Diane Wilkerson, Senior Manager of the ASPCA Adoption CenterSeptember 26, 2008
Donating your time to animals in need is one of the most rewarding commitments you can make. Volunteering at a shelter provides mutual fulfillment for both human and animaland it’s a great way to satisfy your desire for furry companionship if you can’t have a pet right now or your landlord doesn’t allow animals. Diane Wilkerson, Senior Manager of the ASPCA Adoption Center, joined us for a live discussion on shelter volunteering:
What do people do at shelters when they volunteer?
All shelters have their own unique programs, but most rely on volunteers for a variety of tasks. At the ASPCA, we utilize volunteers to help walk our dogs and socialize (play) with cats and kittens. We also have adoption counselors (the folks who actually help the animals find good loving homes). There is clerical work, we do off site events, and also use volunteers in our animal hospital (vet assistants and animal care technicians). Check out the websites for your local area sheltersyou'll be amazed at the variety of ways you can get involved! Here is a link that may help you locate a shelter in your area:
As a lifelong animal lover, I've wanted to volunteer at a shelter for years now, but it seems that every shelter I have come across imposes an age restriction of at least 18. Why is this? Can I get around it? Thank you.
I know this frustrating, and yes, a lot of shelters do seem to be enforcing an 18-year age requirement. Often, this is driven by insurance carriers. But many shelters do have opportunities for teenagers under the age of 18, such as clerical work and data entry. I would look into that as well. Good luck!
Where can I find a list of shelters in Wisconsin?
Here you go! With this handy dandy link on our website, you can search for shelters by city, state or zip code.
How can I become a volunteer at the ASPCA?
Thanks for your interest! If you live in New York City, check out our website: http://www.aspca.org/volunteer.
Does the ASPCA need volunteers?
We do! Right now, our greatest need is for volunteer Adoption Counselors (especially those who can volunteer during the week). Adoption Counselors provide support and assistance to all potential pet adopters by providing accurate and relevant information, introducing available animals and ensuring excellent customer service! Check out the volunteer section on our website. It gives a great overview of the program.
I have allergies, and I also have three cats, but through diligent cleaning regimens in my home and daily grooming, I'm able to keep the allergies at bay. I would love to volunteer at my local shelter, but I'm concerned about allergy issues cropping up. Do you have any suggestions?
I'm sure your main interest is to volunteer with animals, but there are usually many other areas of involvement, such as mailings, data entry and follow-up calls to adopters. Check with your physician as well regarding possible over-the-counter medications for allergies you could take while at the shelter.
My daughter is a freshman homeschooled student and one of her requirements for graduation is to volunteer at a community-based establishment. Would that be possible?
Most shelters do have opportunities for teens, but there are age requirements for different tasks. For instance, the ASPCA requires volunteers to be 18 years or older to interact with the dogs at our adoption center, but there are many other ways for young people to get involved. They can do office work and participate in off-site events. Your local shelter would be able to guide you appropriately about the options available in your area.
Can you please explain a bit about the ASPCA's Meet Your Match program and how volunteers can bring it to their shelters? Thanks!
Meet Your Match is a wonderful and effective program that we use here at the ASPCA. It is basically "match.com" for pets! :) The program increases opportunities for shelter dogs/cats to find loving homes by allowing your shelter to customize and create lasting matches between adopters and animals, increase adoptions and reduce returns improve customer service. It is designed to strengthen bonds based on the animal’s behavior and the adopter’s expectations.
I plan to volunteer at shelters when my kids are in school. I have no experience taking care of animals. Are there any steps I need to take to increase my chances of being accepted? My long-term goal is to become an animal control officer or animal cruelty investigator, but I thought I would start off by volunteering. How do you go about getting started with the whole process? Thanks so much!
Wow, good for you for wanting to become an animal cop! You’re rightvolunteering is a great way to get started, and most shelters provide free training to volunteers! The ASPCA requires all volunteers to be trained on basic animal handling, and we hold the classes monthly. Check your local area shelters to see their specific requirements. Volunteers play such a vital role to the success of most shelters and it is a great way to gain experience for careers dealing with animals.
