FORT BRAGG, N.C. - A dozen Soldiers from the Fort Bragg chapter of the Sgt. Audie Murphy Club volunteered July 31 for yard chores at the Raeford no-kill animal shelter, "The Haven - Friends for Life."

By coming out to the shelter, the Soldiers were contributing to the community, said Sgt. 1st Class Kwame A. Pettus, who is assigned to the 2nd Brigade, 82nd Airborne Division. The club is one of the most prestigious societies in the Army, and its members must pass at least two selection boards. The club celebrates the principles of Audie Murphy.

Candidates are compared to Murphy, America's most decorated warrior, who lead from the front and took care of his Soldiers and their Families, Pettus said.

"Civilians do so much to support the Army, it is important for Soldiers to remember to give something back," he said.

Sergeant 1st Class Jeanette L. Birkholz, the chapter president, said the club members have been reaching out to organizations like The Haven in the Fort Bragg area to fulfill the ideals of and raise awareness of the club.

"By coming out to The Haven, the members get to do good work for others and let more people know about the club," she said.

Birkholz, who is the non-commissioned officer in charge of the XVIII Airborne Corps' trial defense office, said the club intends to have a long-term relationship with the shelter, where she found two dogs for her own family.

The shelter began as a retirement farm, said Stephen J. Spear, a retired college professor who runs the facility with his wife, Linden.

Over the years, a number of people would drop off dogs and cats on their grounds and the couple would take them in and find them new homes, Spear said.

The shelter now processes 20 to 30 adoptions per weekend, both at the shelter and in the small area donated by the PetSmart store in Fayetteville, he said.

In 1997, after they had depleted their savings, Spear incorporated as a non-profit organization, he said.

Spear said, today, the shelter houses about 400 dogs and 400 cats with a full-service veterinary clinic and grooming stations in the shelter's 55-stable barn.

Among the projects the club members worked on was building four houses for cats, spreading gravel in the dog cages and preparing pads to be poured with concrete, Spear said.

"It means so much for me to have the Sgt. Audie Murphy Club here," he said. "They are able to do in one day, what it would take me weeks."

Birkholz said the club will return to the shelter to help renovate the building housing dozens of cats in cages with its own grooming stations and air conditioning.

Spear said what is critical to the shelter's mission is their commitment to put down the animals who take up residence there.

Most shelters will hold a stray for three days before putting it to sleep, he said. "In the case of an 'owner surrender,' they will kill it the same day."

In North Carolina, there are 11,000 cats and dogs put to sleep every year, and the regulators are putting pressure on the no-kill shelters to upgrade facilities, he said.

About half of the dogs and cats are dropped off by military Families from Fort Bragg because of the transfers and the long deployments, he said.

"When you think about it, it is hard to find someone to watch your pet for 15 or 18 months and it is too much to ask a wife to look after the kids and on top everything else take care of the pet," he said.

"It is really hard to see Special Forces guys crying in the parking lot as they leave their dog behind," Spear said.