Should You Volunteer at a Dog Shelter?
You've seen the commercial of a skinny dog with huge, sad eyes staring at you while a heart-wrenching song plays in the background. As the song continues, the announcer asks you to send a monthly donation to help provide a better life for dogs. Maybe you're willing to write a check, but maybe there's more that you want to do to help.
If dogs have been a part of your life and you have the time, you can make shelter dogs' lives better as they wait for their forever homes. If you resolve to volunteer at a shelter, here are some suggestions on where to start.
Apply Your Skills
You will need to decide exactly what you want to do at the shelter. Make this decision based on your skills and your experiences. Volunteering should be both rewarding to you and beneficial to the shelter. Be honest about what you're comfortable with and capable of doing:
Choose the Right Shelter
Once you've decided which tasks you're suited for, find a shelter that can put your inclinations to good use. Now you'll need to investigate local shelters. Search Google for animal shelters in your town or county. Most have a municipal shelter, sometimes referred to as the city pound or animal care and control, which must take in all surrendered animals. You may or may not be comfortable with the birds, rabbits, or snakes that wind up there. Because space is limited, many of these shelters may euthanize animals that are sick, aggressive, or otherwise difficult to adopt out. If you dislike this policy, you may want to volunteer at a private shelter.
Private shelters can limit the number of animals they house and can be selective about which they take in. The dogs in these shelters may be younger, healthier, and somewhat better behaved. Visit a few municipal shelters and private shelters and observe their conditions. Talk to the volunteers. Ask about the opportunities and requirements for volunteering, their hours of operation, policies, and liability insurance in case you're injured during your service.
Prepare for the Hiring Process
After you've selected a shelter, you will be required to complete an application. Don't be surprised if the application is long, asking for details of your experience with animals and even requesting references and a background check. You will also meet with the volunteer coordinator for a face-to-face interview.
When your application is accepted, you will most likely be required to attend an orientation. The orientation may be a one-hour tour of the facility or it may be several classes in which all the policies and procedures are explained and hands-on training is given. After you complete the orientation, you may be assigned to work with a mentor or a team, which will help reinforce what you learned in training. You probably won't be answering phones, conducting adoption interviews, or washing dinner bowls on your own for a while.
Honor Your Commitment
Volunteering is serious business. Just because the work is unpaid doesn't mean that it's not important. Shelters operate on limited funds and depend on volunteers for necessary work. Some shelters require that you volunteer for a minimum amount of time on a particular day, every week, twice a month, etc. If you commit to volunteering for two hours every other Wednesday, it is imperative that you honor that commitment. The dogs are counting on you.
Although volunteering improves the lives of shelter animals, it also benefits the volunteers. Albert Schweitzer said it best: "The interior joy we feel when we have done a good deed, when we feel we have been needed somewhere and have lent a helping hand, is the nourishment the soul requires."
Florence Scarinci has worked as a veterinary assistant, trained service dogs, and owned and operated a pet-sitting service. She has two Pembroke Welsh Corgis who compete in agility, rally, and obedience. Her cats compete for the food bowls and the sunniest spot on the couch. For the past 13 years she has been involved in Bideawee's Animal Assisted Therapy program with her two Corgis and participates in Reading to Dogs programs in local elementary schools and libraries.