By Tami Harbolt
Tami Harbolt began her long career with animals in 1995 in Albuquerque, New Mexico, where she was working on a PhD in American Studies. Her research focused on the experiences of women working in animal sheltering and rescue, so she decided to volunteer at the Animal Humane Association of NM, which turned into a 5-year job while she completed her doctoral work. The result of her dissertation; Bridging the Bond: The Cultural Construction of the Shelter Pet, was published in 2003 by Purdue University Press.
While in Albuquerque, Tami was involved with some amazing educational programs. Camp Love a Pet took place at the shelter and served children in foster treatment care, teaching them how to train and care for shelter dogs. Project Second Chances took place at the youth detention center, where incarcerated young adults trained shelter dogs to be placed for adoption. Not only were these programs revolutionary in the 1990's, they inspired other similar programs across the nation.
Dr. Harbolt returned home to Louisville in 2001 and was blessed with the birth of a son, Roman Henry. She chose to remain in Louisville to be near family, and so her career had several twists and turns. She worked for JCPS, Catholic schools, and for two years as the public education director at Louisville Metro Animal Services (2006-2008). It was then that she met Linda Laun and after a great get-to-know you breakfast at Waffle House her long relationship with WAGS began.
Dr. Harbolt began her love for pitbulls in 1996 when her roommate in ABQ brought home a three-month old puppy with a chain padlocked to her neck. It required bolt cutters to remove. The puppy had been found running in traffic by a houseless person. As soon as Tami saw the puppy, she named her Drew, after the intrepid red-haired sleuth, Nancy Drew. Drew was Dr. Harbolt's first assistance animal, helping with educational programs and school visits. Drew was a great dog- but she failed her WAGS evaluation!! At ten years old, she was not comfortable with the required equipment and had some reactivity to the neutral dog. Therefore, the therapy mantle was passed on to Dolly- a tripod rescued from LMAS. Dolly came to LMAS with stitches still in her "nub." She was such a good therapy dog that she was recognized by a coalition of animal welfare groups as "therapy dog" of the year in 2010.
Currently, Dr. Harbolt works with a great champion therapy dog adopted from Shamrock named Violet. Violet had a hard life before she came to Shamrock. Her ears were almost completely shaved off of her head, she was overbred, and had heartworm. Since then, she has evolved into a pro. Violet has a therapy trick- she will sit on your feet so you won't stop petting her.
Pit bulls (a type, not a breed) have been a passion for Dr. Harbolt. She sees them as representative of the racism and stereotyping that so many people experience based on their looks and how the media portray them. This allows her to utilize bully mixes as a way to discuss prejudice and discrimination. Dr. Harbolt has served on the board of two groups that directly addressed the public scrutiny of pit bull breeds. She was an organizer for three years of The Canine Games, an Olympic-style day of dog-related sports.
Currently, Dr. Harbolt is an assistant professor of Women's, Gender, and Sexuality Studies at the University of Louisville, where she teaches classes on feminism and the environment and gender and animals. In a strange turn of events, she also added a chihuahua to her family who is also a WAGS therapy dog!
She states that WAGS has been a life-saver for her. "I was very depressed when my employment at Metro Animal Services ended. Linda and others reached out to me and wouldn't let me give up on animals through WAGS. I have served as an evaluator, a member of the Board, the Continuing Education chair, and the Special Events Chair. Theo is my fifth WAGS dog! I am also currently the Diversity Chair, and I hope we can expand WAGS to include Louisvillians from all walks of life. Loving dogs isn't bound by money or zip code. We all deserve a great relationship with our pets." WAGS allowed her to share her loving dogs with others and keep her involved in their welfare. What a gift! In keeping with that, Dr. Harbolt plans to keep giving to WAGS for many years to come.