Dog’s Best Friend

Posted by Monica Hoel
David “Skip” Harless shows up day after day to make sure the dogs of BARK feel loved.

David Harless (E&H ’78) refers to himself as an egomaniac.  So how does he explain spending countless hours lovingly caring for animals who need a selfless champion?

David (“Skip”) is a volunteer at BARK – a sort of waystation for dogs who were rescued from shelters and are on their way to being adopted. It was started in 2003 by Bob and Denise Tillack. “When Animal Planet came to do a story on the place, I made a point of hiding out in the office. I really believe in this place, and I didn’t want to be part of the focus. I needed the story to be about the dogs and all the great volunteers here.”

David Harless with one of the adoptable dogs at BARK.BARK is a big farm in Ashland, Virginia, and David volunteers 5 days a week: he is one of about 40 who give their time.  Volunteers are there daily to clean kennels, share food, fill water bowls, hand out treats, and exercise on the forest walking trails. There’s one section where volunteers look after some of the hard-luck cases. “Some of these dogs will not be adoptable: they’re too old or too aggressive.” But they’ll get to spend out their days in this place – with plenty of exercise, food, and affection. In fact, David usually finds himself interacting with these more complicated dogs. He has collected a few bites along the way, but he’s undaunted as he stands amid his crew of canines. There’s a Great Pyrenees, a German Shepherd, several big mixed breeds – and even a Wolf that someone kept as a pet and then abandoned. It’s obvious that the Wolf has captured David’s heart.

Touring the kennels reveals a lot of tail wagging and a lot of curious signs. “If you don’t see this one, he’s under the cot.” Or “In heat; no play with males.” But one of the best signs says, “Graduate.” BARK has an innovative program called “Bark Behind Bars” where rescued dogs are sent to local prisons to work with carefully selected inmates to gain socialization skills and training (basic commands, house training, crate training etc.). Prisoners and dogs alike gain much from the 12-week program, with dogs being far more ready for their forever homes after completing the process.

David Harless with one of his favorite dogs at BARK (actually a Wolf).Of course the best sign to find says “Foster.” The final goal, after all, is a happy home for all these wagging, grinning, bouncing, loveable dogs. And here, too, David shines a light on volunteers, not only at BARK but all over the state. “We get dogs from Wise, Lebanon, Abingdon – all over. In fact, there are a couple of volunteers in the community where I’m from who work so hard to find homes for these dogs that they’ve basically turned the Russell County (VA) animal shelter into a no-kill shelter.”

The day we visited David, we saw that his volunteer work is hot, sticky, a little smelly, occasionally loud – and completely fulfilling. David may be a self-proclaimed egomaniac: but there’s not one dog at BARK who sees him as anything but their very best friend.

 

The BARK logo.

  • One of the adoptable dogs found at BARK.
    One of the adoptable dogs found at BARK.
  • David Harless with one of the adoptable dogs at BARK.
    David Harless with one of the adoptable dogs at BARK.
  • David Harless with one of his favorite dogs at BARK (actually a Wolf).
    David Harless with one of his favorite dogs at BARK (actually a Wolf).
  • A sign declaring that Winston has finished "BARK Behind Bars."
    A sign declaring that Winston has finished "BARK Behind Bars."
  • The BARK logo.
    The BARK logo.

“My wife and I used to volunteer for another animal rescue organization in Richmond; but we quickly saw that BARK was the place that really needed our time and attention.”

David Harless, E&H Class of 1978

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