He’s long and lean with sinewy muscles that contract and ripple as he runs his abbreviated routes. Golden hair with swirls of black accents give him an exotic look. When he arrives the place becomes electric with happy, anxious energy. He’s greeted with a boisterous “Neil!”, much like the portly accountant Norm was whenever he planted himself in his regular spot at the far corner of the bar in the television show “Cheers”. He excites the crowd as he prances in, towering over all of them and grinning big under a nose that can’t help but lead the way. He’s Neil the brindle Greyhound, one of about 40 dogs that spend their weekdays at Virginia Woof Dog Daycare while their people toil away in the city.
This is more than just a babysitting service. Virginia Woof is the only nonprofit dog daycare in Portland, Oregon, and is owned and operated by Outside In. Those who entrust their four legged babies to the team of youth trainees, volunteers and staff members are contributing to a great cause. Since 1968 Outside In has provided services that include health care, housing, education, counseling, healthy meals, and a safe place to get off the streets for homeless youth, many of whom are part of the LGBTQ community and were forced out of their homes after coming out to their families. In addition to the services offered by Outside In, Virginia Woof provides a 6 week on-the-job-training program for youth with limited work experience, allowing them to learn customer service and other basic employment skills, as well as the responsibility needed to be a part of the workforce. Volunteering for this organization brings me unbelievable joy.
Thursday can never get here fast enough. I’m wide awake by 5:00am, on the bus by 6:00, and playing with an incredibly unique assortment of canines by 7:00. Neil, of course, is awesome and everyone loves him, but my favorite is Bailey, the scruffy, oversized terrier with terrible anxiety who practically belly crawls across the daycare, trying to go unnoticed and untouched by the other dogs. I give her lots of love and attempt to keep her from tearing into any other dogs that may breach the 2 foot radius she guards. I can’t help but want to make her day less stressful. At 11:00 my shift is done and I head off to the Outside In headquarters where I, along with another volunteer and one of the permanent kitchen staff, prepare and serve a free lunch for those clients who are part of the day program. Some weeks we have limited ingredients to work with, as donations haven’t been as abundant, but it always seems to be ok. We find a way to put together a selection that will feed and satisfy the 30 or more clients who come in to enjoy a hot meal, do laundry, utilize the computers, and socialize. The staff at Outside In and Virginia Woof care deeply about bringing comfort, health, and self sufficiency to these marginalized members of our society. I’m proud to be a part of their efforts amd urge anyone in the Portland area who is looking for volunteer opportunities (they always need help in the kitchen!) or dog daycare to consider this wonderful organization.
Follow the links below to learn more about Outside In and Virginia Woof: