Eleven-year-old Ian Gillberg is a hero in the hearts of the Valley’s shelter animals and a winner in the hearts of humans, too.
While friends, homework and sports encompass the worlds of most middle schoolers, this sixth-grader has spent the last four years traveling to the Valley from Stanley to volunteer his time at the Animal Shelter of the Wood River Valley.
Every chance he gets, Ian makes the trip here to walk dogs, pet cats and play with puppies, teaching them the ABCs of getting adopted.
Ian believes—and studies of such things show—that the more socialized animals are, the better their chances of being adopted. Ian hopes to ease the transition from the shelter pen to a residence, which can be a culture shock that undoes the manners of even the seemingly best behaved animals.
His work has recently received national recognition from the American Humane Association, a group devoted to ending the abuse of animals and children. As runner-up in a contest for the most prolific volunteers, Ian says he is proud of what he has done, but he didn’t set out for accolades.
“I didn’t start it for a contest,” he says emphatically.
When his mother, Elissa Kline, first brought her son to the shelter when he was seven, she was concerned that the boy would struggle with having to leave the animals when his work with them was done, or when the animals were placed in new homes.
“I was really impressed that he could do it,” she says. “It’s not something you really want to do to a little kid—let them play with all these puppies and then say, okay, it’s time to go now.”
Kline said her husband was wary, too, warning that they were “playing with fire on this.” They already owned two shelter dogs, and there are plans to secure a cat or two, but for the most part, Ian has shown enormous restraint, his mother says.
He admits that it can be emotional at times, especially hearing the stories that brought some of the animals there and knowing that some may never graduate.
“It’s kind of hard to go there and leave, knowing that some of the dogs are going to spend their whole lives there barking at anyone who comes up the drive.”
Ian specializes in those who struggle with confinement, taking it upon himself to exercise the dogs with excess energy.
Ian has devoted countless hours to volunteering, and because of his commitment, his parents have willingly driven him up and down the roughly 80 miles of highway between Stanley and Hailey.
Sun Valley Magazine salutes Ian, who could have spent his time hanging out with friends or going to the movies, but who chose instead to help those who could not help themselves, because that is the very essence of heroism.