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Former volleyball player becomes ‘dog whisperer’

MUNCIE, Ind. (AP) — To understand the impact Amanda Litviak has on Muncie’s animal shelter, one could simply examine the interaction between her and a shy, wary pit bull mix named Duke.

When Duke was brought to the shelter as a stray, Litviak said he didn’t warm up to people. He was nervous and malnourished, his head disproportionately larger than his bony torso.

But when Litviak sets him free from his kennel and brings him into a grand play room, his choice amid all the free, open space is cozying up to her. Seeming to think he’s the size of a small terrier, he plops his body on Litviak’s lap, and if he feels he’s not getting adequate attention, bumps his nose to her face.

“They’re all my babies,” Litviak said, choking up as she looks at Duke, whose head is now burrowed under her chin.

Litviak said employees at Muncie Animal Care and Services call her the “dog whisperer” for her ability to take some of the most stressed dogs, like Duke, and make them feel safe. So, what’s her secret?

“A lot of them just need patience and love,” she said. “A lot of them just need a chance.”

And that’s been Litviak’s mission since she got her start with MACS as a volunteer. She hadn’t planned on staying long. Rather, she was filling a void from coming to college and not having a dog. She had always grown up with them, normally rescues. But playing volleyball at Ball State consumed too much of her spare time for her to adopt one of her own.

An ankle injury her sophomore year cleared that schedule, and now in her junior year at BSU, Litviak has dedicated nine months to serving multiple jobs with Muncie’s shelter.

She also now owns multiple dogs.

On her first day volunteering, she met a 60-pound pit bull mix with “a big head” and “goofy eyes” that at first glance made her think, “That’s going to be my baby.” And a few weeks later, that became true. Litviak adopted him and named him Huey.

Then, weeks later came an 80-pound dog surrendered by an owner. This dog had more issues, as his weight dropped drastically while in the shelter through the stress of a changed environment. He was deemed aggressive and would bark nonstop. He was a day or two from being euthanized when Litviak decided to foster him.

Not only did he get back to good health, but he got along with Huey. So, that dog became Kane, Litviak’s second dog.

Litviak has grown a fondness for pit bulls — a breed she said the shelter takes in a lot — as well as dogs with behavioral issues, like what Kane had. It’s prompted her to take the shelter’s foster care program under her wing. MACS director Phil Peckinpaugh said fostering is the “future of sheltering,” especially with large dogs that have behavioral problems.

Litviak compares the Muncie shelter’s program to a matchmaking process. Those interested fill out an application, go through a screening process and then do meet-and-greets with compatible dogs. Roughly 10 dogs are available at a time.

“We’ve seen so much success with it. I’ve even been shocked with how well (the dogs) have done because it’s truly dogs that even I started to doubt if they’re going to have a life outside of (the shelter),” Litviak said. “Just by being a foster for a few weeks, they become completely new dogs.”

Litviak has also utilized the shelter’s social media to promote them. She’s the voice behind its Facebook and Twitter accounts and has even created accounts for dogs who have been at the shelter a while, hoping an online personality will lead them to a loving home.

For residents who can’t quite commit to fostering a dog, Litviak has resurfaced another program providing people — particularly college students like her — the option to take shelter dogs on a “doggy date” by appointment. The cost is $5 for a full day “out on the town” with a dog who needs some time outside of the kennel.

Litviak said she has seen success with both the doggy dates and the foster program, always in each dog’s temperament, and some success even through adoptions. Peckinpaugh also has noted the success of both programs now under Litviak’s leadership. He said doggy dates are booking fast, and the money collected from them is going toward helping the animals.

“Amanda just has a true heart for what she does,” Peckinpaugh said. “I look at her as the future of the animal shelter. She’s definitely going to be a leader one day. She puts everything she has into it.”

For Litviak, that’s the goal. She said she started at Ball State as a nursing major but switched to an exercise science major with a business minor because some day, she hopes to run a shelter.

“This is what I love,” she said.

When the dogs to which Litviak grows attached do find their permanent homes, she makes sure she remembers the impact they’ve had on her, just as she has had an impact on them. She keeps photographs of all the foster dogs she has ever had in her phone, and she follows up with the families.

Still cradling Duke, Litviak looks him in the eyes and smiles. It’s all worth it.

“I get to see them turn from super stressed little dogs to big happy dogs,” she said. “Just to know I helped them get to that point makes me so happy.”


Source: The (Muncie) Star Press,


Information from: The Star Press,

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