Working (and Volunteering) Like a Dog

by Marina M.

Somebody recently told me I don’t write nearly enough posts about dogs. I think they were being sarcastic but since it was in an email I chose to take it seriously. Because I can.

If you don’t know by now, I have a couple of dogs. A poodle mix and a pitbull mix. They’re pretty awesome. Mostly.

I’ve been involved in dog stuff for a long time. In middle and high school I was in 4-H with my (okay, the family’s) lab mix. Our home away from home was the old, under-ventilated dog barn at the Evergreen State Fairgrounds. The class options were pretty limited back in the day–obedience (multiple levels), conformation (fancy dress and all), trivia bowl (no dogs), and costumes. Today, there are a few more options in 4-H, like agility. But, there’s so much more than that through the American Kennel Club (AKC) and other dog sporting venues. Even mixed breed dogs can now be registered to compete in non-breed specific events with the AKC.

Let’s Get Started

Since I got my very own dog (not a shared family pet) I’ve tried to find activities that we can do together. Other than just a walk around the block.

My first dog, a poodle mix, and I settled on agility. (After we had taken a trial run at flyball and dock diving.) And we had a blast! She was smart, steady, and reliable.

It was actually a little difficult to get to that final decision. Some options seemed like the right fit, but only for a little while. And, if you don’t know all that’s available to you it’s hard to know where to start. While I wish I had had the help of books like Canine Sports & Games to give me ideas I was lucky enough to be working at a vet clinic at the time. Many of the dog owners freely gave advice regarding the dog sport of their choice.

Second Verse, Same as the First

My second poodle mix (pictured at the top) also took to agility. But her lack of social manners limited our participation. We tried NoseWorks for a little bit. And she really excelled at that. Bonus for it being more of a solo endeavor. We still do a little bit now and then at home but we never took it to the point of competition (or hunting truffles, which is what got me interested in the first place). Dogs with scent training can work all over the place. They’re in search and rescue, law enforcement (drug and bomb sniffing), the medical field (to detect low blood sugar, seizures, and other medical conditions), and even conservation efforts.

But her main volunteer activity is as a dog blood donor. She’s completed 37 donations! She’s a superstar during the process. Probably because she gets unlimited treats and pets. Plus a toy at the end.

With the Third, We Diverge

Then we have my pit bull, a favorite of nearly everybody he meets (no modesty here). His physical restrictions eliminated agility. Medical restrictions prevented him from joining the blood donor program. So, what to do with this dog?

In spite of spending almost two years of his life in a shelter he maintains a friendly, outgoing personality so I thought there was no better way to highlight that than obtaining a therapy dog certification together. Which we just completed in July!

And, while, most of these activities require hands-on, in-person training, I am inspired to get more involved in the canine community because of the many books I have read about dog history or that feature dogs with jobs.

Working Like a Dog

For the Community

While I’m sharing all my personal dog volunteer experiences, I also want to share a volunteer opportunity coming up that you (yes, you!) can participate in.

The Monroe Library, where I work, is having a Pet Week, of sorts, at the end of August. Four days of pet-centric programs. On Monday, August 26, we have a Pet Toy Craftavaganza. Lots of supplies will be available to make a variety of cat and dog toys. Take them to share with your pet or leave them to donate to animals at PAWS or Beck’s Place.

On Tuesday we’ll be hosting PAWS and their Pet Champions program. Wednesday is the day for YOUR pet. We’ll be showing you how to Meme Your Pet using the free photo editing software GIMP. And Thursday, August 29, Beck’s Place will sharing information about their organization and the Smooch a Pooch booth. Pet supplies can also be donated at any of those events.

I hope to see you there! And tell me all about your dog (or cat).

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2 responses to “Working (and Volunteering) Like a Dog”

  1. Lindsey says:

    I didn’t know pets could donate blood! I wish I lived closer to Seattle for that. You’ve given me so much food for thought, Marina. I’ve considered getting my poodle into agility but he’s so easily distracted by other animals. Scent work sounds fascinating, though. What’s the most interesting thing your dogs have ever sniffed out?

    • Marina M. says:

      There are so many fun things to do with your dogs, Lindsey. I learned about dogs (and cats) as blood donors when I worked at a vet. I was disappointed that the dog I had at the time didn’t meet the weight requirements. It’s good that this one grew and grew!
      In my experience with agility, both training and competing, it’s usually one dog and owner at a time. In most training sessions it’s a group setting but usually the teams go one at a time. And poodles are amazing agility dogs!
      As for scent work, the training scents start off with just stinky treats (liver, peanut butter, etc.) and then you move on to birch. So that’s as far as we went. But, in the yard, the dogs always sniff out some interesting gifts left by my cats. You can imagine what those might be.

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