A part-time job that pays in tail wags and licks is enough for this volunteer.
Sitting on the concrete walkway in front of the PetCo at Island Walk, Susan Harrison nearly engulfed Bubba with her arms and legs in a mammoth hug. It still wasn’t close enough for Bubba, a young pit bull, who pushed his body even closer and licked her face.
Bubba had found a new home.
It was the first adoption of the week from a Flagler Humane Society outreach program, which is successful because of its volunteers — and specifically one volunteer, who oversees the program: Howard Tessler.
Tessler moved to Palm Coast from San Diego, where he supported the local humane society in a less “hands on” approach.
“In San Diego, I would walk in and donate $20 and walk out,” Tessler said. “I didn’t put in any time at the shelter.”
His wife, Malinny, changed that. During her studies to become a vet tech, she was looking for externship job to complete requirements. There were no openings at any of the local veterinarian offices, so she checked out the Flagler Humane Society, and Amy Carotenuto hired her.
Soon she was bringing stories home to her husband about the homeless animals at the shelter, including a pup named Christopher, a severely emaciated dog. The couple began cooking for the dog, and Tessler’s days of just dropping $20 off and leaving were over. He became an active volunteer.
Malinny died, but Tessler continued taking dogs out as part of the outreach program, giving them time away from their kennels and into the public eye. For the past 11 years, before there was a PetCo or PetSmart in town, Tessler was a regular with the dogs at the Flagler Beach Farmer’s market.
Carotenuto stopped by PetCo on Friday and teased Tessler about his donation jar, a beat-up plastic jug prominently placed by the door.
“We bought him a nice new jar, one with cute paws all over it, but he didn’t collect as much money,” Carotenuto laughed. “He does much better with this sad one.”
Over the holidays, one donor wrote Tessler a $500 check for the animals.
While he appreciates every dime that goes into the jug, it was more important that the four dogs he brought that day were getting exposure. The weekend before, four dogs found new homes thanks to Tessler and his volunteers.
Tessler refers to his pups as “samplers.”
“If someone tells me they don’t see a dog they like, I always tell them these are our samplers; there are more at the shelter,” Tessler said.
The pups that go out are hand-picked by Tessler and the staff, and they are the dogs that are often overlooked at the shelter. You aren’t likely to find a poodle or other small dog; they have no problem getting adopted. But larger dogs and black dogs traditionally spend more time at the shelter waiting for a home.
For Tessler, it’s a volunteer part-time job he loves. He sets up the tent and crates of dogs from 10 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. Thursday through Sunday. When there is a special community event, like Earth Day at Washington Oaks Garden State Park, Tessler is there.
“I consider myself the lynchpin,” he said. “I don’t want this outreach program to fail.”