Paula Y.- July 2020 Volunteer of the Month

In order to volunteer, Paula Y. overcame sad memories of her childhood cat that she didn’t get back from the pound. Now, Paula plays a pivotal role to support programs at Multnomah County Animal Services that save lives and change systems by transporting animals to rescues and adoption partners, supporting spay & neuter surgeries, and fostering kittens, geriatric, and FeLV positive cats.

More About the Volunteer of the Month

Paula’s Lost Cat

When Paula was six or seven years old, her family cat- who slept indoors but spent the day outside- went missing. Someone had picked up the cat and brought it to the pound, who called Paula’s family. Back then, the standard practice at many animal shelters was to hold animals for a set period of time before they were euthanized. In this case, Paula’s family had three days, and her mother let them know that she didn’t have a car, and would need some time to arrange transportation. Near the end of the third day, Paula arrived with her mother at the animal shelter to pickup their cat, only to learn that their cat had been euthanized. Paula and her mother were devastated. It was a traumatic experience that shaped Paula’s views and expectations for animal shelters, and she carried it with her throughout her life.

Thirty years later, Paula was the contact person for a friend’s cat, who was picked up and brought to Multnomah County Animal Services, which had taken over animal control duties from Oregon Humane Society in 1973. Shelter staff called Paula, and expressed concern that the cat may not make it if not picked up soon. Paula remembered what happened when she was young, and panicked that the cat was at the pound. She contacted her friend, and rushed to MCAS, where they were able to reclaim the cat. At the time, Paula expressed interest in volunteering, but recalls there wasn’t a warm reception to the idea, possibly because volunteer opportunities weren’t widely available.

Wholehearted Volunteer

After retirement in 2007, Paula wanted to seriously explore volunteering in animal welfare. She visited MCAS again, and took note of many changes since her last visit. Paula remembers walking through the kennels, and thinking “I can’t take all of you home, but I can sure volunteer to help you out.” The next Saturday, Paula attended volunteer orientation.

Paula was asked to volunteer at the PetSmart adoption outreach, where she was mentored by Karen M., now the MCAS Feline Care Coordinator. In addition to serving as a high-traffic adoption destination, MCAS would send young, high-strung cats to PetSmart who weren’t thriving in the kennels at the shelter, and needed some extra socialization and TLC. Prior to a new kennel system being installed at MCAS, the cat habitats at PetSmart were more spacious than shelter kennels, with portals to combine enclosures, affording a little more room to de-stress.

Paula’s career was in special education, with a masters degree in Education, and Severely Handicapped Learner Certification. Behavior science was part of her training and work, and she took note that many of the same principles applied to socializing cats and kittens. They take a few step forwards, and a step back. Time and patience are some of the biggest factors to allow the cats to form positive associations with people, usually through food, affection, and close contact.

Laundry and Surgery

In addition to working with cats at PetSmart, Paula began to expand her volunteer roles. She began helping with laundry on Wednesdays. Paula enjoyed working behind the scenes at the shelter, where she got to know more of the staff members.

Paula also began volunteering to support spay & neuter surgeries on Wednesday morning, before doing laundry. She enjoys learning new things and working with the surgery team, Jacque D. and Tara S. “They have been so very welcoming to me as part of the team.”

Foster Home Ribbon Cutting

When Paula moved into her home in 2011, she was excited by the prospect of having a special room dedicated to hosting foster pets, where they could be separated from Paula’s pets. Similar to a house-warming party, Paula held a ribbon-cutting for the new special foster room, and invited shelter volunteers and staff to attend. But Paula discovered that she wouldn’t have a foster room- she would have an entire foster house.

The foster program at MCAS was just beginning to build up steam, and there was increasing capacity for MCAS to treat more animals with medical needs, thanks to foster volunteers like Paula. Additionally, capacity grew to care for hospice foster animals. Paula dedicated more separate spaces in her home for each niche.

Dr. Romney, Sue G., Molly J., and Roberta R. in the MCAS animal hospital trained Paula and other volunteers to administer fluids, give medication, and other basic care for foster animals with special medical needs, or those recovering from surgery.

Paula enjoys hosting interested adopters in her home, because it can be a destination that is closer than the shelter, and adopters get to see animals in an environment where they’re comfortable, or interacting with other pets in the home, as opposed to a kennel at the shelter.

