About a year after we lost our family dog, we spent many hours weekly at the various local dog shelters. Our search began to see if I we could find a new furry family member. To be very honest, it was upsetting. It was even depressing to see so many wonderful dogs that were given up by what these dogs thought were their forever family.
The really heart warming part was seeing all the great staff and the many dedicated volunteers. They all know that they are serving a great purpose. But what we cannot express enough is how they all simply needed more help. We inquired about volunteering ourselves and discovered that it is quite simple, and new volunteers are always welcomed.
You can sign on for a few hours a day and they will work with your schedule at any level. Some people that have volunteered eventually get so involved that they move up within the shelter organization quickly and increase their levels of satisfaction on many levels.
Volunteering at a dog shelter is one of the best hands-on dog training and dog education environments that you can get; and it’s absolutely free! Every day that you are there, you will meet a variety of dog breeds, dog sizes, dog temperaments, and more. Your own dog handling skills will improve beyond what you may have even thought possible. In addition, your ability to read dog body language will improve. You will also learn how to improve your own body language around dogs as well. We know that some professional dog trainers got their start by volunteering just like this.
Whether you choose to become a professional dog trainer or want to become a first time dog parent, you will learn many skills that you need and you might even meet your new furry family member.
You do not need to have aspirations of becoming a professional. You simply need to be someone with lots of love in your heart and a sincere desire to help. With these things alone, most dog shelters will accept you and you may find that dog shelter work is a good fit for you. Most reputable dog shelters have great training programs for new volunteers. At a minimum, your first step should be to learn the shelter’s rules and regulations, and safe handling procedures.
Your day as a dog shelter volunteer might include:
• Taking dogs out for walks. Who doesn’t like taking dogs out for walks? The best part of this job is that your efforts provide dogs a crucial break from confinement. You can also help them maintain a calmer disposition by providing exercise (hey, this is good for you, too!), keep them mentally stimulated, teach them to be more sociable, and more. All these things add up to making them more adoptable! These dog walks are also a great chance to learn and practice your own dog training skills.
• Sitting with them. Unfortunately, and as a result of the trauma that they have experienced, some dogs are too scared to go out for walks. Your job would be to simply sit quietly with them. Doing so will also teach them that people can be trusted again. Over time you may help them overcome the trauma that caused their fear. At a minimum, most new arrivals suddenly find themselves in a strange and scary environment – you can be the person that can make a difference. Sitting with them is a great option if you have limited mobility.
• Adoption counseling and assistance. Dog shelters often have professional staff members that meet with and counsel potential adopters, other dog shelters have volunteers who do this. Sometimes it is a combination of both. In this role, you may be the person that brings a dog out for the public to interact with. As a bonus for you, this is a great chance to socialize with others, improve your own people skills, and ultimately, you may help match the right dog to the right family. Pretty amazing!
• Adoption event assistance. Many shelters host dog adoption events where they bring dogs out into the community in hopes of adoption. As a volunteer, you may find yourself standing with your assigned dog and telling his or her story to potential adopters. It can be rewarding to be directly responsible for a dog finding a new home.
Dog shelter work can be challenging.
One of the most difficult things of dog shelter work is becoming emotionally attached to a dog and then finding that the dog has to be euthanized. Yes, it is awful. As long as you know that you have done all that you can, the best way to think of this part if by thinking of all the dogs that you did help. There are dog shelters that have much lower euthanasia rates, as well as dog shelters with higher adoption rates, try not to let these metrics become a factor in deciding where you will help out at. You will have your share of difficult moments, but you will have many more moments of joy.
The first step is easy. Check out your local dog shelter’s volunteer opportunities, learn more and get involved – you may be glad that you did.