Maria Roelle is a professional dog groomer with thousands of pro-bono clients.

“We’ve seen dogs with just one haircut and a bath go out in the same day that weren’t even being looked at for at least a week,” said Roelle, who runs Tender-Care Dog Grooming in Fort Myers and donates her time to Lee County Domestic Animal Services.

Carefully trimming with her scissors around the face of a Shitzu she calms the little dog, “Baby yes, everybody wants to see your pretty eyes…easy now, good boy.”

Roelle and a team of two other women come in every week to groom and bathe the shelter dogs hoping that will help get them adopted.

Building-wide, animal services can have between 200 and 300 animals at a time – even more during kitten season or when a lot of puppies come in.

“We need to get them cleaned up and groomed – and get them out as quickly as possible,” said Ria Brown, LCDAS spokesperson. “And there’s always more coming in every day – it’s nothing to get 50 animals in a day.”

When people walk through looking for a dog to potentially adopt, they may pick them up or cuddle them – and if the dog smells or has excrement on their fur or bodies, or fleas and skin issues under layers of matts – that can turn them off.

“Obviously they smell better, so they can see what the potential is,” said Roelle. “A lot of these dogs you can’t see underneath.”

Grooming the Shitzu, Roelle points to matting on a paw. “He has all of this (matts) all over his body.”

Some animals have so much matting they must be anaesthetized “in order to get through the matts, because it just hurts,” said Roelle.

Under the matting they often find skin irritation, fleas and even slivers, said Roelle who has pulled over 100 from an animal.

The dogs are usually pretty good during the grooming and many enjoy the attention and being touched. Some come from homes where the owner has died or become ill and can no longer care for their animal.

“They know that being groomed is going to make them feel better,” Roelle said.

There are dogs, though, that didn’t come from loving homes.

“We’ve had dogs that have been so ill-cared for that they don’t know what it feels like to be touched,” said Roelle. “We’ve even had people throw them over the fence… To leave them here.”

Roelle gives not only her time but uses her own tools and equipment, which doesn’t go unnoticed inside the shelter.

“I’m very happy to have the volunteers,” said LCDAS Investigator Leonardo Avila. “Like the groomer, the individual who comes in here and washes them… outstanding work.”

In September according to LCDAS online statistics, 128 dogs were adopted and 124 dogs died by euthanasia.

“A lot of these dogs are what people consider throw away dogs,” said Roelle. “Personally I believe in karma – what goes around comes around.”

Click here for information on volunteering with LCDAS.