Kindness, spare time, and a selfless love for companion animals are only some of the traits that shelter and rescue volunteers have in common. But above all, they give love and care to those who truly need it. Strong bonds are formed with the animals they help, as well as between the volunteers themselves. Volunteerism knows no boundaries; in fact, those who help can have four paws, too.
Below are some examples of the many shapes and sizes that volunteers take, as well as examples of how to keep them engaged.
One Paw Helps Another
Sav-a-Bull, founded in 2010, is a 501(c)(3) public charity dedicated to rescuing and providing New York's 'Pit Bull' shelter dogs with the support needed to successfully pair them with responsible homes.
Sav-a-Bull has rescued 82 Pit Bulls (and one German Shepherd) to date from municipal New York shelters that euthanize, or were found abandoned, tied-up, or roaming the streets.
Founder Colby Webb believes rescue, medical care, thorough training, responsible adoption, and ongoing adoption support and education can save lives and restore the image of this misunderstood dog.
Webb's own rescued Pitbull, Dan, is living proof of the power of her process. Dan was adopted from the Animal Care Centers of New York in October 2010. Her “foster failure” is a now a Registered Therapy Dog, and a volunteer to all rescue dogs that come into Sav-a-Bull, along with human volunteers that help.
“Dan also aids our other rescue dogs by helping with walks, adventures, snuggles, and just hanging out. He gives them the purest form of socialization—and these once-frightened creatures learn to trust,” said Webb.
Joanie, Webb’s latest foster Pit Bull that came into the rescue, was originally seen by a good Samaritan on the street in desperate need of medical attention. She was abused and abandoned, and had developed a life-threatening infection on her legs that had ravaged the flesh down to the bone in some areas. Thanks to Sav-a-Bull and with medical help donated by City Veterinary Care, Joanie was given proper medical care and currently lives with Colby and Dan. Joanie and Dan became very bonded and Dan has guided her from day one. This is one touching instance of how both human and animal volunteerism can provide support and care to shelter animals.
Retired CFO to ‘Cat Cuddler’
After retiring from corporate America, both Kurt and Connie Lippincott decided to spend their free time volunteering with the Somerset Regional Animal Shelter (SRAS) in Bridgewater, NJ. They had always loved cats, and have three of their own. Cleaning shelter cages, taking the cats out of their environment to exercise, and helping older cats get adopted are some of the responsibilities they have enjoyed with their three years volunteering at SRAS.
“We have a ‘Cat Cuddler’ volunteer group at the shelter, and my wife has a blog that explains the behavioral aspects of cats. Even though you cannot save each cat, this is such a great environment and group of volunteers.” said Kurt.
The cat volunteers are especially close—they get together for lunch frequently. A great example of the connections developed between volunteers—all with a common goal: helping cats find forever homes.
With approximately 300 registered volunteers and 50 active helpers, SRAS has always been a Bridgewater community pillar. “Our staff and volunteers make everything possible—we couldn’t do it without them”, said Brian Bradshaw, shelter manager for SRAS. He has five volunteers helping out 5-to-6 days per week socializing the animals, cleaning cages, and working behind the scenes maintaining an internet presence and organizing shelter events. In 2016 the shelter received enough monetary and service donations to renovate the shelter, making it better equipped for the animals and more attractive to potential adopters.
“Our staff and volunteers make everything possible—we couldn’t do it without them”, said Brian Bradshaw, shelter manager for SRAS. He has five volunteers helping out 5-to-6 days per week, who do everything from socializing the animals to cleaning cages, and ‘other unsung heroes’ work behind the scenes, with jobs like maintaining an internet presence and organizing shelter events.
Top Retention and Motivational Tips
As every successful shelter and rescue knows, keeping and motivating staff and volunteers is critical. According to ASPCAPro, the Ark-Valley Humane Society in Buena Vista, CO, has a 75% retention rate among volunteers and has a personalized training program that gives volunteers what they need to be successful in shelter roles. Here are a few of their time-tested tips:
Hold Frequent Orientations
- Every two weeks, senior volunteers or staff members conduct an hour-long orientation for new volunteers. Holding frequent orientations lets the shelter keep each meeting small, with only four to six potential volunteers, so there's more personal contact.
