Mika is a shining example of how volunteers can affect change! Not only has Mika helped our staff tremendously, but she has also contributed to the animal welfare sector, outside of our shelters, within her own academic research! Learn more about how Mika has contributed to LifeLine and the animal welfare sector by reading her profile below.
What made you get involved with LifeLine?
In 2017, my partner and I decided to visit the old Avondale location, “just to look.” We ended up going back first thing the next day, “just to foster.” We met a few dogs and finally asked a staff member which dog he would adopt if he could. He brought out a brindle boy named Bane. We took him home to foster, having no idea how a dog might truly change my entire career trajectory and life forever. A couple months later, we adopted Bane. I started volunteering at the Fulton County Animal Services (FCAS) location while I was working part-time and waiting to start graduate school. With a lot of time on my hands, I was volunteering long hours and started getting involved with lots of aspects of the shelter.
What is your favorite volunteer activity?
My favorite activities are playgroups and matchmaking! Dogs Playing for Life came to Fulton and Dekalb for the first time shortly after I started volunteering. I remember how amazing it was to see the personalities of dogs come out in playgroups that I had seen struggling inside the shelter environment. It really changed how I thought about behavior and advocacy. I like matchmaking because who doesn’t like helping dogs find their forever families! Playgroups actually made matchmaking much easier, because we meet so many more dogs in a playgroup session than if we were just hanging out with them one-on-one.
How were you able to use your unique set of skills to help LifeLine?
Shortly after I started volunteering, I started a Masters in Industrial Design at Georgia Tech. I became really interested in animal shelter technology and operations right when I was choosing a thesis topic for my program. I decided to look into current shelter technologies available and how they affect or limit shelter operations. Through a series of participatory design workshops with staff, I used the findings to create designs for a new animal management software. A big goal was for the new tool to have the progressive values of the no-kill movement embedded within the features of the software. The project also initiated a pilot program concerning the processes around tracking dogs, programs, and advocacy at FCAS.
This led me to present my work at the CSCW 2019 conference (here’s the paper and poster). I also taught a design thinking workshop for animal sheltering in Tuscon, Arizona. My project has allowed me to meet many amazing people across the country focused on improving animal welfare. I’ve been so lucky to have LifeLine in my backyard and that they allow me to do this work. This May, I’m wrapping up my thesis and graduating, but I hope to continue the project and stay involved with this field in the future.
What advice would you give someone who is thinking about volunteering?
I would say that there is something for everyone in volunteering. You just have to reach out! As a nonprofit, animal shelters need a variety of different skills and community support to thrive. I think that’s one of the best things about the LifeLine community – the people involved are so passionate and have a really diverse range of skills. LifeLine’s trust in their volunteers is a great example of how leaning on us can lead to teamwork to benefit animals.