The volunteer program at AACAC is relatively new; it was started in 2012 by the shelter’s administrator, Robin Catlett. The number of volunteers on the books has grown slowly to more than 30. Does the shelter need more volunteers? You betcha! But before we get into that, let’s tackle another question: Just what do shelter volunteers do? Scoop poop?
The simple answer is: There are a lot more opportunities than you may think.
If you’ve seen one of us at the shelter in our distinctive and oh-so-stylish purple T-shirts, she/he was most likely either outside with a dog or helping a visitor in the dog or cat adoption room. These are core volunteer opportunities, and the volunteers who choose to do them are contributing far more to the shelter and the animals than you might think at first glance.
For instance, a trip outside each day obviously gives a dog a break from the tedium of shelter life, an opportunity to exercise and a chance to do its business (yes, dog volunteers do indeed scoop poop). But it also gives us a chance to get to know each animal’s personality, alert staff to new health issues and work to correct behaviors that might make a dog less attractive to potential adopters. We cannot put dogs together in the same outside play pen , but we can see how they interact with other dogs being walked by their play pen , and with strangers who may come up to say hello. We also exchange our impressions of dogs on a private Facebook page for volunteers and take videos of dogs interacting with a volunteer or another dog. Using these videos and observations, plus photos taken by our volunteer photographer and information in the shelter’s records, a volunteer drafts information sheets about specific dogs called “rescue please.” After review by a shelter staffer, these rescue pleas are sent by email to a long list of our partner rescue groups, which use the information to help decide which dogs they will take.
Our time outside getting to know each dog also helps us help potential adopters, who sometimes are overwhelmed by the lineup of dozens of dogs in the often very noisy kennel area. Volunteers give visitors basic information about each dog they may be interested in, add any personal insights they may have from walking a dog and explain the adoption process. If the visitor has been cleared to meet with a dog, a volunteer can take it to an outside play pen for the visit.
What if there were no volunteers? The shelter’s small staff always makes certain that the basic needs of all the animals are met, but staffers simply do not have the time to take all the adoptable dogs outside every day. They would sit in their cages 24/7. Staffers also show dogs and assist visitors in the dog room, but the visitors may have to wait until they have finished another task. Volunteers make day-to-day life a little easier for the animals and, we hope, the staff.
Our “pay” for doing this is the joy of watching a dog be reunited with its family or walk out the front door with a new one. And we are paid very, very well at AACAC.