- Volunteers get a tour of the shelter and information about different volunteer roles such as dog walking, cat enrichment, kennel assistance, administrative support or grounds work. Potential volunteers are encouraged to familiarize themselves with the volunteer handbook and time sheets, which are used in order to keep track of and acknowledge their hard work.
- Before leaving, volunteers are given name badges and asked to sign up for one-on-on sessions with staff. Senior volunteer Phyllis Kittel says signing up at that point increases the likelihood that volunteers commit to the program and saves scheduling time down the road.
Conduct One-on-One Training
- All roles get specialized instruction; however, volunteers who wish to walk dogs or provide cat enrichment are also taught how to read dog and cat body language and learn protocol for interacting with each species.
- Volunteers must pass a proficiency exam before they are allowed to interact with the animals on their own.
Get Staff Buy-In
- Given the amount of time dedicated to individual volunteer training, all Ark-Valley paid staff members must be committed. Volunteer Coordinator Ruby Osberg says that without volunteers 'staff wouldn't be able to run the shelter the way they want it to be run' since the staff is too small to provide all the enrichment needed.
- Osberg shares with staff that taking the time to train volunteers on the front end saves time in the long run and avoids possible pitfalls by keeping the volunteers and animals safe—and contributes to the high volunteer retention rate.
- Kittel adds that it's important for senior volunteers to step in and help with one-on-one trainings when the staff's workload is particularly heavy. 'Ideally, one person should oversee all the volunteers—and if the staff doesn't have time to do that, a senior volunteer can fill that role, too,' she says.
Shelter and rescue volunteers make an immeasurable difference in the lives of animals, and nothing gives greater satisfaction than helping them find their forever homes. Thoughtful volunteer programs are a key way to increase retention rates—and show that the ‘human side’ of the sheltering equation is equally as important.
WHAT'S GOOD FOR ANIMALS CAN BE GREAT FOR THE COMMUNITY
Each shelter and rescue has a story, just like the animals it gives a temporary home to. The common denominator, the connection, and the driving force is to help as many animals as possible to find forever homes.
Michael Good, DVM, founder of the Homeless Pet Clubs, knew at 15 years old that he wanted to be a veterinarian. Early in his career, he was helping 50 local rescue groups as their supervising veterinarian, where he saw many shelters and rescues give up because of lack of money to survive—and where euthanasia was the only option to control a population of homeless animals.
“I couldn’t look these beautiful creatures in the eye and then take their life away. I’d sit with the animals for a little while, so they could at least feel love before they had to die,” said Dr. Good.
In addition to his veterinary practices, in the mid-1990’s, Dr. Good became the medical director for a shelter in his native Fulton County, Georgia. When he started, he inherited an unfathomable euthanasia rate -- every three days there were animals put down and the euthanasia rate compared to the shelter population was way too high.
Dr. Good was determined to find a solution for homeless animals and made it his life’s mission.
In 2010, the Homeless Pet Clubs was founded as a 501(c)(3) nonprofit to help animal rescues and shelters adopt-out more pets, and for the past 5 of 7 years, continues to be financially supported only by Dr. Good and donations to help keep the program running.
Homeless Pet Clubs
Homeless Pet Clubs gives students, civic leaders, and business owners the opportunity to share their love of animals by promoting animal rescue, responsible pet ownership, adoption of shelter animals, and animal welfare. It also gives animal lovers from diverse backgrounds that don’t necessarily work in a shelter or rescue, a way to leverage different strengths to save the greatest number of at-risk animals by participating in:
- Sponsoring a homeless animal to increase visibility for adoption
- Telling the story of their sponsored pets via Facebook, emails, and posters
- Volunteering at adoption events
- Raising funds to support their local shelter and club
It is also free for clubs and shelters or rescue organizations to join. To date, there are 2,000 Homeless Pet Clubs across the United States.
