As a volunteer at Multnomah County Animal Services (MCAS) since February 2018, Amanda T. has quickly distinguished herself as an advanced dog handler and mentor with a great deal of compassion for animals at the shelter.
Moose Was a Doozy
Amanda didn’t have her own dog until adulthood. As she says, “my first dog, Moose, was a real doozy. He was an adolescent Staffordshire terrier mix with severe dog reactivity on leash, it was really difficult and nerve racking taking him outside of our house. At the time, my husband and I had no idea what we were doing. So we were both new, inexperienced, learning together. Moose sparked my interest in training. My experiences with Moose really opened my eyes to what a struggle it can be to find the right home for animals with behavioral needs, and the barriers that owners of large dog breeds can experience trying to find housing. As a volunteer, that’s evident seeing just how many of these dogs end up in shelters.” Moose is now ten years old, and going strong, he is a lovely boy and Amanda can’t imagine her life without him. She is really glad she stuck it out and worked through his reactivity. They have both learned a lot in the years since he was adopted.
Low Cost Training as a Preventative Solution
Amanda initially became involved in volunteering after becoming licensed in small animal massage, and the shelter was an outlet for her practice. Recently, Amanda completed her certification as a dog trainer through CATCH Canine Trainers Academy. CATCH’s certification focuses on force-free training and behavior modification using the LIMA approach (Least Intrusive, Minimally Aversive), which is what drew Amanda to their program. “There are SO many dogs who need behavioral help,” Amanda says. “Part of my motivation for getting into training is to be able to offer low-cost training solutions. It’s a resource that’s not accessible for many community members. There are lots of force-free trainers around, but at rates of $60 - $100 an hour, it isn’t affordable for a lot of people with these reactive dogs. Most importantly, it could help keep dogs together with their people, preventing owner-surrenders at shelters. It could help manage dogs with behavioral concerns to make our community safer.”
Amanda says one of the great things about working as a volunteer is the opportunity to learn more about canine body language, and to work one-on-one with dogs in need of behavioral support.
Meeting Essential Needs
Amanda is honest about her volunteer experiences- it can be an emotional roller-coaster. “There’s an emotional piece of this work that doesn’t play a role in other industries. You can’t ‘logic’ or reason with emotion. Volunteers are here because they love animals, therefore there are going to be emotional reactions. That’s always going to be a thing, and those feelings are real and valid.”
Some of the dogs Amanda works with have been neglected or abused, others may have been involved in instances of aggression towards other animals or people. Some dogs spend long periods of time at the shelter pending legal proceedings or appeals. These are the dogs that Amanda, other volunteers, and staff often become the closest with. Some of them don’t make it out of the shelter due to serious behavioral or safety concerns, which is difficult for all involved. Amanda knows that she can’t determine the outcome for many cases, but she can provide opportunities for enrichment and connection with these dogs while they’re at the shelter. These are essential activities for the dogs, and MCAS is committed to providing the highest quality of care for every animal regardless of outcome. The impact her work can have on their physical, mental, and emotional well-being can contribute towards positive outcomes.
Amanda also has opportunities to provide important feedback about her interactions with the dogs to shelter leadership, which is recorded and considered for behavioral plans. “The Canine Care Specialist encourages me to send e-mails or leave notes any time I work with dogs with behavioral concerns. I can bring up behaviors or reactions I see. I try to make a point to jot them down and share them each time.”
Every Contribution Matters
Amanda recognizes that her work as a volunteer makes a difference, and her advice to those interested in volunteering is to recognize that in everything they do, and that it’s easy to get involved. “It’s not just about getting dogs on walks. Even sitting outside their kennels and reading, or just sitting close with them is impactful. Making sure kennels are clean. Making sure they have an extra blanket if needed. Everything we can contribute as volunteers matters. Don’t overlook the little things. There are lots of benefits for the animals and for you in building these relationships.”
Kudos to Mentors
Amanda is a volunteer mentor, which is a group of volunteers experiencing a recent shortage, putting their volunteer service and responsibilities in great demand. Amanda really appreciates the wonderful group of mentors who have stuck it out to support, guide, and teach volunteers for the benefit of the animals.
Amanda enjoys volunteering at the shelter a lot. Other sources of enjoyment for Amanda include watching movies, and taking it easy with her animals- Moose, Sookie, and Frankie. She maintains her impeccable zen through long walks, yoga, and being excellent to those around her.
Thank you, Amanda, for your continued volunteer service to the pets and people of Multnomah County.