I am a manager at a shelter and oversee our volunteer program. I have had complaints from volunteers who feel they are not appreciated and treated as if they are doing community service from staff. I have had meetings with our staff to stress the importance of our volunteers. What would you recommend to let our volunteers know they are appreciated and not viewed as "free labor"?
What a great question! We do appreciation events for our volunteers, and make sure our staff is involved. We host two events a yearone in the summer (we just had an ice-cream social!) and one around the holidays. We ask staff to "volunteer" to make a dish to bring to the events. Staff is just so busy with everything that they can sometimes forget the importance of the "pat on the back." We invite staff to the event as well, so that folks can interact in a social atmosphere. We also do a monthly newsletter that includes an "applause corner," which spotlights volunteers who have gone "above and beyond." Very effective.
What would you recommend to get volunteers active again? I would like past volunteers to know that our volunteer program has been revamped and we would like to see them back and involved in the shelter.
I recommend an "outreach letter" or little note to say “Hey, we've missed you.” (Animal pictures with big soulful eyes work wonders!) Let them know you've revamped the program and that you would love to have them back. We get a lot of volunteers who drop off due to the demands of work, family and everyday life, but getting a personal note and invitation to think about volunteering again is a great motivator to bring 'em back.
The shelter where I volunteer currently has over 70 cats and kittens up for adoption. Sometimes cats will be up for adoption for several months to even a year or more. They live in small cages and are let out for only a short amount of time each morning. Although the shelter staff and volunteers provide love and care to the cats, sitting in a cage for a year or more seems like a miserable existence to me, both physically and mentally. Is this normal or acceptable? How can I encourage my shelter to change to free-roam cat rooms instead of cages?
There may be many reasons your shelter is not able to have a free-roam environment, such as limited space and concerns about infection control. Some shelters simply do not have the staff available to conduct the disinfecting protocols required for cohabitating cats. You should touch base with shelter management and assess the situation realistically.
I have always wanted to volunteer, but hesitate because I've been told that you see the good and badthe bad being the euthanizing of animals. I don't think I could handle being in an environment where animals are put down.
Start with a no-kill shelter! Not all shelters have to euthanize adoptable animals. You should definitely do research in your area and ask about the shelter’s policy.
I volunteered at a local shelter recently. The staff did not have a sign-in sheet, never asked my name and did not know the name of the dog I walked, nor his history. They just pointed toward an area of the property and said, "We walk them over there." I am really discouraged to go back, and find it difficult to locate other animal shelters in our area. Thanks for your time and reply.
You can use this link to hopefully locate another shelter in your area. The bottom line is, though, at least the dog got a walk and some kind human interaction, which is a good thing. I can totally understand how disappointing the experience was for you, though it sounds like the shelter is incredibly busy and short-staffed, and can really use the help of volunteers.
I would like to volunteer as a gateway into the animal world. I want to work with animals as a career, but everything I find falls into the "animal caretaker" category, pays about $8 an hour and has limited daytime hours. Any advice on what other areas I could get into after volunteering that would allow me hands-on contact with the animals, but also pay enough to live in New York City?
The best way to get a gauge on that would be to visit the websites of various shelters in your area and check out their job openings. Ours is www.aspca.org/jobs. You will be surprised at the variety of opportunities. Some may take additional schooling but a very popular position that involves hands-on work with animals here is Certified Vet Tech, to name just one.
I love big dogs, but I have no experience with them. I get a bit timid with really large, energetic dogs who jump up on me. I don't feel in control, and I know that ridding them of that habit helps them get adopted. Do you have advice for me?
Volunteering would be a good way to get started as long as you got involved with a shelter that provided training on how to handle dogs (a lot of shelters do this; I know we do). For instance, all volunteers at the ASPCA who want to interact with shelter dogs must first take a Level I dog class that provides them with skills to handle lower-energy dogs. After volunteers log 16 hours of walking, interacting and attending our obedience classes with the dogs, they can then take a Level II dog class, and so on. Check with your local shelter and see what programs are offered!