Shelter and Rescue Participation
The mission of a Homeless Pet Club is to use flyers, posters, email, Facebook and other social media, and various projects, to help find homes for dogs and cats in county animal shelters, humane societies, and rescue groups. It is a grass-roots effort and every type of club relies on word-of-mouth to spread the word about the animals they are sponsoring. It also drives awareness and traffic to Homeless Pet Clubs rescue and shelter partners.
Pet sponsorship is a way to promote pets through advocates who tell each animal’s unique story--and give the pet as much exposure as possible to potential adopters. A shelter or rescue can upload as many (or as few) pets as they want sponsored with the pet's information.
The Warwick Valley Humane Society, one of the 105 shelter and rescues enrolled in this program, has experienced an uptick in adoption rates that can be attributed to their participation in the program. Pam Schutz, DVM, has had success with the program.
“Our shelter became more engaged with the community – and it’s been a great way for people to hear about our animals, and want to come in a meet them—and their chances are greater for adoption!” said Dr. Shutz.
“I’d tell other organizations to get involved – it costs nothing and if we’re too busy to upload our animals’ information; the Homeless Pet Clubs can do it for us. It’s really a win-win opportunity to help our animals in this way,” she stated.
Homeless Pet Clubs can be started anywhere in the country where a sanctioned shelter or rescue group exists, such as a state or county facility, humane organization or rescue group. The organizations must meet or exceed expectations:
- Meet standards of humane care and cleanliness
- Make a commitment to reducing euthanasia and saving the lives of pets in their facility
- Agree not to euthanize any pet that a club has chosen to sponsor
- Provide care for the sponsored pet until it gets adopted
Response from the school, business, and civic clubs hosting Homeless Pet Clubs has been very positive, with each club choosing pets to 'sponsor' and promote for adoption. In one Georgia county alone, more than 50 school clubs were established in three months' time, and their support helped find loving, forever homes for more than 200 animals. Teachers lead the charge for the school clubs, and report benefits to students including:
- increased involvement
- decreased absenteeism
- increased enthusiasm for learning
- improved social skills
- increased compassion
- heightened sense of achievement
- improved self-worth
- decreased bullying
- expanded awareness of networking for good
- increased responsibility
- increased creativity and cooperation
“Communities can build on their love of animals and ultimately come together to transcend social status,” Dr. Good stated. “Animals level the “playing field” for all socioeconomic groups and animals don’t judge you. We want children to learn to be kind to all living things; be kind to animals and be kind to each other.”
Share Your Thoughts on Homeless Pet Clubs with Us
What do you think of this concept? Is this something you could see your shelter or rescue participating in? Take our quick Survey.
PREPARE FOR KITTEN SEASON WITH BEST PRACTICES TO AID ADOPTION
It’s the time of year that takes patience, preparation, and a lot of love: kitten season is here.
For your shelter or rescue, this time of year means an increased need for vaccines, parasiticides, and medications to treat your newest arrivals, get them healthy, and ultimately get them ready for adoption. Kittens are prone to upper respiratory infections, viral infections, internal parasites, diarrhea, and external parasites – to common ailments that can be passed from one kitten to another. FeLV and FIV infections are also common; yet serious infections that can go undetected.1
Kitten season is much different than puppy season, simply due to differences in canine and feline reproductive physiology. Cats are prolific breeders and cycle from January to Mid-October. Cats are also induced ovulators which compounds their ability to produce several litters per year.2
Kitten season is very long, typically starting in April or March, and running through November or December. As the days usually get shorter in late October through mid-December, cats will enter di-estrus. So essentially “kitten season” lasts longer than six months.2
PREPARATION FOR YOUR SHELTER OR RESCUE3
Preparation for kitten season should begin by calling on volunteers and asking the public for additional resources, such as kitten food, toys, and bedding. It should also include education around the importance of spay and neuter. Prior to the start of kitten season, volunteers should be contacted and educated on kitten care. One planning example is to create weekly news segments and special reports on the importance of spay and neuter programs to get the word out. This could mean reaching out to news outlets (or through a public relations team), or promoting on your shelter or rescue’s social media channels.
