Mother and son help dogs get adopted, one hike at a time

Ginny and Kenny Popvich with posing on a loveseat with a dog
Volunteers Ginny and Kenny Popovich have been hitting the trails with dogs from Best Friends in Los Angeles for more than seven years.
By Nicole Hamilton

If you’re looking for Ginny and Kenny Popovich, the mother-and-son duo that volunteers nearly every week at Best Friends in Los Angeles, you probably won’t find them at the lifesaving center. Instead, you'll have to hit the trails.

For the past seven years, Ginny and Kenny have been on a mission to give dogs a little time away from the center so they can have fun, unwind and explore nature. Hikes are followed with a stop at Starbucks for a pup cup. What a delightful day out for all of them!

Over the years, their weekly hikes have helped dogs struggling with shyness and anxiety to find confidence and get adopted. “The shelter environment can be very stressful for some dogs,” says Amanda Yocom, a Best Friends supervisor in Los Angeles. “That’s why the off-site hikes that Ginny and Kenny focus on are very important. And the dogs get to enjoy everyday activities like riding in the car, too.”

Although Ginny and Kenny share an affinity for helping shy dogs, they take a different dog out every time. “Ginny and I touch base weekly to see who is most in need of a shelter break,” says Amanda. “It’s always nice when a dog has an advocate, but Ginny and Kenny advocate for as many as they possibly can.” And since nature has a way of bringing out the best in all of us, Ginny and Kenny make sure to capture their trail time in photos so that potential adopters can see dogs in their element.

In the following Q&A, Ginny shares what it’s like to volunteer with her son and what inspires them to keep helping dogs get adopted, one hike at a time.

Why did you decide to volunteer with Best Friends and what motivates you to help the animals?

I was looking for an opportunity to share my love of dogs with my kids, and Best Friends is an organization that’s not only working toward making Los Angeles no-kill, but it also  welcomes kids to volunteer alongside adults.

What inspires you and Kenny most in your volunteer work?

Kenny and I find it inspiring to see all the amazing, dedicated staff and volunteers so devoted to helping all the dogs and cats who come to Best Friends, so that they have brighter futures and can find homes.

What are some of your favorite things about hiking with dogs from Best Friends in Los Angeles?

The best part of hikes with all our dog friends is seeing how much they enjoy the time and attention. They often start out a little unsure and when we return, they have happy, smiling faces. Being out on a hiking trail gives dogs a chance to let their guards down, and when they show you who they really are, they shine.

What have you learned from volunteering?

The dog team at Best Friends has been so helpful in sharing knowledge and skills with Kenny and me, and we have been able to incorporate what we’ve learned from them in our hikes and other ways we work with the dogs. It has not only helped us be better dog handlers, but it has also helped us at home with our own dogs.

I especially like helping shy dogs. You will see progress, but the key is patience. The dog team taught me to enter the kennel with a calm energy, to get down at their level and to go slow. Consistently using the same approach builds trust, and then the blossoming happens.

What’s it like volunteering with your son?

Volunteering with Kenny has given us special quality time together. I have seen incredible growth in social skills and dog handling for Kenny. He has found his purpose, which is helping dogs. I get the bonus of having a front row seat for the happiness I see in Kenny and all the dogs he interacts with.

Tell us about one of your favorite volunteer moments.

One of the best hikes we took was the first one with a dog named Leopold, who was having a really tough time. We went to Whitney Canyon in the springtime and there were bunnies, butterflies, lizards and tadpoles galore. It felt like taking a child to Disneyland for the first time. Kenny was so excited and definitely had a ball.

Getting to see (Leopold) relaxed, happy and just enjoying being a dog on the hiking trail was amazing. We developed a very special relationship with him. Hikes and trips to our house were weekly.

What would you tell others who are thinking of volunteering?

I think everyone should leave a block of time in their schedule to volunteer, even if it’s for an hour every week. You’re making a huge difference and the love the animals give you in return in amazing.