- Associated Press - Monday, January 5, 2015

BIXBY, Okla. (AP) - It started with one lost dog: a Sharpei mix that appeared two years ago on a doorstep in Bixby.

While his mother went online to check for lost dogs, 7-year-old Michael Parker sat outside for two hours, playing with the dog and keeping her calm, the Tulsa World (https://bit.ly/1AhMpXA ) reported.

Turns out, she was a service dog named Amber. She was missing from the nearby Horizon Animal Heroes rescue. It was the family’s contact with veterinarian Cari McDonald - founder of the rescue group and owner of Bixby’s Horizon Animal Hospital - that helped Michael find his calling.

Michael wanted to do something to help other dogs like Amber. He found the perfect answer: helping out the rescue group that saves medically challenged dogs and cats that wouldn’t normally have a chance for adoption at shelters. The youngster helps care for abandoned dogs and cats until they are adopted.

Michael, who lives with his mother, Amanda Newman, and grandmother, Carolyn Harris, volunteers at Horizon Animal Heroes and socializes the dogs and cats by playing with them, taking them for walks, feeding and watering them. He also assists with rescue events and tries to get the pets adopted through Facebook.

It’s his job, he says, to get them “kid-ready.” It’s hard to say who has the bigger smile now - Michael, his family or McDonald.

“Michael is an inspiration,” McDonald said in a recent interview. “His family can’t get him out of the clinic. When he comes, they are stuck waiting for him because he is playing with all the animals and enjoying being with them. It’s good to see someone who is here for the animals … You talk about the animals and he just lights up.”

It all started with Amber, said Michael.

“I found this dog, and being with the dog encouraged me to help,” said the 9-year-old, who owns a dachshund/corgi/chihuahua mix named Rocky. “I play with the dogs because they don’t have anyone else to play with. I’m allergic to cats, so I can’t touch one without sneezing. But I do that anyway ‘cause I like cats and dogs.”

Right now, he’s working a lot with Oscar, a mixed breed who was adopted but returned because of hyperactivity and toilet training issues.

“He can’t sit down for a second,” Michael said in an interview. “I end up having to run with him. He has tons of energy. I think somebody who loves to run would be the best owner for him.”

And while he’s happy when the animals find homes, he does get a little upset when one of his favorites leaves the shelter or when the veterinarian is unable to help an animal.

“He sees how hard they do work and he says they tried,” Newman said. “There have been a few times that he has cried. He doesn’t really understand. He doesn’t like it when they come in from a cruelty case, either. That makes him so mad.”

The third-grader, a student at Bixby’s Central Elementary School, is also using his Facebook page to ask for supplies for the rescue group instead of asking for presents on his birthday and for Christmas. The help works both ways, said his mother.

“I have seen changes in him since he started this,” said Newman, a single mother who is unemployed right now. “He’s becoming more outgoing. The last few years of school, he has been bullied, and so he turns to the dogs. He’s not quite as quiet as he used to be, and he has ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder) so this has helped a lot with that, too.”

During the summers, the determined youngster volunteers every other day, and on Friday afternoons during the school year. While he is spending time with the dogs, cats, chickens, a rabbit and the mascot pig, Buttercup, his mother helps by cleaning up the exercise yard and making runs to the grocery store for pig food - lettuce, apples and sweet potatoes, she said, laughing.

The nonprofit shelter works with animals that are sick, injured, handicapped, or those otherwise considered “unadoptable,” according to the horizonheroes.org website.

Finding them forever homes is Michael’s ultimate goal, she said.

“He wants to help find them homes and get them where they belong,” said his mother. “He doesn’t ever want to leave a dog. Last year, for Christmas, he got one adopted in Philadelphia. It was a corgi with an injured paw, and he showed the picture of it on his Facebook page. Next thing we knew, the dog ended up on a big rig headed to its new home in Pennsylvania.”

Michael wants to be a veterinarian, just like McDonald, when he grows up; but he wants that to happen now instead of later.

“He wants to go to OSU right now,” said his mother. “I tell him ‘You have to finish high school first.’

“He says it’s not as fun.”

___

Information from: Tulsa World, https://www.tulsaworld.com

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