Additionally, because adoptions of adult cats plummet when kitten season begins, there should be an increased effort to adopt out adult cats. Some shelters run specials and provide lucrative discounts on mature cats to aid this effort.
SHELTER PROTOCOLS AND PROCEDURES3
Shelter protocols and procedures for kitten intakes depend upon the age and surrender status of the kitten.
Below are standard recommendations:2
- Physical examination
- Viral testing (feline leukemia and FIV)
- Treat for internal and external parasites
- If stray, quarantine until available for adoption
- If surrendered and healthy, place for immediate adoption
- If too young for adoption, utilize foster care/foster family
We asked Zoetis Veterinarian, Kristy L. Earley-Murray, DVM, if kitten season has increasingly gotten worse over the years—or has she seen the numbers of kittens decrease (due to spay/neuter or other reasons):4
“I would love to say it has gotten better, but because cats are such prolific breeders it really is an on-going area of opportunity with regards to population control efforts and provision of education. Rescue groups have done an outstanding job with trying to stabilize the feral cat population, but there are many “pet cats” and “barn cat” populations that continue to add to overpopulation problem.”
Tools and Tips to Help During Kitten Season3,5
Here are some recommendations from the ASPCA to ensure a successful kitten season for your shelter or rescue:
- Track Length of Stay for Kittens
By keeping track of the number of days each kitten waits to be moved into foster care, you’ll be able to identify and investigate any increase in wait time which could be a red flag that an uptick in disease is not far behind. By observing any increase in length of stay, you may be able to pinpoint (and address) the cause of the bottleneck. The goal is to move kittens out of the shelter and into foster care.
- Start a Program: Offsite Neonatal Care for Kittens
In order to reduce the number of neonate kittens entering the shelter and to increase community involvement, Miami-Dade Animal Services launched the Milkman Program, where animal care organizations provide training and neonate care kits to people who have called to report kittens with no mama. Here’s how you can do it, too.5
- Test all Kittens in a litter for FeLV/FIV
Kittens in the same litter may have different test results for a number of reasons, so don’t assume that the results of one kitten are representative of those for the entire litter.6
- Start a Volunteer Project: Sock Hats for Preemies
Simply cut out ear holes in the toe of an infant sock. Here’s what it looks like.
- Create Catchy Messages to Attract Attention
Kitten season is your busiest time of year, but do your supporters understand that you need their help—and why? With some fun and catchy messaging, like the 4 examples here, you have a better shot of bringing more donors, volunteers and foster families on board.
COMMON BEHAVIORAL ISSUES FOR SHELTER ANIMALS AND SOLUTIONS TO ADDRESS THEM
Strange faces. Annoying neighbors. Weird sounds.
For some dogs and cats, the new experience of a shelter is a respite from the situation they came from. But many animals are thrust into a world they knew nothing about before: shelter life. Imagine sensory overload: sight, smell, touch, and hearing are heightened, as an animal’s senses are so much more sensitive than a human’s.
Dogs with behavior problems tend to languish longer in shelters due to the understandable reluctance on the part of most adopters to take on a dog with possible ongoing behavior challenges.1 In addition, shelter staff often hold onto the dogs before making them available for adoption to work on the behavior problem.
The resulting longer stay puts dogs at increased risk of developing kennel-induced behavior problems, and additionally has an exacerbating effect on their existing problems. The behavior problems seen in shelter dogs can be divided into four types, according to The Association of Shelter Vets Guidelines for Shelter Standards1 and Maddie’s Fund: Behavior Problems and Long Term Housing2.
Here are common shelter behavior types that dogs may exhibit.
FOUR TYPES OF SHELTER DOG BEHAVIOR1
1. Behavior problems correlated with relinquishment to animal shelters:
2. 'Adoption Buster' behavior problems
These are problems associated with dogs being passed over by potential adopters, once in a shelter:
- Aggression towards people and/or dogs
- Aggression towards dogs
- Kennel or barrier displaying
- Jumpiness and mouthiness in initial meeting
3. Separation anxiety
This is not necessarily caused by shelter relinquishment - any time a dog changes owners, the risk of him developing separation anxiety goes up.
