When Mary Ruth Dobbins started volunteering by early 2014 at the Regional Animal Shelter in Independence, then operated by Great Plains SPCA, Tonya Hampton-Lopez said she soon showed an ability to work the shelter’s cat population.
"She quickly grew to be an amazing feline volunteer, and she was here very often – almost every day," said Hampton-Lopez who was in feline care at the time and is now the shelter’s volunteer manager. "Our volunteer manager at the time just loved her."
Dobbins, a lifelong resident of Sibley, died June 23 from COVID-19, which she apparently contracted as she finished a lengthy stay at a rehabilitation facility. She was 57 years old.
Hampton-Lopez said Dobbins had five cats at home, two of them adopted from the shelter that is now operated by the city of Independence. Her ability to connect with cats and match them to suitable adopters was well-known at the shelter.
"She did probably hundreds, if not thousands, of matchmaking," Hampton-Lopez said. "She worked with the shy and fearful kitties, and she would sit and build relationships with the cats that were scared."
Dobbins worked as a relay agent for Sprint and also as a private tutor, then started volunteering at the shelter when she retired. She also served on the Sibley City Council for 24 years and with the Fort Osage Alumni Association, typed manuscripts for the Veterans’ Voices Writing Project and was a published poet.
An ankle injury sent her to a rehab facility last summer, before the shelter operations changed from Great Plains to the city.
When Dobbins was injured and couldn’t stay home, the shelter cared for her cats in their own colony room for a time, Hampton-Lopez said.
"She was concerned about their well-being and didn’t want them to stay here at the shelter," Hampton-Lopez said. "She asked us to go ahead and adopt them out. She was sad, but (rehab) had taken so much time."
A graveside service for Dobbins will be 10 a.m. Saturday at Mount Washington Cemetery in Independence. Those attending are asked to wear a mask and practice social distancing.