Trap Neuter Return (TNR) and Kitten Triage

MCAS started a pilot program for trap neuter return, to help address growing stray and feral cat colonies in the community through outreach by trapping fertile cats, spaying or neutering them, and returning them to the location where they were trapped.

Paula Y. joined forces with fellow volunteer, Ray K. to be the first volunteers of the Apartment Cat Team (ACT), working with resident caretakers of cat colonies to set live-release traps, and transport the cats for surgery with the Feral Cat Coalition of Oregon (FCCO), and back. They would also help caretakers manage the cat colonies, setup feeding stations, etc.

Originally, any kittens trapped with their mother would be returned. Whereas the mother cats were generally feral or otherwise unsocial, the kittens were in their prime to be socialized and adopted.

MCAS was increasing its capacity to care for neonatal and unweaned kittens, and created a kitten triage program to address immediate feeding, warming, and other medical needs, and coordinating with foster volunteers to continue care. The kitten triage program began caring for kittens trapped through the ACT program.

Paula became deeply involved in kitten triage, caring for newborn kittens as they arrived, and fostering litters in her home, caring for them until they’re old enough for spay or neuter surgery and eligible for adoption.

Feline Leukemia Virus (FeLV) Positive Cats

Paula fostered a blind cat named Moon, who tested positive for FeLV shortly after coming to her home. Paula and shelter staff reached out to House of Dreams, which can take in FeLV cats, and they agreed to transfer Moon. When Paula visited the facility, and saw the setup there, it gave her the idea that she could foster FeLV cats in her home, she just needed a separate space for them - another room- and FeLV cats could interact with other FeLV cats in that space.

Paula became the go-to foster home for FeLV cats at MCAS, expanding the shelter’s capacity to care for animals with special needs. If Paula was full, they could still be transferred to House of Dreams in some cases.

Animal Transport

In order to maintain a high live-release rate, and save as many animals as possible, MCAS does everything possible to reunite lost pets with their people. For unclaimed pets, they can be adopted from the shelter, and transferred to regional adoption partners and rescues. Oregon Humane Society and Cat Adoption Team take the lion’s share of transferred animals, and MCAS also works with local community adoption partners to house and feature pets for adoption. There are also many specialized rescues who are available to take in animals.

These life-saving animal transfers are possible thanks to volunteers like Paula, who pick up animals at the shelter, and drive them to where they need to go. Having transported animals for many years, Paula values the relationships she’s built over time with rescues and contacts at local adoption partners. One notable example is Displaced Pets, Inc in Vernonia, a Pomeranian and small dog rescue. Paula loves to visit, and see all of the transfer partners making a difference for the pets of our community.

What They Say About Paula

“Paula is always up for anything you ask of her, between fostering, transporting animals, and she always willing to take on the hard ones,” says Jodi L., WOC Foster & Transfer Coordinator and long-time animal care staff member. “She's so dependable and quick to respond to any shelter needs. She has a heart of gold and is an amazing asset to MCAS!”

“Paula is a true gem,” says Jackie V., Kitten Triage Program Coordinator. “She has even gone as far as to adopt an unsocial older mom with limited placement options, Orchid, from last season, and this cat is now an integrated part of her household. Orchid loves her other cat friends, Teddy and Henry, and she tolerates Paula living there.”

An Agent of Change

“Volunteers are the ambassadors of Multnomah County Animal Services out in the community,” Paula says. “Shelter administrators are the head, operations staff are the body, and volunteers are the hands. It’s up to us to show gratitude to our partners for their life saving work, and represent the realities of what we see and experience as volunteers.”

Paula notes that she meets many people in the community with negative impressions of “the pound” due to experiences like Paula had in the past. There’s an association, a fear, that the shelter isn’t safe, or that there are time limits for animals, or that euthanasia rates are high. Some of these impressions were realities that persisted until the most recent decades.

“I was able to come onboard as a volunteer when MCAS was making so many changes. To have been a little kid, to have the traumatic experience of losing a pet to shelter euthanasia, then to be a part of the change to save shelter animals is a big honor. It’s significant. It’s different now, and I’m relieved.”

MCAS is grateful to Paula for her support to change shelter operations systems to save lives.

In her volunteer service, Paula is a trailblazer for increasing adoptions, behavior training and socialization, spay & neuter surgeries, trap neuter return, kitten triage, animal transport, and foster care for animals with special needs. Paula’s support was crucial in the establishment and expansion of these programs at MCAS, and their impact on saving lives cannot be understated.

Thank you, Paula, for your service to the pets and people of Multnomah County.