4. Kennel environment problems
- Barrier-related barking
- Barrier-related aggression
- Housetraining regression
- Social hyper-arousal
SUGGESTED SOLUTIONS TO ADDRESS BEHAVIORS1
The rehoming experience, especially through an animal shelter, can cause or exacerbate existing behavior problems, and the shelter experience itself then negatively impacts the dogs’ adoptability and increases the likelihood of future relinquishment.
The goal is to help an animal become more adoptable and work on ways to alleviate the behavior, or minimize it. Here are ways that can help:
- Environmental enrichment to alleviate general distress during the dog's shelter stay. These efforts can include: walks, clicker and/or obedience training, group or pairs housing and/or regular dog-dog free play,
- Effective intervention when separation anxiety develops. This requires good knowledge of systematic desensitization and pharmacological intervention on the part of shelter staff and veterinarians and management/support options for owners during the course of treatment.
- Adoption counseling. Thoroughly briefing adopters on do's and don't's about the early weeks and months with their newly adopted dog, as well as supplying ongoing support to adopters in order to diagnose and address separation anxiety early on. For instance, it is imperative to avoid smothering new dogs with attention their first few days home
- Dog behavior education. Aggressive community outreach to dog owners and the general public who may one day be dog owners, with good, catchy information on management, behavior and training (including home-alone training).
Barrier-Related Barking and Aggression
- Preventing visual access to corridor to dogs prone to in-kennel display or, possibly, to all dogs in kennel (this needs research), or
- Counterconditioning a competing emotional response as people walk past the dog's kennel. The easiest practice is to use part of the dog's daily meal ration. The dog's food is stored conveniently near his kennel - any person grabs a few pieces before passing by and delivers them to the dog on his/her way by. The food elicits eating behavior, which prevents lunging, barking and aggression.
Dogs adopted out from animal shelters will often lapse in their housetraining following their stay in the shelter. A few different measures might address this concern:
- In-shelter crate training. David Tuber (who audio-taped hundreds of dogs home alone) found that if shelter dogs were gradually acclimated, over several days at the shelter, to staying in a large, airline crate and then sent home with that crate and instructions on its proper use, the likelihood of the person keeping the dog was greatly increased. Crates can become associated with comfort and safety during a dog's stay in a noisy, drafty kennel.
- Prioritizing housetraining at animal shelters. Dogs would need to be walked at least three to four times per day and possibly crated if they were not holding their bladders in their kennels. An alternative would be foster-care for dogs suspected of not being. housetrained. Certain foster homes might specialize in adult house-training.
- Post-adoption support. Not only should adopters leave with solid information on what to expect and how to train their new dog, they must know there is a safety net should they feel overwhelmed.
This includes compulsive behaviors in the form of pacing, circling, bouncing off walls and self-directed behavior and, at best, over-excitement on occasions when the dog gets social contact. This behavior is off-putting to potential adopters who are likely to label a dog 'hyperactive' or unmanageable rather than see the dog's behavior as driven partly by the abnormal context.
- Group housing, pairs housing and regular dog play groups. It is hard to overestimate the value of free dog interaction, both from the standpoint of development of social skills (with resulting lowered risk of dog-dog fear or aggression problems) and environmental complexity.
- Time spent with shelter dogs that is just an in-kennel visit (i.e. simple, low-key hanging out with dog) rather than 'action' oriented. Kennel runs could be provided with seating to make them more human-friendly. Books or magazines could be on-hand to promote inactive human presence.
- Regular training. This teaches the dog specifically how to behave in a visit-to-kennel situation as well as providing much-needed problem solving (training, if reward-oriented is extremely enjoyable to most dogs). Even when dogs master basic obedience, there is no limit to what they can be taught with techniques like clicker training– and it gives the dog a sense of partial control over his stress-filled environment.
Managing behavioral problems in the shelter environment can be a stepping stone—or a lifeline for these animals. By helping them work through issues, they have a greater chance of being adopted, and staying in their new forever home.