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Who here has thought about volunteering at a shelter, but convinced themselves that they couldn't deal with it emotionally?

I used to be in that camp, but got to thinking that I should actually TRY it, and not make assumptions about how I might feel. After 4 weeks of training, I'm about 5 weeks in to volunteering as a "dog walker" at my local shelter (Sacramento County). I put "dog walker" in quotes because that's the name of the role, but it doesn't get at the training and bonding aspects which to me are more important than walking.

In short - I love it. Enough that I go in after work from 4:30-5:30, and at least 4-6 hours on weekends.

My take on it is that even though there are uncomfortable emotions at times, there is still the chance to make a real impact on the experience of a dog who has found himself in a very foreign place that is almost a perfect "imperfect" environment for a dog.. in a small enclosure, without family, with random people and animals coming and going, and little or no exercise. Even 15 minutes of bonding and exercise can help to make a dog's time in the shelter a little more bearable, regardless of what his final outcome is. There are always more dogs to help, and people can either do something, or nothing. No one can do everything.

There are some dogs who want to climb up into your lap (many times small dogs), and other times, there are dogs that are very unsure or scared of you at first, but later seem to become "different dogs" as they become more comfortable. Both are very rewarding experiences for the human and dog. In my short time so far, I've been able to work with several pit bulls, a Dutch Shepherd, a few GSDs, and a Malinois. I put in lots of time with Carver the Dutch Shepherd before he was adopted a couple of weeks ago. He started out not even wanting to come out of his cage, but over days and weeks of helping him through it, he actually started to look like a proud shepherd should.

I know that volunteer experiences vary based on the shelter, the staff, the policies etc. But I would encourage people who love dogs (and who here doesn't) to at least try a volunteer position where you can impact animals, even if you think (as I did) that you just couldn't handle it emotionally. You may find that making even the smallest difference in a dog's life is actually very rewarding, and far outweighs any negative emotions.

Are there any current/former shelter volunteers who also found it rewarding despite being hesitant about the emotions? I'm finding that even though I am spending lots of time there, there is just not enough time! That's what made me want to come here to help convince others that they should try it. I am finding it such an enriching experience that I wish someone had pushed me to get into it sooner.
 

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I was very worried about the same thing before I volunteered at a local no kill shelter. It was emotional at times but fortunately in a good way especially when one of the animals found their new " forever homes" On the other hand I found it frustrating when you just found a dog or cat on your door step( yes tied by its collar with a rope to the post) usually scared and alone. Sometimes with a note with the old we had to move and they wouldn't allow dogs or cats story.
All and all I find it extremely rewarding but the wanting to take every animal home with you never goes away. Any one who loves animals, if you can make the time even to to offer as little as an hour a month, I promise it will be one of the most rewarding times in your life. Most shelters would be thrilled to have you, whether to take them for a short walk, or play ball, or even transport to your local Petco or petsmart or wherever they have an adoption event.
 

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The stories you will hear are very depressing, and it is often sad to see dogs dumped because they are old, their owners moved away, or they were simply forgotten in the backyard. But it's still a positive environment to be working in. I love being a friendly face for adopters to see, and when they see other people interacting with the dogs, it shows how friendly and well-socialized most of them are. The best is when you see a great dog that has been there for months go home. The staff work SO hard to give them a good chance. If the only shelters in your area are kill shelters and you are not comfortable working there, you can still volunteer with local rescue groups or help out at adoption drives. Fortunately our shelter is no kill, despite it's other problems.


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The stories you will hear are very depressing, and it is often sad to see dogs dumped because they are old, their owners moved away, or they were simply forgotten in the backyard. But it's still a positive environment to be working in. I love being a friendly face for adopters to see, and when they see other people interacting with the dogs, it shows how friendly and well-socialized most of them are. The best is when you see a great dog that has been there for months go home. The staff work SO hard to give them a good chance. If the only shelters in your area are kill shelters and you are not comfortable working there, you can still volunteer with local rescue groups or help out at adoption drives. Fortunately our shelter is no kill, despite it's other problems.


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Great point, and I have to admit, I don't think I could deal if I was volunteering in a kill shelter.
 

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I volunteered in a high kill shelter for years and it was very depressing especially when a favorite dog of mine or the staff was euthanized. Instead of focusing on the sadness I started working with the staff to make animals more adoptable and to get their face out there to the public. Those things worked and their kill rate has dropped by quite a bit.
 

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I think the best way to do any charity is straightforward. Give someone money, save a dog from classifieds or from the pound and adopt it out. I dont like bureaucracy.
 

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I didn't really hesitate to get into it (Been a volunteer for 4 years now). But my main issue was my ignorance, I would get mad at the shelter for euthanizing a dog at times. I didn't see the bigger picture or understand how it all worked.

But that was good in a way, because it taught me a lot of life lessons at a relatively young age. I found it to overall very rewarding, and I learned that even if a dog I'm walking gets put down... at least I got to let that dog have fun and experience joy before it left this Earth.
 

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I had an interesting conversation with a neighbor about ten years ago. She had stopped me to ask if a foster dog was our new pet and I had explained to her that I was a volunteer at the local humane society.

She commented that she couldn't understand how any "real" animal lover could handle spending time in a shelter, that it would make her so sad she wouldn't be able to do it. I told her if "real" animal lovers don't do it, then the only people left would be those who don't like animals. And don't shelter animals deserve people (even if it is just temporarily) who actually like spending time with them?

It is worthwhile effort. And one that makes a tangible difference for the animals you spend time with. I thought then (and still think now) that every animal deserves to have someone mourn their passing. Sometimes the only people who do that for specific animals are the volunteers. That has meaning.
Sheilah
 
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