February 2021 Volunteer of the Month: Cheri Tjoelker
Meet Cheri! With tremendous pleasure RASKC names Cheri Tjoelker as Volunteer of the Month. In 2019 she contributed the most hours among Dog Walkers- more than twice as much as the person who gave the second-highest number of hours. In pre-COVID times, Cheri faithfully worked weekly Dog Walking and dog Reiki shifts. She also served on our Dog Modification Team and as a RASKC classroom instructor, mentor, and Dog Team Skills Assessor. RASKC will always feel grateful for the many off-campus adventures that Cheri and volunteer Jennifer Jewell have taken dogs on, especially the extra support they provided to dog Charlie to help his foster stay be so successful. Additionally Cheri started at RASKC as a Shelter Helper and helped in previous years with our giftwrapping fundraiser.
Q: How did you hear about RASKC?
A: My daughter had checked into volunteering and asked if I wanted to join her. On the night of the orientation she was unable to attend, but I went anyway. I had always wanted to volunteer at a shelter. I think I eventually I would have, but my daughter got me there sooner.
Q: What made you want to volunteer, especially to work with animals?
A: I LOVE dogs, especially pit bulls! Dogs teach us about unconditional love, enjoyment of the present moment, joy, and enthusiasm. They get us in touch with what really matters.
Q: Tell us more about yourself.
A: I was born and raised in the Seattle area. I am married and have two grown children. I retired from Boeing in 2016 after working in various finance positions for 36 years.
The first year of my retirement I became a Reiki master (a Japanese form of energy healing) and started volunteering at RASKC the following year. After gaining some experience at RASKC, I brought a proposal forward for extending my volunteer duties to include Reiki for the dogs and started offering Reiki after my morning walking shift. I was able to spend some quiet time with some of the dogs. It was heartwarming to see some of the more anxious and fearful dogs be able to relax.
I believe, “Don’t adapt to the energy in the room, influence the energy in the room!”
One of the issues that’s most important to me is the environment. If we destroy our planet, all other issues are meaningless.
Q: What do you do when you aren’t volunteering at RASKC?
A: I love to be outdoors – camping, hiking, walking, or playing with my dog and my three grand-dogs. I also enjoy music, yoga, reading, jigsaw puzzles, cooking, and spending time with my family and friends.
Q: What have you gained and hope to gain from your experience as a volunteer with RASKC?
A: I have learned so much about dog training and behavior from the staff, other volunteers, and from Danette Johnston, the dog trainer RASKC had contracted with. Having the weekly, [pre-COVID] hands-on experience with all the various dog personalities has been invaluable. Additionally, I have made some wonderful human friendships too! I hope to continue improving my skills and help as many dogs as possible.
Q: What is your favorite place to take your dog and grand-dogs for a walk?
A: My favorite place to take the dogs is out on hikes and playing in lakes and rivers. We have spent many wonderful hours, on many different hiking trails over the years. Our 13-year-old girl can’t go on long hikes anymore, so consequently the last few years we have had to stick closer to home. Six years ago we took a two-week trip around Oregon State in our 26-foot trailer. It was one of the best trips ever!
Q: How would you describe the dogs’ personalities?
Hookah: Our 13-year-old, 70-pound, female, pit bull is a “red” dog, who needs more skillful handling. We have had her since she was four months old. She is the queen bee! Hookah is independent and does things on her terms. She can be unpredictable with other dogs, so we must watch her closely. It’s the only reason I have not fostered or adopted another dog from RASKC!
My Grandboys are:
Hugo: 3-year-old, 50-pound, male, Staffordshire bull terrier – is a “green” friendly dog. He is a BIG personality, easygoing and full of life. He must always have his nose in everything that’s going on and makes us laugh! His favorite thing in the world is a ball. Once he sees a ball nothing else exists!
Bam: 3-year-old male – is also a “green” friendly personality. He is 80 handsome pounds of Black Lab sweetness. Bam is one of the most even-tempered and easygoing dogs I have ever known. Good with all dogs, people, and situations. He takes everything in stride!
Frankie: 2-year-old, 50-pound, male, Black Lab/hound mix – is a “blue” shy personality. He is good with other dogs but has some trust issues with other people. His brother Bam has really helped him gain confidence, and Frankie has made great progress!
Q: Describe a memorable moment you’ve had with an animal or anyone associated with RASKC.
A: I have found it to be so beneficial and enjoyable to take dogs out on WAGS off-campus adventures. It is so great to give them special, extended time out of the shelter environment. Jennifer Jewell and I have teamed up several times and taken dogs to a Sniffspot in Kent called, ‘Ranch Setting’. (A Sniffspot is where people will rent out their property to provide a safe area for your dog to exercise, play and train in the safety of a private area). The first dog we ever took there was the infamous Charlie. As a result of Charlie being reactive to everything in his environment, he was wound up tight. To be able to take him somewhere and safely let him off leash to run and play and get out some built up energy and stress was one of the most rewarding, pleasurable things I have ever been part of!
Another time, I teamed up with volunteer Mariia R., and we took two dogs out together on a WAGS trip to Lake Meridian. Shelby and Ginger had been brought in together by an Animal Control Officer. Being able to get the dogs back together was heartwarming. They were so happy to see each other and be together. After bringing them back, I was told Shelby finally settled down and went to sleep for the first time since they arrived.
Q: Fun fact?
A: My son is also a Dog Walker volunteer at RASKC!
Q: What else would you like to say about volunteering for RASKC?
A: I am so grateful to be part of the RASKC community. I have been so impressed with the hardworking, caring staff and volunteers. I have seen the desire to do things better and the constant improvements resulting from that desire. I have appreciated being listened to and having my ideas considered and sometimes implemented. I am excited to get back to work once it’s safe again. I have missed the dogs, my volunteer friends, and staff. I look forward to seeing everyone again soon!