Friday, October 23, 2015

Volunteer Appreciation: Melissa

Volunteer Melissa and her husband Jake have made some interesting deals the past few years. Interesting, because when Melissa and Jake make a deal, animals in need seem to benefit.

Take for example, how Melissa came to be a volunteer at Berkeley Humane. When Jake received a San Francisco job offer, the couple made a deal: if Melissa went along with the plan to move across two state lines, she wouldn’t have to work. Done and done. But with her long history of volunteer work with animals, once she got here, Melissa jumped on an opportunity at Berkeley Humane to volunteer as a part-time thank-you caller. A perk of the new gig was meeting all the wonderful dogs the staff brought by to say “hello”.


One day someone brought a one-eyed Shih Tzu named “Leo” for a visit. Turns out that Melissa and Jake’s family included two cats and two dogs: and that one of the dogs (James) was also a one-eyed Shih Tzu. And so a second deal had to be struck: they would foster, but wouldn’t add any animals to their family.

And so Melissa’s volunteer duties as thank-you caller expanded to include being a foster. Berkeley Humane staff started calling her house “the zoo”. She became a greeter and started working events… Melissa has even been known to make unscheduled Costco runs to get needed supplies because, well—Melissa is just that kind of person.

"Zoo" resident James (left), guests Ellie (right)
and the amazing Maggie (center) go for a walk

I had the opportunity to chat with Melissa about volunteering at Berkeley Humane and her foster experience. She and Jake have been fostering for about a year: twenty dogs and one cat have been guests in their home. I asked Melissa about letting go. How do you say goodbye when an animal joins a new family?

While saying goodbye is difficult, Melissa said it feels great to know that you’ve helped an animal gain skills that will help them become part of their new family. With the foster volunteer, the animal learns or re-learns what it’s like to be in a home, and that it’s okay to be touched. Animals experience—maybe for the first time, what it’s like to be loved in the care of fosters like Melissa.

I asked if there were any fosters that made she and Jake reconsider their second deal (no more animals).

“There were three,” she tells me, and shares the story of one: Maggie the Chihuahua, her second dog foster. Maggie was smart as a whip and got along great with their other dogs and cats. Melissa and Jake made a side deal: if Maggie weren’t adopted by a certain date, they’d welcome her into their family. Maggie was adopted the day before, and the second deal stood.

But sometimes ‘goodbye’ is really ‘see you later’. Because Melissa is a volunteer, she has the opportunity to meet people who might eventually adopt the animals she has fostered. Some of the new adopters stay in touch, share pictures. This year, she and Jake are having a Halloween party and three former foster dogs and their adopters will be there.

“Fostering takes work but it’s rewarding,” she said. “You get to see an animal become well socialized, learn to live with people and other animals.” Melissa shared that many of the foster animals have gone through multiple shelters or been homeless before they arrive at Berkeley Humane. It takes a few days for them to relax. “It’s very rewarding when that happens,” she said. “You get to see the real personality of the animal emerge.”

Jake spoon feeds three-legged Tika as
she recovers from a respiratory infection
Her advise to new fosters is, “Give it two days: let yourself get used to the animal and the animal get used to you and the new environment.” She said it takes about forty-eight hours to win an animal’s trust. Not much time when you consider that fostering is often the first step an animal takes toward becoming a cherished family member.

Melissa and Jake coordinate their schedules so they can work together when an animal comes into their home for the first time, just to make sure everyone’s needs are met. Melissa shared the story of she and Jake bathing a new dog. After the bath the dog shook itself, like dogs do—but with each shake, loose stool the dog was unable to control splattered the couple and their bathroom. A calm Jake helped Melissa clean the dog off and handed her the leash. “Take her outside and don’t come back for a half hour. I’ll take care of this.” Now that’s some teamwork.

Two of the Oakland litter, Nephrite & Kunzite
The second deal about no more animals held until last spring. Delta (you can read her story here) was a community cat that needed a special home. Her two kittens, Epsilon and Zeta had been socialized and adopted. But Delta needed a place where she could be safe and cared for, but still live the community cat lifestyle she was used to. Melissa and Jake welcomed Delta to their back yard where she is now the newest member of their family. Jake renamed her “Loophole” because Delta was the loophole in that deal he and Melissa had made. Loophole (formerly Delta) knows her new name, comes for food every morning and has bonded with their two indoor-outdoor cats.

Melissa notes that Berkeley Humane goes out of their way to make it easy for volunteers who foster. She said that BH offers an incredible variety of supportive resources. Anything from a gallon of Nature’s Miracle for those oops moments to clothing for a dog with the shivers, diapers—even advice on how to get through situations that might be new to a foster volunteer.

"Like what?" I asked. Melissa laughed and told me about the first time she fostered puppies: two from the “Oakland” litter—each named with a letter from the city because there were six puppies and the mother. Kylie Reed, Berkeley Humane’s Foster Care Coordinator was on hand to give Melissa plenty of support as she learned the ins and outs of puppyhood and how to function on not a lot of sleep—a skill that is going to be very handy in the not too distant future. Melissa and Jake recently learned that they are to be first time parents. Will the new addition be a future Berkeley Humane volunteer? Time will tell.
Beware! Puppy teething!

Meanwhile, we extend our heartfelt thanks to volunteer Melissa (and Jake). May their love, commitment and compassion for the work come back to them many times over as this next chapter in their life unfolds. And we’ll look forward to hearing about any new deals!

There's a saying:"It's in giving that we receive." If you'd like to experience giving as one of our wonderful Berkeley Humane volunteers, we'd love to hear from you. Chances are you've got a talent that would make a difference. Visit our volunteer page to learn more.

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