Photo by Les Stukenberg.
Originally Published: January 8, 2017 6 a.m.
PRESCOTT – Sam Tarhan is what one friend calls a “dog whisperer,” always able to connect to troubled, abandoned and struggling animals no one else wants.
The 57-year-old admits his rapport with these animals may have to do with the fact that he, too, has endured his share of suffering throughout the course of his life. Tarhan walks with a cane as a result of a traumatic injury he suffered several years ago when a driver collided with him as he was riding his bike to his night stock job at Walmart on Highway 69.
Yavapai Humane Society, 1625 Sundog Ranch Road, contact Allie Raugust at 928-445-2666, ext. 103.
Still, he refuses to allow the unpleasant twinges and pains in his extremities that have left him unable to work to keep him away from walking and playing with the Yavapai Humane Society shelter pets. Four or more days a week, Tarhan volunteers to give these abandoned pets unconditional love and affection; he sometimes will just sit in the kennel with a dog that needs some calm, quiet time.
Soft-voiced, Tarhan said his connection to some of these hard-to-place animals comes from a belief that every single one deserves love, trust and respect, and the chance at a “forever home.”
About five years ago, Tarhan said he visited the Humane Society to adopt a pet, thinking he needed a companion as he recuperated from his injuries. He ended up “adopted” by Jack, a German shepherd mix who needed Tarhan to be his best friend.
“With shelter dogs you take your chances, but it doesn’t matter because they’re all very special,” Tarhan said.
From that first adoption, Tarhan ended up adopting four more dogs, two of which have since died; one he was forced to return because it would not socialize with his other dogs; and two pit bull mixes who now live with him, Aden and Nadia.
“I deliberately adopt the ones nobody else wants,” Tarhan said of the pets the childless man calls his “sons and daughters.”
Tarhan could not, however, adopt all the animals he fell in love with at the shelter. So he opted to become one of the shelter’s steadfast volunteers; of the shelter’s approximately 80 volunteers Tarhan is part of a cadre of about 10 who shelter leaders say can be depended upon to come and faithfully care for these animals regardless of weather, time of year or their own personal schedules.
One day this past week, Tarhan walked Gypsy, a 15-year-old, all-white pit bull terrier mix, all around the front and back of the society’s complex off Highway 89. Then he switched to Jetly, a young, black and white pit bull/shepherd mix so energetic he leaped to the roof of his kennel before Tarhan entered and offered him a treat. Immediately, as Tarhan spoke gently to him, the dog relaxed, allowing Tarhan to slip on a bright orange harness and leash for a walk to the play yard. Once there, Tarhan let him romp free, but still the pup never strayed far from Tarhan. More than once, Tarhan reached down to pet the dog’s head, whispering quiet encouragements.
“I know not everyone understands you, but I understand you,” Tarhan told Jetly as he reached in his pocket for yet another tiny, edible dog bone.
“Nothing is more gratifying to me than to give back to these animals who have suffered in their lives like I have,” Tarhan said, noting he has endured significant losses in his life, including his mother who he cared for until her death in 2014. “I’ve had a lot of struggles … and they (the dogs) can feel that and know I can feel them.”
A 20-year friend, Connie Stark, said Tarhan’s abilities with animals is heartwarming, with him going so far as to treat a dying animal to a last meal, bath and companionship.
Humane Society Director of Operations Lori Richey said Tarhan is simply “awesome.”
Beyond his donation of some 2,000 hours, Richey said Tarhan has built an “incredible” rapport with dogs others might fear or avoid.
“Sam has a God-given gift for working with these animals,” Richey said. “Those animals love Sam.”