Jessica H. - August 2019 Volunteer of the Month

Jessica with a sleeping kitten

Congratulations to Jessica H., nominated and chosen as the August 2019 Multnomah County Animal Services (MCAS) Volunteer of the Month. Jessica grew up in a home that valued and cared for community cats, and she has been a lifetime lover of animals ever since.

Learn more about the Volunteer of the Month Program

Fighting Leukemia with Support from Animals

As a child, Jessica had aspirations to be a veterinarian. However, her leukemia diagnosis at eleven-years-old altered her dream. She was getting poked with needles on a regular basis, and she knew that she couldn’t stand to give shots to animals when she grew up. Today, she knows needles can help in important medical procedures, but she prefers to avoid them when possible.

At the time of Jessica’s leukemia diagnosis, Bone Marrow Transplant (BMT) was still an experimental chemotherapy treatment. Both her parents were a 50% bone marrow match, and her older brother, 93%. She received her treatment eleven months after diagnosis. Her doctors gave her a 10% chance of survival. Thankfully, she’s been in remission ever since.

Even though she didn’t want to be a vet anymore, it didn’t change the way she feels about animals. The bright sparks of comforting moments in Jessica’s leukemia treatment were the therapy animals who would visit the hospital. She fondly remembers a dog named Goldie who would regularly come to cheer her up. She keeps Goldie’s picture to this day. This experience eventually motivated Jessica to give back to the animals of our community by volunteering. Jessica says “If I could take all the animals home, I would.”

Finding Her Way to Multnomah County Animal Services

Life went on for Jessica after leukemia. She went back to school, and began studying graphic design. Her family moved to California and later to Oregon. She attended Mount Hood Community College to continue her studies in Graphic Design, doing freelance work where available. She received two hip replacement surgeries, and a knee replacement in the process. 

After college and surgeries, Jessica lived nextdoor to Melinda, the Multnomah County Animal Services Volunteer Coordinator, but she didn’t know about Melinda’s association with the shelter at first. Once they grew closer, Jessica saw an opportunity to help animals and began volunteering in 2014. Melinda says “Jessica is my go to girl! If I ever need help with anything, she's there willing & able!”

A Volunteer For All Seasons

Jessica started out volunteering with the cats, and has continued in that role throughout her service. Her volunteer mentors were very helpful and supportive throughout the process. She enjoys cat enrichment- socializing and loving on the cats after their enclosures are cleaned and they’ve been fed. Watching them go home with new families is a wonderful feeling and experience.

Jessica has tried out most volunteer opportunities with MCAS. Other assignments Jessica has fulfilled during her service include assisting with surgery in the animal hospital, providing administrative office support, participating in outreach events such as the Pitties in Pink parades, and organizing and hosting a Kitten Shower at Theresa’s Country Feed and Pet in 2019.

Jessica’s favorite thing is volunteering in the Kitten Triage Trailer. “It’s rewarding to care for the itty-bitty newborn kittens, send them to a volunteer foster home, then see how much they’ve grown when they come back for adoption into new homes.”

Jackie V., who coordinates the Kitten Triage Program, says ”Jessica is the person who is always looking for things to do or saying ‘What do you need me to do?’ She is always up for anything and does it with entertaining conversation and her bubbly personality. Whether it is greeting clients, filing paperwork, or cleaning up after messy kittens, she always has the best attitude and the calmest demeanor. She is a delight to work with and I look forward to Tuesdays and Thursdays because of her.”

Advice: Be Flexible

Jessica’s advice to prospective volunteers is just to be animal oriented, and willing to help members of the public. It can be important to verify that an animal someone is interested in is actually sheltered at MCAS, and not another shelter. It’s common for many people to be confused about who we are, sometimes assuming that “the animal shelter” is a monolithic nation-wide entity, and not distinct municipal, county, or non-profit animal shelters working independently of each other, or in a collaborative network such as the Animal Shelter Alliance of Portland (ASAP).

Jessica says “you have to adjust your interactions with different people. Not everyone is the same way, and you have to be flexible.” Some interested adopters don’t easily take advice on animals that would be a good fit for their lifestyle- people want what they want- but with the right approach and guidance, they may be able to come to the right realizations or conclusions.

Thoughtful Gestures

Jessica is continually impressed by the thoughtful gestures of community members and supporters she sees during her volunteer work. Recently, she discovered that the lost cat someone in the shelter was looking for was actually a cat that had completed its stray time and was on hold to be adopted. The cat had gone missing while the owners were away, and so they didn’t discover it sooner. When the prospective adopters were notified, they were very understanding of the situation, and were actually really happy that the cat could be reunited with its owners, and were willing to consider other animals for adoption. During the Days of December Adoption Special in 2018, a mother and her children visiting the shelter didn’t adopt a cat, but instead paid the adoption fees for two cats they really loved while visiting the kennels.

Jessica’s Life with Animals and the Outdoors

While Jessica is trained to handle dogs at the shelter, she doesn’t actively fill that role. At home, her faithful canine companions are Peanut, an eight-year-old Basset Hound / Dachshund mix, and Diego, a nine-year-old Malamute / Husky mix. While the dogs get along well, the smaller Peanut exhibits an apparent Napoleon Complex by bullying his physical superior, Diego. “They’re entertaining, but they’re getting older,” Jessica says. The family lived in a smaller house, but after moving they have a bigger yard and more space. They are playing together more, and their favorite activity is playing chase, circling around backyard furniture.

When not volunteering at Multnomah County Animal Services, Jessica loves to spend time outdoors with her family. Whether she’s lying in the sun at Trillium Lake near Sisters, hiking to Wahkeena falls in the Columbia River Gorge, or just spending time at the Gresham Farmers’ Market, Jessica is in her element when she’s out in the elements of Oregon.

Thank you, Jessica, for your ongoing service and dedication to the animals and people at Multnomah County Animal Services.


August 2019 Nominees

Thank you to our stellar volunteers nominated for the August 2019 Volunteer of the Month!

  • Quimby L.

  • Janice T.

  • Amanda T.

  • Alana V.