Florida 4-H Alumni Spotlight: Shelby McDonald

Spotlight Profile Image of Shelby McDonaldShelby McDonald
COMMUNITY INVOLVEMENT: Alliance of Therapy Dogs

Shelby’s experience as a member in the Patchwork 4-H Club more than a decade ago fostered a lifelong passion. Today, as a Florida 4-H alumna, Shelby continues to commit her “hands to larger service” with her trained therapy dog Tanner. Shelby shares with us how 4-H has made an impact in her life:

What projects & activities did you do as a 4-H’er? I participated in the dog project all four years of being in 4-H. Including participating in shows and agility contests with 4-H, AKC and more.

What experiences did you have in 4-H you wouldn’t have otherwise had? 4-H allowed me the unique experience of exploring and expanding on my growing interest in working with, and showing, dogs. It allowed me to do so in the company of similarly aged 4-H members who shared this specific interest. This was truly an experience I could not have received anywhere else.

Who was one of the most influential people in your 4-H career, and why? My first 4-H leader, Stephanie Farmer Collins, was one of the biggest driving forces in my 4-H career. She always ensured we were aware of any and all 4-H and 4-H related opportunities, and that we had the means to seize such opportunities should we wish. It was because of her influence that I took my dog project to the next level and started training and showing my dog(s) outside of 4-H specific classes and events.

Dock Diving competition photo
Shelby and Tanner, her Australian Shepherd, in the 2016 North America Diving Dogs (NADD) competition.

How has 4-H changed your life? The friendships and connections I made during my time in 4-H are still strong today, and I am most grateful for them. Needless to say, the experience shaped me as a person, including my passion for working with dogs.

In 2017 I started doing therapy work with Tanner, my blue merle Australian Shepherd. I registered with Alliance of Therapy Dogs and from there we started volunteering at two local hospitals in the Tampa region, and with a library-based reading therapy program for grade school children. Within the hospitals we visit various patients and staff, from children to adults. The reading therapy program helps children with their confidence when it comes to reading out loud, as well as their overall literacy skills. We have also visited a local community college during finals to help students with stress.

I love therapy work because it can be used in so many creative ways to help people. In 2019, I extended my volunteer status with Alliance of Therapy Dogs and became a Tester/Observer. This allows me to help other dog and handler teams to become registered with Alliance of Therapy Dogs and begin their own journey into therapy work.

therapy dog in vest
Tanner wears his therapy dog vest at a library-based reading therapy program for children.

Stephanie Farmer Collins shared, “It has been amazing to see Shelby grow—from a brand new 4-H member with her dog Bailey, to a junior handler working with professionals, and now as an adult using her experience and passion to help our community. We had a young man and his puppy join our Patchwork 4-H Club; his family hoped to have the dog become a service animal for him. Shelby, volunteer leader Katherine Croft and other 4-H members at the Imperial Polk Obedience Club, worked together to train the puppy to become a certified therapy dog for the young man! I feel this really ignited her passion for therapy work. She always had a great attitude, win or lose she was happy, encouraging, and a great example to her fellow 4-H’ers. I am proud of Shelby for continuing to lead and give her hands to larger service.”

What would you tell a parent or guardian about why their child should join 4-H? 4-H goes beyond a team sport your child can participate in. The number of different project areas are forever growing and the people are one of a kind. There is something for every child to find their niche in, and the connections and friendships last a lifetime. Your child has the potential to gain countless unique experiences as a 4-H’er.

What advice would you like to share with graduating 4-H’ers? Your experience doesn’t have to end here! I absolutely loved my time as a 4-H leader after graduating, it was, without doubt, rewarding. Reflect back on your time as a 4-H’er and pass on your knowledge and experience to those looking to shape their own respective 4-H experience.


Are you a 4-H alumnus or friend of the program as a volunteer, community advocate or a supportive parent or guardian? Subscribe to the Florida 4-H Alumni + Friends Community for news and updates. You can connect with 4-H locally through your Extension County Office, or contact Caylin Hilton at grow4H@ifas.ufl.edu or 352.392.5432. Enrollment for the new 4-H year opens September 1, including new STATEWIDE virtual clubs!

4-H is the youth development program of the land-grant university and Cooperative Extension system. The program provides hands-on educational programs and experiences for youth ages 5-18 with the objective of developing young people as individuals and responsible citizens. 4-H empowers youth to be leaders in their communities today, and for the future. In Florida, 4-H is administered by UF/IFAS Extension and Florida A&M University Extension.



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Posted: August 31, 2020

Category: 4-H & Youth, Clubs & Volunteers
Tags: #FL4HAlumni, 4-H, 4-H Alumni, 4-H Youth Development, Dog Project, Hillsborough County

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