Ever wonder what’s it’s like to volunteer or work at an animal shelter? When you consider donating your time or pursuing a career at a humane society, several questions and concerns can arise…how do you get started? What duties are you required to do? How often are you expected to do it? Is there training involved? Can I grow from volunteer to staff? Having been a volunteer at the Escondido Humane Society for nearly three years, I can help answer those questions.
It’s pretty easy to get started as a volunteer. Simply contact the shelter’s Volunteer Coordinator to let them know you’re interested. Contact information can be found by visiting their website or walking in. It’s highly unlikely they’ll actually turn you down because shelters are ALWAYS in need of help. Even if you’re only available once a month, they can surely use you. Depending on what “job” you’re interested in (dog walking, cat visiting, cleaning, taking pictures, ect) you will have to go through some sort of orientation and/or training. To be a volunteer photographer, I went through an orientation of the entire facility as well as training for dog and cat handling. Since I take pictures of everything from adoptable pets to events to staff members, it was necessary for me to be trained in almost every department. But if you’re just looking to walk dogs, then you’ll only be required to learn that specific process.
Once you’ve been trained, it’s up to you how much of your time you’d like to donate. Every day, once a month, it doesn’t matter. However, there are usually specific times the shelter has volunteers do certain things. For example, dog walking may be done at 8:00am and 5:00pm. They keep daily schedules, so you will need to be available based on their daily routine. This doesn’t necessarily apply to taking pictures. I work directly with the Public Relations Director to schedule when I volunteer. If I’m shooting adoptable pets, I’ll typically be there from 9:00am-12:00pm working with the dogs in an interaction area. Event photography requires me to shoot whatever day and time the event is. Then there’s other shoots for things like advertising campaigns and promotions, the Annual Report, volunteer and staff portraits, ect.
Working as a volunteer is an extremely rewarding experience, so it’s no wonder why many volunteers strive to someday become a staff member. It’s not required to be a volunteer before applying for a staff position, but it is highly recommended. Not only do you learn a lot about the shelter itself, but it’s a good test to see if you could actually handle the job. Some people choose to stay as a volunteer because they’d be too emotionally effected by being around the animals ALL day, EVERY day. It can be a tough gig some days, but if you stay focused on how much you’re benefitting the animal’s lives and the overall big picture, it’s a one-of-a-kind fulfilling experience.
“Things that seem so small to us, like taking a dog for a 20-minute walk, cuddling or playing, make a lifesaving difference, and their lives are enriched immeasurably just by giving them your time.” – Katie Woolsey
Katie Woolsey (seen below on left), Public Relations Cooridinator at the Escondido Humane Society, says she got her current position by “being a volunteer dog walker for almost three years before I joined the staff in December 2008. I instantly fell in love with the cause – and all of the dogs, of course. I honestly never thought about specific goals, but I wanted to make sure that I made a positive impact for every dog I walked. Things that seem so small to us – like taking a dog for a 20-minute walk, cuddling or playing – make a lifesaving difference, and their lives are enriched immeasurably just by giving them your time.” Director of Development, Jean Russo (seen below on right), explains how “the worst part of the job is not being able to help more. The best part of the job is I get to work with people who are passionate about animals.” Like the majority of staff, she’s faced with the temptation to take an animal home every day. “I have four dogs that were adopted from the shelter. My husband says I can continue working here as long as I know the barn door is closed…LOL.”
For those interested in pursuing a volunteer opportunity or staff position, Katie advices, “this field is emotionally charged and physically demanding, but it’s also extremely rewarding. I love having a job where I can go home every day knowing that I made a difference. If you are pursuing a career at a humane society, be persistent and don’t get discouraged.” Jean also suggests “to keep an open mind and understand that people are doing the best they can to help the animals.” From my experience, I personally advise anyone who’s even remotely interested in working at a shelter to just try it. Everyone is different, each getting something different from the experience. Whether you decide you absolutely want to make a career out of it or you simply can’t handle seeing homeless animals on a regular basis, at least you tried and put in the time to help.