You may have seen people walking around campus wearing bright yellow mesh vests. No, they are not road crew overseeing the repair of potholes – nor traffic wardens guiding visitors to parking spots on busy days when events are happening at the shelter. They are Dog Pet Pal (DPP) mentors – and they wear the vests so they can be seen easily by new volunteer dog walkers who may need help or advice.

The shelter has 18 DPP mentors, all of them veteran volunteers with years of experience handling dogs of every kind, size, temperament, and demeanor. Importantly, the mentors have all faced the sort of hassles that cause concern to the newbies.

Typical questions include:  What should I do if a dog gets away? How do I attach this dangblasted harness when Fido refuses to co-operate? How does the harness work anyway? What can I do if my dog sits down and refuses to walk? How do I know whether a dog is too strong for me to handle? What do I do if dogs get into a fight?

The mentors have faced these problems themselves and have learned from them. Their purpose is to share that knowledge so new volunteers can enjoy their experience as Dog Pets Pals, performing the vital job of exercising and socializing the dogs that pass through our hands. And to do it safely for both themselves and the dogs in our charge.

The system works like this: Potential DPPs attend an orientation where they learn the basics of what they’ll be asked to do when they join the volunteer program. After that they’re assigned to a mentor who will arrange one or two (or more) sessions at the shelter where they will be shown how to put what they learned at the orientation into practice. The number of sessions really depends on the new volunteer. He or she must feel confident and comfortable about being a DPP.

The mentor runs through a checklist of the things a DPP must know including how to choose a dog to walk, how to enter and leave a dog run safely, where to find harnesses and collars, how to report a concern about a dog’s condition, what to do if  scratched or bitten, and  many other things.

While these all may have simple answers, it can seem like an awful lot to know when one hears them for the first time, and the mentors know that. So they encourage the fresh volunteers to question everything they are told and to seek the help of anyone they see wearing the canary-colored vests – or, if they’re not around, to ask DPPs wearing name tags with purple or blue dots (the more experienced DPPs). They will all be happy to help.

New volunteers start off with green or yellow dots on their name tags. These colors designate the dogs that they can walk in the early stages of their volunteer careers. After a period in which they gain confidence and experience, they can ask their mentor to arrange instruction sessions to change their status to blue which will allow them to work with dogs who require more experience than the greens and yellows. Finally, they can increase their status to Extra Care which is illustrated by a purple dot.

The Extra Care sessions are run by senior volunteer Larry Nilsen who designed the mentoring program with Kathleen Call of the Behavior & Training Staff. The mentoring program is administered by super-star volunteer Kathryn Dougherty.

The team of mentors meets a few times a year to discuss the program’s effectiveness and to devise ways of making it even better. They’re determined to make sure that the DPPs are a happy crew!

Thank you to the incredibly dedicated Dog Pet Pal Mentors. They provide an invaluable service to the Dog Pet Pals and all the dogs in our care. We salute them for transforming lives, dogs and humans alike!

By Neil Lurssen, Dog Pet Pal & Dog Pet Pal Mentor