In my last post I gave a tour of the animal shelter where I volunteer, to show the wide variety of roles that my fellow volunteers fill onsite.
But outside the building, throughout the community, countless people are donating their time, passions and talents, day and night, year round, for the benefit of shelter animals. Many of their contributions are unrecognized, unsung, and they deserve to be celebrated.
The following are only the ones I know about. I’m sure there are others; please leave a comment spotlighting any I have neglected to mention!
Foster partners open their homes to dogs and cats who are too young, sick or scared to handle the stress of shelter life. Sometimes these needy creatures require hand-feeding and tending round the clock; other times they just need a chance to grow stronger and more confident in a home environment. And then (this part amazes me most of all) the foster caregivers, who have come to love these animals and have nurtured them so devotedly, give them up to go to their forever homes.
Several staff members do double duty, too, as volunteer caregivers, taking vulnerable animals home with them at night after their intensive shelter workdays.
A volunteer “publicity team” gets shelter dogs and cats into the public eye. Photographers capture each animal’s distinctive personality. Writers create appealing bios for each dog and cat, or newsletters that bring the shelter and its mission into wider awareness. A graphic designer uses these pictures and words to make eye-catching posters for every adoptable animal, posting them on Instagram and Facebook. Since many potential adopters search online for pets, these combined efforts pay off in increased adoptions.
Volunteer drivers, with nerves of steel and selective hearing to tune out the barking, howling and mewling, transport our animals to other rescue organizations, to free up space in our shelter and give those animals a better chance for adoption. These “chauf-furs” (sorry, couldn’t resist!) also ferry dogs to the grooming salon, or take dogs and cats to local emergency vets for tests, like x-rays, that our shelter can’t provide.
Many volunteers enjoy taking shelter dogs to special events – concerts, parades, school and office visits. Some athletic types give the more energetic dogs a break from institutional life through the shelter’s Trailblazer program. A hike or a run in a beautiful natural setting allows shelter dogs the chance to exercise not only their bodies but all of their sensory capacities, and also gets them comfortable with human companionship. They come back exhausted and happy, proving the adage that “a tired dog is a good dog.”
A group of long-time volunteers run a “concierge adoption service,” which, free of charge, matches adopters with compatible dogs drawn, not just from our shelter, but also from all rescue organizations in the area. These dedicated animal advocates spend time interviewing the prospective pet parents and introducing them to dogs who meet their stated criteria — or who might just turn out to be a surprisingly good match.
And let’s not forget the the board members who donate their valuable managerial and financial expertise to overseeing the running of the shelter. Or the many, many individuals who contribute supplies, ranging from plastic grocery bags, to benches for the exercise yards, to toys and bedding for the dog and cat kennels, to dog and cat food for our program benefiting needy pet owners, to the always-needed monetary contributions.
Why do they/we do it? Recently I met an impressive woman, a retired pediatrician and new volunteer. We shared lunch in the shelter’s break room, and she told me that when she retired she found herself missing a purpose in life. That changed when she began helping out with the shelter’s weekly vaccination clinic.
Other retired doctors and veterinarians find new outlets for their skills at animal health events in our city’s underserved neighborhoods, and some even go into homeless camps to treat the pets of people whose animals are the world to them but who have no resources to care for them.
I, too, have found in my semi-retirement a new mission volunteering for the shelter, using my established interests in writing and editing, as well as developing new competencies in dog handling, animal transport, and knowledge of animal welfare issues.
But several of my fellow volunteers don’t have the luxury of determining their own schedules; they’re working full time and have busy home lives as well, with young families and their own pets. And still they give great tracts of their scarce leisure time to the shelter animals.
What motivates us all is love.
In short, whatever your gifts, interests and lifestyle, you can help shelter animals. All you need is the heart for it, the ability to commit a certain amount of time, and a willingness to follow the organization’s rules. You’ll reap great benefits: new friends — human, canine and feline (and sometimes even equine, avian, porcine, murine [rats], lapine [rabbits], reptilian…) You’ll gain new skills and knowledge.
Best of all, you’ll get the deep satisfaction of knowing that you are making a real difference in the lives of vulnerable animals and, not least of all, the humans who love them and may need a helping hand with their care.