Congratulations to Tyler L., nominated and chosen as the January 2019 Multnomah County Animal Services Volunteer of the Month.
Tyler began his volunteer service in August 2013 as an an outlet to help overcome anxiety and OCD. Tyler’s mother Julie also came to the volunteer information session, and started volunteering with cats several months after Tyler.
Tyler has always loved animals, and found that working with dogs at the shelter was very therapeutic. The dogs are calming, and Tyler was able to open up more to interact with other volunteers, staff, and the public. Tyler may not always want to socialize, but volunteering makes socializing very purposeful. If someone is interested in a dog he’s working with, all of a sudden Tyler is the most social person in the world! It’s rewarding to help adopters find the right match in a dog, or to help some of the long-term resident dogs find homes.
At home, Tyler’s eleven-year-old pitbull, Annie, prepared him for some of the challenges facing dogs at the shelter. Annie has always had extreme phobias of loud noises, flickering or moving lights, and the biggie- fireworks. At one point, Annie bit a family member out of fear, sending them to the hospital. With serious investments in behaviorists, medication, and a commitment to keep Annie and work through her fears, she’s doing better and has stayed with the family. Tyler says “Annie’s been a big challenge, which makes dogs at the shelter seem easy, even with extreme challenges.”
Because of his experiences with Annie, Tyler is drawn to work with dogs who need a little more help than the others, or who may have a kennel presence that can frighten others. Tyler says “the biggest thing in working with anxious dogs is staying really calm. Some dogs may have a bite history, but that can be circumstantial. We don’t know what happened or why, so don’t focus a lot on what’s happened in the past. Work with what’s in front of you. You can overcome some very difficult obstacles with patience and the right help.” Tyler wants to give second chances to the dogs who have made mistakes, because he has a dog at home who’s done the same.
Tyler and a handful of other volunteers have great success bonding with long-term resident dogs with behavior issues to work through, giving them an advantage to provide leash and muzzle training or offer behavior corrections that could enable other volunteers to walk them or provide enrichment. Tron (pictured with Tyler), is one such dog who benefits from Tyler’s volunteer service.
An adage that rings true for Tyler is you can’t judge a book by its cover. You never know for sure which matches will work out, or which adopters would be the best fit for a dog. You have to judge dogs by dogs and their personalities, and not breeds. Tyler worked with a big, muscular, jumpy and mouthy pit bull named Captain Dan that frightened some volunteers with his behavior. A senior couple saw an ad for Captain Dan and wanted to meet him. Tyler referred a trainer to help work through some of Dan’s issues, and even gave out his phone number for advice or support. The adopters called Tyler two years later to say that Captain Dan was the best dog they’d ever had, and they were very appreciative of Tyler and shelter staff for their support, and for approving the adoption.
Tyler’s advice to interested volunteers and to current volunteers is to pace yourselves. Burnout can be a big problem with volunteering. We work in a difficult, emotionally-charged environment. We invest a tremendous amount of ourselves into the wellbeing and success of each animal, and we experience the greatest joys and satisfaction from their happy endings, and deepest disappointment and frustration when our hopes aren’t realized. Compassion fatigue can affect anyone, especially volunteers working closely with the animals.
Tyler is careful to maintain a balance of his volunteer shifts. He’s seen many of his colleagues come and go. He understands why volunteers would stop coming after a traumatic and emotional experience. For Tyler, it has made him want to try harder, to be a stronger advocate for the long-term residents with behaviors or histories that create barriers to adoption. He’s all about second chances. After all, Tyler has been able to overcome his own challenges, and works to return the favor. He believes that no matter the challenges dogs face, “there’s a dog for every person, and a person for every dog.”
Thank you, Tyler, for your dedicated, positive service for the people and pets of Multnomah County!
January 2019 Nominees
Thank you to our stellar volunteers nominated for the January 2019 Volunteer of the Month.
- Helen C.
- Early Morning Potty Walkers
- Jenni H.
- Laura H.