Foster a dog, save a life

Ashley Tzioumis can sum up her proudest volunteer/foster moment at the Best Friends Pet Adoption Center in Salt Lake City with one name: Holly Dolores.

Holly, a big black pit-bull-terrier-type dog, was brought to Best Friends after she was surrendered to the West Valley Animal City Animal Services shelter, a No-Kill Utah (NKUT) Coalition partner. But at the shelter, she struggled with life in a kennel, though who can blame her? She showed it by barking and growling at everyone she saw, a behavior that made it very difficult for her to find a home — even though a home was just the thing Holly needed most.

Ashley and Travis Tzioumis with Holly Dolores the dog at an event

Most shelters don’t have enough space for dogs like Holly to stay indefinitely, so she was transferred to Best Friends, where she could have all the time she needed to find a home.

Ashley, who met Holly shortly after she came to the center, says: “She felt awful in her kennel. She would work herself up into full-blown panic attacks, excessively barking and crying until she was shaking and foaming at the mouth. She came across as terrifying.”

Center staff worked with Holly and did everything possible to help her feel more comfortable in her kennel, but it soon became clear that what she needed was a foster home. Ashley and her husband, Travis, stepped up to help by offering their home to the scared dog — determined to help her get the beautiful future she deserved.

Fostering a dog is life-changing. Find a foster opportunity near you.

“She wanted three things in life: food, to be loved and to give love,” says Ashley.

“From the day she barreled her way through our front door until the day she found her forever home six months later, she brought us nothing but endless joy, unconditional love, and — slobber.”

Erin McMullin, a Best Friends foster coordinator, says Ashley played a huge role in helping Holly get adopted. “She worked hard to help Holly become the best she could be,” says Erin. “She made Holly the cutest resume and shared her excursions through Instagram stories while tagging @bfas_ut in her posts.”

Foster volunteers like Ashley and Travis are critical in getting the U.S. to no-kill by 2025. The following story describes what motivates Ashley to help Save Them All.

What motivates you to volunteer and foster animals with Best Friends?

My husband, Travis, and I have participated in Strut Your Mutt, and made monetary donations to Best Friends over the years. And although I love all animals, Trav always points out that nothing makes me happier than dogs (and cats, but unfortunately, we can’t have them). I had been struggling through a bit of a rut, trying to figure out what it was that I was passionate about, when Trav reminded me how much I love being around dogs and that Best Friends was right down the street.

I signed up as a volunteer that same night. My motivation is the pure happiness I feel every time I step foot in the adoption center or arrive at an adoption event. Trav teases me because I typically stay past the end of my shift, but I truly love every second of volunteering that much — not to mention the entire staff is amazing. Every single one of them works unbelievably hard to do everything possible for these animals, and their genuine love and dedication energizes you to want to do everything you can to help them in their initiatives.

Ashley Tzioumis walking three dogs in a mountainous region

What inspires you most in your volunteer work?

The thing that inspires me the most is how easy it is to make a huge difference through something as simple as volunteering a few hours of your time. There is nothing quite like going up to a dog to take him or her for a walk and seeing their tail slowly start to wag, and their demeanor shift from sad or scared to happy in a matter of seconds. The pup smile on their face when they are out on a walk, smelling the smells and seeing the world outside of a kennel: There is honestly nothing better.

What would you tell others who are thinking of volunteering?

Do it! Everyone I try to recruit tells me it would make them too sad. I get it; however, I have never once felt sad while volunteering — not even when I am cleaning the kennels at the end of the day and have no interaction with the dogs.

I personally think it is impossible to feel anything other than hope. I would tell people, yes, it is heart-wrenching to look at a sad dog or to see the cats waiting to find a home. And, no it’s not reasonable to think you can rescue every dog or cat that needs rescuing or foster every dog or cat in need. But, it is reasonable to put your time and energy into helping give Best Friends, the shelters and the animals the resources and workforce needed to continue their efforts.

The only thing worse than feeling sad is doing nothing about it. Will you eventually go home with a dog or a cat or two? Most likely.

Ashley and Travis Tzioumis with three dogs sitting on the deck of a home

How do you see things differently now that you’ve been volunteering?

I think the biggest lesson I have learned is how misunderstood some animals really are. Until you insert yourself into the rescue world, you don’t truly grasp how confusing and traumatizing life in a kennel or a cat room can be for these sweet babes. I had this perception that a dog who charged the kennel door or aggressively barked when you walked by was aggressive and mean. That couldn’t be further from the truth. I think outsiders fail to see that these poor pups are scared, confused and lonely.

I always knew that these animals had a story we’d likely never know anything about and would never fully understand. But volunteering has shown me just how deep-rooted that can be. It’s taught me the importance and power of love and patience. I’ve also learned that I need to be more trusting of people. I love the animals in my life and the animals I interact with, while volunteering very profoundly. And, I hold others to that same standard.

I recently had the honor of experiencing my first super adoption as a dog captain and adoption assistant. One Best Friends staff member gave me a brief, rather stern, eye-opening pep talk beforehand. She told me she appreciated my intensity and overprotectiveness when it came to the well-being of the animals, but that I had to learn to trust the good in people and their ability to be a dog or cat parent.

It was a defining moment for me as a volunteer, because it helped me realize that we can’t Save Them All if we’re so overly judgmental and selective that we unintentionally prevent them from getting an opportunity for their forever home.

Three women in protective medical gowns holding puppies

With respect to your volunteer work with Best Friends, what are you most proud of?

I don’t think anyone will be surprised by this answer: Holly Dolores. I am most proud of fostering Holly because she was the sweetest, most loving dog I ever met. Without Best Friends saving her and a foster committed to her well-being and keeping her safe, a dog like our sweet Holls could have been euthanized at the shelter for poor kennel behavior. Of course, she hated kennel life and who could blame her?

In the beginning, she was incredibly vulnerable, skeptical and unsure. Watching her become comfortable, feel safe and trust us as she learned social skills and boundaries in a home full of love and patience, played an enormous role in helping her find the life she deserved. It’s the single most significant accomplishment of my life.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

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Tell us about your favorite volunteer moment.

This last super adoption was my first as a dog captain and adoption assistant. On my first shift, I assisted with four adoptions. Two families, in particular, were incredible matches for the sweet babe they were looking to add to their family. Both families were grateful and appreciative throughout the entire process, and before they left, they made it a point to seek me out and say thank you. It meant the world to me.

Ashley and Travis Tzioumis with two dogs in front of a Best Friends backdrop

What are you doing when you’re not volunteering with animals?

When I am not volunteering, I am spending time with Trav and our pup children. We take any chance we can get to galivant around the mountains. We love to camp, hike, fly-fish and ski. I am also a red wine enthusiast, who enjoys nights spent drinking vino in my pajamas with my girlfriends — usually cuddled up with all of our dogs.

Do you have a super power, and if so, what is it?

I can’t be sure Trav would consider this to be a superpower, but I would have to say it is my uncanny ability to believe it logically makes perfect sense to continue to bring more dogs into our home.

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Photos courtesy of Ashley Tzioumis