Volunteering at an animal shelter isn’t for everyone. Walking up and down the rows of needy animals is heartwrenching, especially when you have to say goodbye.
For those who do volunteer, it’s for their love of animals and desire to help them find a happy home. It doesn’t fill their pockets, but it fills their hearts. It gives them a real sense of purpose.
But the emotional ups and downs of volunteering feels like a never-ending rollercoaster ride.
Some weeks are better than others, and there are always tears, happy and sad. Tears of joy when an animal they’ve come to know finds a forever home with a great family. Tears of sorrow when the animal they worked so hard to place runs out of time when the “No Vacancy” sign comes on at the shelter.
Volunteers’ dedication can’t be matched. They spend so much of their free time writing animal bios, photographing, networking, making gorgeous flyers to present these animals in their best light. These are a wonderful way for potential adopters to view animals online, because it takes the shelter atmosphere out of the picture for a moment.
Volunteers also train and socialize animals to help make them ready for their forever families. Taking them on hikes, to adoption events, on car rides, to vet appointments — these volunteers do whatever they can to establish a sense of normalcy and consistency in these animals’ lives.
Even on the most painful days, when they question if they’re even making a difference, volunteers don’t give up.
As they spend some time remembering and grieving for the favorite animal they just lost, hopefully they know they did everything they could. When they look up, through their tears they see the next dog or cat waiting in line that needs them. They will never forget the lost souls, but in their honor they brush themselves off and get back up to see if they can make a difference for the next one.
This was an especially tough weekend for the animal control shelter in Philadelphia, where many volunteers lost their “Pen Pals,” dogs they’d devoted lots of time and energy to saving.
Tough job, but someone has to do it. And these wonderful people find the strength to take on the challenge. Their determination may wane when things get tough, but it also bounces back.
As far as changing the situation these animals find themselves in, there are many things that can help. You’ve heard them all, but they’re worth repeating.
Make spaying and neutering mandatory, so there aren’t as many stray animals coming into the shelter.
Stop breeding, because people can adopt a pet from a shelter rather than buy one from a breeder.
Stop buying from pet stores and adopt, and do some reseach on the puppy mills that mass produce pet store puppies.
Work harder to keep your pets rather than surrender them for issues that can be corrected, especially to overcrowded shelters where your pets won’t get the chance they deserve to find another home. We need to expand intake shelters to hold more animals so that they will have more time to meet their perfect match, and also have more money devoted to city intake shelters so they can hire more full-time staff.
I hope someone can come up with a solution that works for this overpopulation problem. Something’s gotta give because it’s unfair that these volunteers and animals sometimes both lose.
The volunteer loses a beloved friend, and the animal loses its life.
And this is the life of shelter volunteers.
Let’s honor them and show them some love, because everything they do is with good intentions and from the heart. And if you really want to help these volunteers and shelter animals, share their stories and bios in hopes that someone will see and fall in love with a dog or cat you shared.
My message to all of these volunteers is to please remember that your time with the shelter animals were some of the best moments of their lives. Even if they didn’t make it out, they left this world knowing they were loved.
Be sure to check out some great pictures of the volunteers in action (left)!
Thanks for reading. Please help us spread the word about animals in need by joining the Hearts for Hopefuls Facebook page. Feel free to email me with local topic ideas, and also be sure to join my animal welfare Facebook fan page!