Hannah Greene has never expected life, or her job to be easy. As a single mom and a 9-year employee of the Washington County Johnson City Animal Shelter, she spends mornings cleaning out kennels, afternoons helping with adoptions and evenings with her young son and their own personal pets.
“I just know this is what I was put on this Earth to do,” she said. “I wouldn’t be happy doing anything else. In some small way, I make the world a better place one dog a day.”
Greene arrives at the shelter about three hours before it opens to sanitize the kennels. She takes pride in the fact that the facility is well maintained and says she’ll often walk 19 miles on an average day.
“I work very hard in the morning to make sure that everything is cleaned and nice and that all the dogs have what they need,” she said. “It’s a lot of work.”
Greene manages to keep a positive outlook despite the nearly 20 dogs that may be brought into the shelter on a given day. Heartwarming adoptions make her job worthwhile as well as mornings when she’s able to let the dogs out to play.
“Those are my best friends back there,” she said. “They see me coming and they are like ‘Woo-hoo our buddy is here!’”
Another rewarding part of being the kennel master and rescue liaison at the animal shelter is being able to take the pets out of bad situations and give them a second chance at life. Greene is involved with many of the shelter’s cruelty cases and also fosters animals.
“They blossom under our care,” Greene said. “They come in, they’re cowering, they shake and they’re terrified. They don’t know how to walk on leashes and in the time that we have them they turn into brave, confident dogs. It’s really sad that they had to come here before they ever truly felt love.”
With all the warm noses and four-legged love, there also comes much frustration. Observing what she calls a “throw-away society” makes Greene ask a lot of questions when people decide to adopt. She says that a house isn’t always a home and that many adoptees go into the process with the idea that they can return the pet “if it doesn’t work out.” Greene stresses the meaning of a commitment and that everyone makes time to do things that are important to them, which should include spending time with pets.
“Just because they want to come in here and adopt doesn’t mean that we’re doing the dogs any favors,” she said.
Even after being attacked by a pit bull two years ago, Greene didn’t think twice about continuing her job, but does find herself behaving a bit more reserved around some of the more aggressive dogs. As part of working closely with dogs that are scared and new to the shelter, Greene says she expects to be bitten on occasion, but it’s being attacked that she’s more fearful of. She has no ill feelings against pit bulls and even owns one named Sonny that her 3-year-old son absolutely adores.
“Sonny is 10 times more patient with Hayden than I am,” she said.
Maybe one of the reasons Greene remains unscathed, for the most part, is her ability to sense how the animals feel.
“Some people are musically, artistically talented. My God-given talent is I can read dogs, plus I have good reflexes,” she said with a laugh.
Greene discovered this rare talent as a teenager when she adopted a Great Dane who she describes as the “greatest dog that ever lived.” The pet awakened a passion in her and a year or so later so she was working at an animal shelter in Avery County, N.C., where she worked for about two years before coming to Johnson City.
Greene says she’ll always own a Great Dane and currently has one named Kennedy, along with a Beagle mix named Berkley she found on the side of the road, plus three cats and “Hamlet” the pig.
Because Greene is employed in a field she’s passionate about, her professional and private lives often mix, which she doesn’t mind. With the confidence in knowing that she’s really making a difference, even if it’s just in the lives of cats and dogs, Greene is determined to push through each mentally and physically exhausting day.
“Everyone always comes in here and says, ‘I love animals too much. I could never work here,’ but I certainly don’t scoop feces all day long because I don’t like animals,” she said. “If I’m not brave enough to do this job, then I’m not willing to take on the pain because it’s a painful job, but If I’m not willing to be strong enough to do it, who is?”
“Nobody ever said life was going to be easy.”