So You Want to Volunteer at an Animal Shelter: Pet Sitter Shares Her Experience

Most of our readers of this blog are animal lovers with pets of their own. Maybe you even rescued your pet from a local shelter, and it’s undoubtedly been one of your best decisions. Rescued pets have many advantages, including the surety that you are providing a better future for an ‘unwanted’ animal. (It’s hard to fathom ‘unwanted animal’ as two words that go together!) Mostly it’s the extra love that drives us to adopt. Yet adopting a pet is a commitment of time, money, and space. You need all three to make a forever home for a furry companion, and you might not have all three things in spades. So what do you do if you want to dole out some extra affection, but you don’t want to get a mortgage on a house with a bigger yard?

Recently, one of our sitters walked into a local shelter with the difficult intention of not walking out with every animal inside, but simply volunteering her time. This is an account of what her experience was like.

Volunteering is an informal affair at the shelter she chose, although there is a packet to fill out beforehand. For your first time volunteering, she recommends that you arrive when the shelter is open to visitors. Once you have obtained the packet, you can choose to fill it out immediately and begin putting in your hours, or you can take it home and reappear when you have an extra hour. Apart from the first time, you don’t necessarily have to appear only when the shelter is open. They request volunteers at all times, especially in the morning hours when laundry and breakfast happens. All you have to do is knock. Someone will open the door and direct you either towards the laundry room, or the sink. Washing, folding, refilling, and sweeping aren’t the most glamorous aspects of the job. But they are necessary to keep conditions sanitary and safe for the inhabitants. And there are many, many inhabitants..

When the shelter is open for visitors, the foyer will probably be crowded with other people. Visiting hours are taken seriously, so it can be a bit of wait before you can make your intentions known. While you wait, you’ll notice that cats actually outnumber the people. A friendly orange tabby will greet your shins and demand pets. When you look up, you’ll make eye contact with another cat lounging in his tree. There might be another one nested below. In the far corner, sitting upright on a counter, yet another cat will sternly (but not unkindly) monitor the activities of the humans before her. On top of the cabinet, just above the monitor, a beautiful calico may arise and stretch after a satisfying nap. And behind you one or several cats will be napping in their kennel or gazing at you with kitty-cat eyes. This will be enough to occupy you for far longer than the wait-time.

You’ll eventually be asked to sign in on a little post-it note, although there is a fancy machine and a log book next to it. The book is filled with names and code numbers. On subsequent visits you’ll find your name will appear in the book, and you’ll enter your code in the machine. It’s already impressive!

Then you’ll be given a facility tour, depending on what you want to do. If you arrive after 11am, most of the chores will already be done, although you might luck upon the chance to do laundry. This is likely, as anyone who does laundry knows: there is always laundry.

But the real treat is playtime. If you are a cat person, you can choose to go to the cat room and go wild. In the official cat haven, there are more cat trees holding up cats. There are cats in kennels, cats on top of those kennels, and cats suddenly at your feet. Most want your attention but some may prefer to sleep. Some might even glare at you with large eyes and flat ears, so demonstrate your benevolence by cuddling with everyone else. Again, it’s easy to get lost in this activity, so keep track of your time if you intend to also want to play with the dogs.

After you wash your hands and head over to the dog area, you’ll have two options: playing in the yard or taking a dog for a walk.

If you want to play in the yard, ask the staff first. There will likely already be a couple dogs in the designated play area. You’ll know this because their heads will have popped up in the window behind the front desk. It’s fun to see the wild-eyed grin of a dog flying past, or bouncing up to bark at new additions to the human crowd. The shelter crew knows which dogs play well with others, and which ones need solitary runs of the yard.

If you prefer going for a dog walk, leashes are on the right, next to an important white board: the rating list. On this white board you’ll see dog names with a number from one to five. One is the easiest, and five is reserved for a Rottweiler-Labrador mix named Danny (names have been changed to protect privacy). If you are a confident, successful weightlifter with good balance, Danny can be your buddy. Otherwise, choose Jake, (name also changed for privacy) who’s rated a one and just as adorable as Danny. The point is don’t challenge yourself! Choose a dog that matches your skills. You both want to have a fun time.

Whether you choose to play in the yard or go for a walk, a more seasoned volunteer will demonstrate to you on what to do. And the great thing is, you can do both if you have the time! You can stay as long as you like, doing what you like. If you don’t have much time on a particular day, you can come always go back when you do.

Someone you know may make mention that this is a sad activity, looking at all the cats and dogs who’ve had and then lost their owners, somehow ending up here. But in practice, volunteering at a shelter isn’t sad at all. All the animals there have one thing in common. They want and need love and attention, and who better to give it than you?

Are you thinking you would like to become an animal shelter volunteer in your area? Let us know in the comments below if you are.

And, if you find you want to do more, we are always on the lookout for great pet care assistants as our business grows. If you happen to live in one of our service areas, give us a call, we’d love to chat with you.