunteered at the Humane Society of Greater Miami, five Labrador-mix puppies wagged their tails and clumsily roamed around her feet.
“And that was it. I was hooked,” said Hyman, speaking of her endeavor to help the organization’s day-to-day operations.
Since that day in 2005, she has accumulated 5,000 volunteer hours at the Humane Society of Greater Miami. Her colleague, Dayle Fragin also recently reached a milestone in her volunteer work, accruing 10,000 hours.
“It became one day a week, then two days, then three, and now I am here six days a week,” said 64-year-old Fragin, of North Miami Beach. “My payment is to get the dogs the best homes possible.“
Like many other pet lovers, Hyman and Fragin dedicate time and effort – free of charge – to help ease a problem that has plagued South Florida for years: the homeless pet overpopulation.
About 37,000 pets annually are brought into the Miami-Dade County animal shelter, a county-run organization that must accept every cat and dog that comes in. Because of lack of space and funds, about 20,000 of these pets are euthanized.
Many other dogs and cats are dumped on the streets where they often end up emaciated or covered in parasites.
The Humane Society of Greater Miami is a limited-admission center. As such, it can house a limited number of pets – about 300 – at its Soffer and Fine Adoption Center in North Miami Beach. Once a dog or a cat is accepted, they will stay at the center and receive veterinary care and food until someone adopts it. Many of these animals are pulled out from the county shelter and others are saved from a life on the street. As a nonprofit, the organization relies on community donations and fundraising events as well as on the hard work of volunteers like Hyman and Fragin.
“Everything that every volunteer does here – whether it is hands on walking the dogs or behind a desk doing administrative work – is helping the overall cause,” said the 65-year-old Hyman, of Northeast Miami-Dade, who started volunteering shortly after retiring from her job as an employer-services supervisor for South Florida Workforce. “If I am helping a volunteer get motivated to come, that’s helping.”
She comes in about three days a week and does mostly administrative work such as tracking volunteers’ hours, while Fragin comes in about six days a week and helps with adoptions as well as with the center’s store.
On a recent visit to the Soffer and Fine Adoption Center, Hyman sorted through paperwork scattered on her second-floor desk as Tia, a black three-legged American bulldog belonging to a colleague stopped by to get treats.
Downstairs, Fragin unpacked cardboard boxes stuffed with dog collars, pets’ beds and toys and then arranged the goods in the center’s store.
Fragin started volunteering about 14 years ago, doing weekend outreach at local PetSmart and Petco stores, where she educates people about the importance of spaying and neutering their pets.
She started the center’s Match-A-Pet Program, where potential adopters looking for a specific dog breed fill out an application. Once a dog of that breed comes to the center, Fragin reaches back to the adopters. Through the years, she has built connections in the community, making her instrumental in the center’s effort to find homes for the pets.
Fragin cannot pinpoint what exactly led her to dedicate herself to the cause.
Maybe it was all the stray dogs she saw along Northwest 22nd Avenue on her morning drives to work as a teacher at Olinda Elementary School in Brownsville. Or maybe it was Toby, a skinny 2-year-old schnauzer who was brought to the Soffer and Fine Adoption Center with matted grey fur after living on the street.
“Toby just touched my heart,” said Fragin, who retired about five years ago. “He looked so sad. It was in his eyes.”
Like many other dogs, Toby found a loving home thanks to Fragin.
Donna Tallon, executive director of the Humane Society of Greater Miami, spoke of Hyman and Fragin’s contributions to the organization.
“They are here on their own time,” she told The Miami Herald. “Freddi is irreplaceable as far as administrative help. And Dayle is one of our top adopters. She is irreplaceable in terms of finding homes for the animals. They are both the ones that the new volunteers look up to.”
For Hyman, knowing that she makes a difference in homeless pets’ lives is enough repayment for her effort.
“I used to work for money,” she said. “Now I work for appreciation.”