I'm going to start a new type of post about my experiences volunteering at the local animal shelter. There are many volunteers who have devoted countless hours helping animals, so I don't pretend to be volunteer of the year. But I wanted to share my thoughts and experiences from the beginning of the process. Hopefully this is something I can stick with and not be overwhelmed by the dire need of all the animals. I'll try to keep the posts positive, inspiring and hopeful, but I'm sure some frustrations and sadness might creep in.
I will begin each post with a reminder of what I think is one of the most important messages we can all spread: Pet overpopulation, unwanted pets, and euthanazia of millions of cats and dogs every year can only be decreased if people spay and neuter their pets.
My volunteer adventure begins
Like many communities, our local government has massive budget shortfalls and animal services were on the chopping block. The best I can tell from reading the county budget statements was animal services budget was cut, nearly 1/2 of the staff positions were eliminated over the past two years, and the shelter hours and services were reduced. Thankfully, the government realized the shelter has a strong volunteer organization and decided it was worth keeping the volunteer coordinator position and all services that were being provided by the dedicated volunteers.
We've often donated to our local animal shelter by giving money or pet care items, but I've never given my time. This was due to a combination of having to care for senior & ill pets and not wanting the additional emotional turmoil of visiting animals in a shelter, only to go back another day and know many were put to sleep. But the situation in our house has changed. We're not able to donate financially as much as we did before. But we don't have any elderly or terminally ill pets now, so that emotional drain isn't there. Knowing the shelter was in serious need of more volunteers to help the staff, I thought this would be a good time to attend a volunteer orientation meeting and learn what opportunities were available.
Wow, what an education I got. I didn't know that the volunteers are essential to the daily operation of the facility. The county staff does the "official" and "legal" work, but they don't have enough people or time to care for the 300-500 animals that are in the shelter. So, volunteers help with feeding, cleaning cages, socializing the animals, walking the dogs, assisting the public looking to recover lost pets, helping the public look at adoptable animals and choosing the right one, keeping the laundry and dishwashing moving along, fostering animals, doing public outreach, and the list goes on and on. Volunteers and donations are also providing the "non-essential" items such as dog & cat toys, treats, gallons of hand sanitizer, fabric softener for the laundry, blankets, cat scratchers - pretty much everything that isn't food, water, medical care for the animals, or basic office supplies.
My first training session today was an introduction to how the shelter works, what volunteers can (and can't do), and getting a tour of the facility. We got to see the parts of the shelter that the public doesn't see - the kennels where the newly surrendered pets are, the "maternity ward" of new kitty moms and litters of kittens, the animals in the medical area, the cages and cages of cats confiscated (rescued) from a recent hoarding case, and other inner-workings of the facility. I'm training to work with the cats, so we didn't see much of the dog kennels - but we heard them!
It was an interesting and educational session and next week we'll be starting hands-on training with the cats. I'll let you know how hard it is to put the cute little fuzzballs back in their cages at the end of the training.
Spay & Neuter graphic courtesy Tangri Adapt A Rescue