Every night, the Humane Society for Southwest Washington posts the animals adopted that day on their Facebook page, and volunteers Patti and Gaylen Dahle make checking those updates part of their routine. “Sometimes we’ll see one that has been there a really long time,” Patti explains. “And maybe Gaylen has walked it week after week after week, or I have, and you just think, ‘This poor baby you know needs a home.’ Then you see it, and it got adopted.” Her voice breaks and she pauses for a second, getting choked up. “It’s a wonderful feeling.”
Ten years ago, Clark County was lucky to welcome the Dahles as new residents when they moved to the area after their son, daughter-in-law, and granddaughter relocated. Prior to, and after, the move, Gaylen had worked as a pharmacist for a drug store chain, and Patti had held a number of jobs, including one at the drug store (where the two fortuitously met) and at an organization dedicated to the endangered gibbon.
When Gaylen retired in 2014, the pair spent their time as they chose but soon found they didn’t have enough activities to keep them happily occupied. They began looking for a volunteer activity with an organization dedicated to bettering the lives of animals.
“We investigated and went to the orientation for new volunteers. We were very impressed with the people, how everything is run, the facilities and how clean they are, and how much everybody cares. Everybody there cares so much about each individual animal, and it’s obvious by how they act. We felt like the Humane Society for Southwest Washington was a really good organization to be part of because they believe, like we do, that animals have value and deserve to have good homes,” Patti shares.
Although saying that the pair have filled multiple roles at the Humane Society for Southwest Washington makes it seem like a lot, it still understates their volunteerism. The Dahles explain they started slowly with a single morning dog walking shift each week. Next, they began working in the organization’s thrift store, ReTails, for two hours in the afternoon.
As volunteers, they received emails asking for assistance on special projects and felt they had the time, energy, and interest needed to do more. In some instances, animals are transferred from areas where they face a lower chance of being adopted (like Southern California and Hawaii) and they need to be checked into the Clark County facility. The couple began doing that. But, wait. There’s more.
They also acted as the transport, shuttling dogs to both distant and breed-specific rescue shelters throughout Washington and Oregon. And, when the phone rings and they are asked to take dogs to groomers in Vancouver, the Dahles are happy to help. The same is true of visits to specialist veterinary services in the greater Portland/Vancouver area.
Every other Tuesday, they can be found gathering donations from places like Mud Bay. By grabbing dog food, beds, and leashes, they save Sam Ellingson, the Outreach and Strategic Partnership Coordinator at the Humane Society for Southwest Washington, from having to do it himself, meaning he has more time to work with the community for the benefit of the organization’s many animals.
To help the Humane Society save on postage, Patti and Gaylen have delivered gifts to donors rather than having them mailed. On each occasion, they spent four or five days visiting over 200 homes. The pair are quick to note that it was great way to learn their way around Clark County.
“Patti and Gaylen are a positive force at HSSW,” shares Denise Barr, vice president of marketing for the Humane Society for Southwest Washington. “They are always ready to fill a need whether it’s driving an animal to another city, picking up donated pet food or helping out with an event. They are amazing individuals.”
Although it seems like the Dahles have full-time jobs at the no-kill shelter, Patti comments, “It sounds like it’s a lot, but this is spread over two and a half years and it’s usually just once or twice a week, one day or two days a week, that we do something.”
For people considering donating their time to the Humane Society for Southwest Washington, Gaylen says, “It’s a very rewarding experience. Absolutely do it. And there are so many different varieties of jobs you can do. There’s some niche that you’ll find, something for everyone.”
“What I feel is so good about it is how you feel you’re helping the community,” Patti adds. “In your small way, you’re playing a role in making the community better and improving animals’ lives by helping them find their home. It makes me feel really good that I can help animals.”
The experience is further enhanced by the support provided by volunteer coordinators for the group. The Dahles explain that regular emails facilitate communication, and there is always an opportunity to seek out assistance in-person or over the phone.
“Plus, they have regular classes for improving your skills: dog handling, cat handling, that sort of thing. This past weekend they just had a seminar for volunteers about compassion fatigue, where you see so many dogs and cats who need homes you get sad about it,” Patti explains. “This is the way to help you deal with it. I think this illustrates how much the shelter cares about keeping the volunteers and staff healthy and safe.”
In addition to helping the greater Clark County community, the Dahles have also formed one of their own. “We love the people we work with,” Patti enthuses. “We have our little crew of dog walkers every Monday morning that we really enjoy, and we like the people we work with a lot at ReTails, too. Everybody is just really nice who is associated with the Humane Society for Southwest Washington.”
If you are interested in volunteering or donating, the Humane Society for Southwest Washington has a number of ways to contribute. You can also make purchases from the ReTails Thrift Store, which is run by the organization.