Husband and wife team up to help animals

At Oregon Humane Society

Jill and Tim Hurtley with Lady, an American pit bull mix at Oregon Humane Society in Portland.

Jill and Tim Hurtley with Lady, an American pit bull mix at Oregon Humane Society in Portland.

Jill and Tim Hurtley don’t get paid for their work at the Oregon Humane Society, but agree the benefits are great.

They each volunteer a good 30 hours a week and enthusiastically enjoy what they do. It’s a hands-on responsibility and they thrive on their close relationships with animals. They see the benefit as living with purpose.

Taking a feral kitten having a hissing-fit and turning it into a lovable creature means a lot to Jill. Taming a big, aggressive dog so it will be well-mannered and sociable fills Tim with pleasure.

Volunteering has given them the good feeling that comes with caring for another living thing.

Tim was recognized for his efforts last March when Oregon Humane Society named him as volunteer of the year.

“Tim Hurtley is a volunteer with a big heart and many, many talents,” says David Lytle, OHS public affairs manager. “He has given his time and skills to almost every department at OHS, making a difference at whatever he is doing.”

Jill is a passionate cat devotee who works in the Cattery, where she preps cats for adoption and discusses the cat’s needs with its new owners.

She also was recognized this spring as Trainer of the Year, an award she shared with fellow volunteer Carolyn Brock, for their efforts in mentoring new volunteers.

“Our volunteers contributed so much time last year that we would have needed 112 full-time employees to replace them,” says Sharon Harmon, OHS executive director. “The compassion and dedication of OHS volunteers never ceases to amaze me.”

Tim likes dogs, going on as many as 20 dogs walks a day, in addition to whatever else needs doing. It’s no surprise that a side benefit to all this exercise was that he lost 20 pounds.

The Hurtleys eagerly share albums on their mobile phones filled with pictures of animals they helped socialize and place with new owners. One of their favorites is a feral cat named Peregrine who was brought into the shelter at just two months old. After two months with Jill, the little kitty was successfully placed for adoption.

They relate another favorite story about Loretta, a big Dalmatian-pit bull that presented a challenge at the humane society. She was so strong that she could sprint over a seven-foot fence and no one seemed to want a dog like that. However, she was eventually adopted.

“She touched my heart,” Tim says.

Jill already had a long history of volunteer work before she began helping at the Oregon Humane Society five years ago. She had helped with Meals on Wheels, Habitat for Humanity, the American Heart Association, CASA and other organizations.

Tim’s volunteer efforts had mostly been with the Boy Scouts, and Jill says she felt “great” when Tim joined her almost two years ago at OHS. She felt he was getting too sedentary, watching too many movies on TV. They both like to do things that are worthwhile to the community, “otherwise life has no purpose.”

Jill says taming feral cats is rewarding work. “You see them go from hissing, mean things to sweet things,” she says. Tim believes, “It’s her specialty.”

Meanwhile, he says walking the dogs has been good for his heart and mind, and he feels better physically. “There are a lot of hills and some dogs are really strong.”

He also helps with spaying and neutering, working on the OHS database, at public adoption events and doing photography and videos for the nonprofit.

If there’s one thing they’ve learned as volunteers, it’s how dogs and cats operate.

Cats are interested in making themselves happy and dogs are here to make you happy, Jill says. “Cats are independent and have their own sense of self,” she says. “Dogs depend on people to make their lives good.”

It takes training to learn how to work with aggressive and anti-social animals and the Pet Pals program at OHS unites one adult to one animal. If further rehabilitation is needed, there are specialists to work with distressed pets.

Dog problems include jumping up at people, barking that becomes a habit, and play habits that tear up furniture instead of playing with dog toys. It’s also growling, barking, jumping, biting, howling and not accepting a leash.

Cats, Jill says, come to the humane society “scared to death, going from the security of a home to a kennel. They shut down in the corner of the kennel and take longer to feel safe and loved because they are complex. They don’t like change the way dogs like a dog park and new adventures. There are dog people and cat people.”

Understanding the nature of the animals helps in working with them. “Animals cannot help themselves,” she says. “They cannot pick up the phone and call social services when something goes wrong. People can. All are God’s creatures.”

The Hurtleys advise other retirees to find their passions in life and then see what’s out there.

“It is energizing and gives purpose to life,” Jill says.

Of note

To learn more about volunteer opportunities or to adopt a pet, contact Oregon Humane Society at 503-285-7722 or visit


Use the comment form below to begin a discussion about this content.

Sign in to comment