Duane Olm’s hands are calloused. His forearms are tough and tattooed.
But his voice, the one he uses with animals, is always soft and gentle.
Olm uses that voice to comfort lost and abandoned dogs and cats at the Spokane County Animal Shelter. He arrives there at 6:30 a.m., to wash and disinfect their pens, feed them breakfast and provide a little bit of tender loving care before the wouldbe-adopters arrive.
He’s usually gone by the time the shelter opens at 10 a.m.
Few volunteers - animal lovers included - would be willing to lift themselves out of bed so early to scrub poop off the concrete floor of a chilly animal shelter. It’s much easier to find people to walk the dogs or bottle-feed the kittens, shelter officials said.
But Olm is no fair-weather volunteer. He’s willing to do whatever is needed, as long as it contributes to more adoptions.
He gets many grateful licks as compensation.
“You’re making life better for them while they’re here,” said the 65-year-old Valley man, who retired from the former Kaiser Cement plant 11 years ago.
Clean, happy dogs and cats, he said, are more likely to find a family. Olm came to the shelter a couple years ago, after spending nearly 10 years volunteering at the former Walk in the Wild zoo. At the zoo, he did everything from bottle-feed the tigers to build the snake pens.
LeAnne Brady, a former zoo employee, remembers phoning Olm one frigid weekend because the furnace in the reptile house had quit working. He was right over to fix it, she said.
“He came to be like a grandpa to me,” Brady said. “You could depend on him anytime.”
“If you needed a latch fixed or a door built or a gate put up, he was the man to call,” said Marilyn Omlor, a former zoo keeper.
He also was a talented leather worker, Omlor said. He made the leather anklets, called jesses, used to train the birds of prey to sit on their trainers’ hands.
Olm’s experience with a wide range of animals has come in handy at the animal shelter, which at times has found itself the guardian of fawns, goats, iguanas, rabbits and pot-bellied pigs.
Olm’s childhood on a farm in Wisconsin also has provided him with an understanding of animals.
“You can take an ornery dog, or a mean dog, and talk to it nice,” he said, “and usually it will calm down.
“I talk to the animals a lot,” Olm said. “I figure the people around here think I’m nuts.”
Actually, shelter staff think he’s wonderful.
In emergencies, he’s fixed their plumbing and sprinkler systems. One time, director Nancy Sattin said, he even rescued shelter employees from an animal much scarier than they’re used to dealing with.
Actually, it was a mouse.
And to top it off, the volunteer always puts the coffee on.
Olm’s biggest satisfaction is knowing that many dogs and cats at the shelter do eventually find loving owners.
“We’ve got some little guys here I’d dearly love to take home myself,” he said.
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