Congratulations to MacKenzie J., nominated and chosen as the June 2020 Volunteer of the Month. MacKenzie serves in a wide variety of volunteer roles, and she finds interacting with community members at the Adoption Information Desk, and caring for neonatal kittens to be some of her favorites.
Lifelong Animal Lover
Growing up in Portland, MacKenzie’s family valued animals, and always had pets in the mix, including cats, frogs, and hamsters. As a child, MacKenzie was a big fan of Cat Fancy magazine even before she could read. When asked what she wanted to do when she grew up, she would say she wanted to open a cat sanctuary.
MacKenzie has maintained her two childhood passions- animals, and all things Disney. She is a particular fan of the Haunted Mansion attraction in the Magic Kingdom, and even attended a Disney College program in Orlando. She is anxiously waiting for social distancing recommendations to be lifted in order to get back to volunteering with shelter animals, and for Disney parks to open.
Many Volunteer Hats
MacKenzie pursued a career in nursing, but she also wanted a way to work with animals that wasn’t a career. So she started volunteering at MCAS. “From the beginning, I felt very supported by the Volunteer Coordinator, and the volunteer mentors,” she says. “That made a big difference.”
At first, she volunteered in the dog kennels because she didn’t have a dog. She has also volunteered at the Adoption Information Desk, with the Action Cat Team (ACT), in the Kitten Triage Trailer, and as a foster volunteer.
Different roles fulfill different needs for MacKenzie. Her advice to those interested in volunteering, or who currently volunteer, is to try several different things. “There’s a lot to offer, and many different opportunities,” MacKenzie says. “I love it because I’ve been able to try so many new things. If you have an idea of what you want to do, but then you only do that thing without exploring other opportunities, you’re missing out.”
While not highly-visible from the public areas of the shelter, the Kitten Triage program is bumping during kitten season, caring for over 1,000 neonatal or young kittens brought in by Animal Services Officers and members of the public. While volunteering in the Action Cat Team, MacKenzie was introduced to Jackie V., who coordinates the Kitten Triage program at the shelter, currently based in a repurposed veterinary trailer behind the shelter.
The volunteer shifts were conveniently opposite her nursing work schedule, and MacKenzie was soon caring for sick, newborn kittens as they arrived at the shelter, before going to volunteer foster homes. Unweaned kittens without their mother need to be bottle-fed every few hours.
As a nurse, MacKenzie has training and work experience to be attuned to changes in conditions. “Volunteering in kitten triage gave me a real perspective on just how fragile some of those little lives could be,” MacKenzie says. “Every kitten is different, and so you have to be flexible with your feeding methods. Some of them struggled to eat, or were resistant to the syringe or bottle. It was always hard leaving for the day, but it was rewarding to come back and see a thriving kitten who was previously struggling.”
So far, MacKenzie has fostered seven cats. Whether it should be described as a foster failure or a foster complete success is hotly debated, but three of her foster cats were adopted to be family members. “I love fostering, but it’s challenging because I get attached super quickly,” MacKenzie says. “I find it’s easier for me to foster kittens because they’re almost guaranteed to find homes as soon as they’re available for adoption.”
Adoption Information Desk
Even as an animal-lover, MacKenzie’s favorite part of volunteering is interacting with interested adopters. “I love talking to people about finding a good fit in a companion animal. They come in with an idea of the animal they would like to adopt, and I love the honest, open, frank conversations we have about which pets might be a good match for their lives. I love the feeling in the moment when someone discovers a pet that wasn’t what they were looking for in the first place, but they know will be in their home forever.”
MacKenzie’s experience as a nurse prepared her to volunteer with community members visiting the shelter. “In nursing, we’re often helping people who are experiencing extreme spectrums of emotion. Many are experiencing their happiest moments, and many are scared or in pain,” MacKenzie says. “At the shelter, we’re working with people who are overjoyed to be reunited with their lost pets, or to adopt a new companion animal. We’re also supporting community members who have lost a pet, who are worried, upset, or sad. It’s important to calmly meet them in their moment to offer all the support we can.”
One of the more challenging aspects of volunteering or working at the shelter is seeing and caring for adoptable animals who don’t find homes right away, or the few who are humanely euthanized due to behavioral or medical concerns. For MacKenzie, it helps to know the outcome for each animal, whether they’re adopted, transferred to another adoption partner, or otherwise. That closure is important.
Some long-term shelter residents may not present well in the kennel as interested adopters are walking by, or some are working through behavioral challenges, or have special medical considerations. These are the animals that MacKenzie, other volunteers, and staff tend to bond with most since they are present for longer periods of time, and we experience the most positive interactions with them. Watching these animals go to new adoptive homes is meaningful and memorable. MacKenzie still remembers LJ’s adoption in May 2018 after nearly a year on the adoption floor. It’s one of her favorite memories.
MacKenzie’s advice for those interested in volunteering: “The good experiences outweigh the bad- push through your hard days, because volunteers do a lot of good, and there’s a lot of need for volunteers. There will always be more good days than bad days.”
Gratitude for Staff and Volunteers
A lot of staff have helped MacKenzie on her way. “Jackie V. in Kitten Triage has been so supportive. All the client services staff at the front desk are great; we ask them ridiculous questions all the time, and they have endless patience and grace for us. While I haven’t had the opportunity to meet her, I’ve been really impressed with communication from Colleen O., the new volunteer coordinator. And of course, Melinda H., who I sincerely hope is enjoying her retirement, because we miss her.”
MacKenzie is grateful for volunteer mentors and friends who have supported her. “Amanda T. has been a wealth of knowledge for working with dogs at the shelter, and has even helped me with my own dogs at home. Kelley S. was a wonderful fellow-volunteer at the shelter and in the foster network, and has become a good friend and vacation buddy. Alana V., Carissa M., and Sue S. also helped orient me in volunteer roles, and were a huge help.”
“I’m grateful to Multnomah County and the opportunity to help the animals,” MacKenzie says. “Some of the best moments of my life are from volunteering, and I’ve adopted animals from the shelter whom I will love forever. I hope more people take the opportunity to learn about the shelter, volunteer, foster, adopt, and get involved.”
Thank you, MacKenzie, for your far-reaching volunteer service to the pets and people of Multnomah County.