If you find out that your local animal shelter doesn’t accept volunteers, you should try to find out why. Start by asking the director. There may be a legitimate reason (such as not having the proper liability insurance), or there simply may not have been enough interest in the past. Volunteers require supervision, coordination and a liability policy that protects them and the shelter.
Many shelters have volunteer programs or “friends-of-the-shelter” groups that are coordinated by a volunteer. Some of these groups purchase their own liability policy. Programs can run the gamut from handling off-site adoptions to creating fund-raising events. Remember, you don’t have to work directly with the animals in the shelter to make a difference. Schedule an appointment with the director to discuss how you can best assist the shelter.
Important tip: Appearances can be deceiving to people unfamiliar with the shelter environment. Before you complain or worry about the animals, take a moment to talk with the people in charge to find out more about the shelter’s daily operations. Here are a few common misunderstandings:
No Water — Many dogs and cats tip over their water bowls, and if their bowls were constantly refilled, the kennel floor and cages would be soaking wet. It’s not uncommon for shelter animals to be watered on a regular basis instead of having available water around the clock.
No Food — Animals fed on a free-feed basis often overeat and get diarrhea. Shelter animals are generally fed twice a day (more for sick, younger or special-needs animals). So, during your visit, you won’t necessarily see food in their cages. Also, food may be withheld for medical reasons.
Euthanasia — Sadly, open-admission animal shelters routinely need to euthanize animals. Few shelters have both the staff and the space to house all animals in need in the community. Most shelters have carefully formulated guidelines regarding the decision to euthanize any animal.
Dirty Cages — No matter how often or how well the shelter is cleaned, there will always be some dirty cages at any given time. Cages are often at their worst first thing in the morning before the staff has had a chance to thoroughly clean and disinfect them.
Sick Animals — Even if the shelter has a comprehensive health program, there will always be some sick animals. Many animals arrive unvaccinated, and some will harbor contagious diseases. A good shelter isolates and treats sick animals as soon as possible.
Adoption Refusals — There are times when animals get adopted to unsatisfactory owners, and also times when potentially good owners are turned away. Good shelters try very hard to match the right pet with the right owner and give the owner realistic expectations about his or her new companion, but the process is certainly not fool-proof.