A volunteer’s life... gone to the dogs (and cats)
By Beth Volpert
See more in the live video interview with Deputy Stephanie Martinez -Perez in (to the right middle column)
Lawrenceville - When you meet Dennis Kronenfeld, you might not imagine that he would have such a huge heart. A little rough-n-tumble on the outside, Dennis has a soft spot for the furry creatures and those who love them. Helping improve the lives of stray dogs and cats has been his life’s work and all of it has been as a volunteer.
Dennis works with three notable no-kill programs in the Gwinnett County area. His work first began more than 25 years ago when he established The Society for Humane Friends which has had a huge impact on the number of animals put to death at the county shelter. Fellow volunteer, Bronnie Wagner says, “I adopted a cat from Dennis and one year later, I was volunteering with him, that is the kind of effect he has on people; makes you want to help too.” Bronnie also says that Dennis has a big heart and doesn’t look the part. “He has a tough guy look about him, but absolutely loves what he does.”
Deputy Stephanie Martinez-Peres with Dennis Kronenfeld inside the at the County Jail in Lawrenceville.
The Society of Humane Friends GA offers an extensive fostering and adoption program and is always looking for creative ways to help ease the population of stray cats and dogs. Saving each animal from death is an accomplishment that involves coordinating many people, managing corporate interest and donations and time...lots and lots of time.
Being dedicated to saving animals from being “put down” is all in a day’s work for Dennis and his wife, Jo-Ann. “About 5 years ago, I told her that our job wasn’t fun any more and we looked at our numbers to see if we could retire.” Retirement meant that there was more time to spend working with the local shelters, expand the current programs and establish a low-cost spay/neuter clinic in downtown Lawrenceville. “We have been married for 45 years and she still puts up with me.” Dennis laughs a bit when he recalls how they met. Jo-Ann was working in Civil Service at Ft. Leonard Wood in the Arts and Crafts program. “I was a GI with nothing to do in my spare time, so I went to the Arts and Crafts program. She was the boss there,” explains Dennis. “I didn’t marry the boss’ daughter, I married the boss!” After a tour in Viet Nam, Dennis and Jo-Ann settled down and began to work an interior design business. “We have always worked together and that has not changed with retirement.”
After many years of volunteering at the GC Animal Shelter, Dennis joined forces in 2010 with GC Sheriff, Butch Conway to establish the Jail Dogs/ Operation Second Chance program which then led to a similar program for cats in 2013. “I was attending an event and Butch was there,” says Dennis. “We really hit it off with the idea for helping both inmates and shelter animals despite our political differences!” The program is a partnership between the Sheriff, GC Sheriff’s Department and the Society of Humane Friends of Georgia. Dogs and cats are brought from GC Animal Control, vetted, trained, and then offered for adoption. The Society handles all of the costs so that no taxpayer money is involved.
Deputy Sheriff, Stephanie Martinez-Peres, MCJ, RVT is the coordinator for Operation Second Chance. She began as a veterinary tech and volunteered with the program. Later, she earned her master’s degree in criminal justice and is an advocate for the program citing benefits for both the rescued animals and the inmates. “Without Dennis and the funding from SOHFGA, we could not facilitate this program,” says Deputy Martinez-Peres. “Sometimes, for the first time, there is something in an inmate’s life that has unconditional love; that is huge for both.”
During a visit to the Jail Dogs/Jail Cats program, several of the inmates volunteered to discuss exactly what it meant to have Dennis raise funds for the program. Rebecca, whose foster kitten is named Silas, described the difference the program has made for her. “These little creatures are so comforting and they are good therapy,” says Rebecca. “My children are 13, 12 and 3 years old and I miss them; having something to care for has made time go faster and it is a privilege to be a part of this program.”
Dawn, an inmate and mother of two children has been in the jail for 123 days. Her foster kitten is named Sparkplug and she is looking forward to watching a loving family adopt him in the next week. “Being able to care for him, train him and help him socialize; to be a part of saving him from death at the shelter has been a pure joy.”
The men of the Jail Dogs program were dedicated to their tasks. “This is our job here,” says Jeff. “Dennis has saved these dogs from death and it is our job to train them so they are ready for adoption.” Jeff has already trained one dog into adoption and was working with a very spirited puppy named Katie who had been abandoned by the side of the road and was deathly ill. “She is a bundle of energy now,” says Jeff. “Without Dennis and the program, she would likely have been put down.”
In addition to these two programs, Dennis worked with Creative Enterpris-es CEO, Leigh McIntosh to establish a no-kill cat shelter at their location in Lawrenceville. The clients who spend their days at CE are very special indeed. Beyond their own special needs, the clients form relationships with the cats and help to foster loving and affectionate kitties ready for adoption. “The results have just blown me away,” says an enthusiastic Leigh. “So many of our clients have always had someone to take care of them; to have something to take care of, along with the companionship, is lifechanging. We are grateful to Dennis for his help.”
All three programs, Jail Dogs/Cats, Creative Enterprises and Society for Humane Friends, (foster and low cost spay/neuter) which has served Gwinnett since 1998, are examples of what one person with a vision can do. Volunteerism is of great importance to Dennis who cites his father-in-law’s example of serving Meals on Wheels long into his late 80’s. “People can all make a difference if they try,” says Dennis. “No effort is too small.” Dennis describes his tenacity with the GC Animal Shelter and the Sheriff’s department as being reasonable and persistent. “You have to win their confidence and deliver what you say you will deliver.” He says it can be hard on volunteers to know they cannot save every animal that passes through the shelter. “You have to concentrate on the ones you can save and the good that you do.” With that attitude and spirit, it is no real surprise that the people who meet Dennis Kronenfeld find themselves inspired to do more; to serve in any capacity to which they are able.
For more information on the programs mentioned, visit: www.sohfga.com. And please spay and neuter your pets.
Deputy Stephanie Martinez-Peres takes a moment to give a belly rub to one Angel who was brought into the Jail Dogs program after being shot in the neck and abandoned.