Volunteering at an Animal Shelter

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PetMD Editorial
Published: October 11, 2012

Dog Shelter Volunteers

By Jackie Kelly

Thinking about volunteering at an animal shelter? Great! A lot of non-profit animal shelters rely on volunteers to fill in where a staff member would be if they could afford it. This is also why animal shelters will oftentimes ask volunteers to dedicate themselves to a certain day or time slot. Additionally, because they’ll be scheduling you in as though you were staff, they often require a six month commitment. A lot of animal shelters have a volunteer coordinator, so if you are having difficulty committing to a particular day or time, talk with the coordinator and see if there’s any way around that.

Basic Training

Most animal shelters will require that you attend a basic orientation and take some sort of training in order to handle the dogs alone. Some of what the training should cover is preparing you to use the different types of harnesses assigned to different dogs, proper interaction with dogs in terms of handling them appropriately, and how to use treats to encourage good leash manners and kennel behavior.

A lot of animal shelters will also have particular instructions for how to interact with people you meet while walking a shelter dog. It’s always best to limit physical contact with a shelter dog by members of the public, regardless of their adoptability status. To limit the chances of incidents, it’s best to put yourself between the dog and the onlooker. They can look at the dog, you can give them information (if the dog has been evaluated and is adoptable), and you can encourage them to come in and check the dog out.

Some dogs will get excited and want to jump up on people, while other dogs may be afraid of strangers. And then there are dogs that may behave aggressively toward other dogs they see while out. The animal shelter staff will teach you some management techniques for these types of pups before you take them out for walks.

Animal Shelter Policies

The most difficult part of volunteering can be agreeing to the policies that the shelter operates by. If you’re considering volunteering at an open admission shelter, this type of shelter will not refuse any animal brought to them, be it extremely ill, aggressive, or ancient. Be prepared to have to deal with euthanasia cases.

Most of the time the staff will take into consideration the feelings of their volunteers when making difficult choices, but unfortunately they have to consider the safety of the animal shelter’s general population. These shelters will oftentimes be forced to euthanize for cage space and duration of stay because they don’t refuse anyone.

There are no-kill dog shelters that operate by appointment only when surrendering a dog. However, most of these shelters will refuse dogs over a certain age or dogs that have any health or behavior issues, sometimes even if the dog originated from their shelter. This can be frustrating to deal with, so be sure you do some research on the dog shelter and decide whether you’re okay assisting the organization given their euthanasia policies.

Overall, volunteering at an animal shelter is a great way to develop better dog training techniques and handling skills. It’s also a fantastic way to get some exercise while helping a dog in need at the same time. In fact, some dog shelters have programs set up for volunteers to take their more athletic dogs jogging. So if you’re looking for a workout buddy, you may be able to find one at your local animal shelter. Even quiet-time pets that just need to be petted or brushed can help to comfort a shelter dog in an otherwise stressful environment, with the added benefit of boosting your mood too.

Image: Rob Pitman / via Shutterstock