PDA

View Full Version : Need info on working in animal shelters



Ella Press
01-08-2014, 12:01 AM
Hi lovelies!

I'm putting together information for this idea for my new YA contemporary novel, and since I've never worked in an animal shelter before, I thought I'd ask you. I do have a friend who volunteers in one, but we live in Argentina, and I'm guessing it's not the same for you in the US.

My characters live in California (exactly where is to be determined), they are both seventeen, one volunteers at an animal shelter and the other one doesn't. It's where they meet and where most of the story will play out.

What I wanted to know was:
-The average amount of hours worked per day. If any of you volunteered as a teenager in a shelter, how many hours were you asked to be there for? Was it a daily gig or twice a week is fine?
-How were the conditions of the shelters you worked in? Are they clean and tidy thanks to the people who work there, or do they need to be shut down and Animal Control to be brought in?
-How many other people worked with you?
-Do vets typically visit or can there be vets who specifically work for the shelter?
-To raise money, do you have fairs or small events to help the shelter?
-Did you use to go there after school, even if you weren't needed there that day?

And anything else, any anecdote you wanna tell me will be so helpful I'll hug you over the Internet and love you forever. :)

alleycat
01-08-2014, 12:13 AM
This is the volunteer page for working at the NHA shelter where I live; it might provide some of the information you're looking for, such as minimum time commitment. I would assume that many shelters in California have similar requirements.

http://www.nashvillehumane.org/custpage.cfm/frm/94850/sec_id/94850

The NHA shelter here is very clean and bright and airy. There are a number of private shelters in the area, as well as the government run Animal Control shelter. You can Google for "Nashville Humane Association" > Images to see photos of the shelter and some of the events they hold.

http://trupanion.com/blog/wp-content/uploads/2013/08/lobby2.jpg

http://www.bonnaroo.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/02/roo1.jpg

NHA uses any number of way to raise money, from TV spots to local events to direct mail and Facebook requests.

A question you didn't ask: Like many Humane Association shelters, the NHA shelter is "low kill" shelter--that is, an animal is only euthanized due to severe medical or behavior problems, not just because the animal has been at the shelter for a certain length of time.

WeaselFire
01-08-2014, 12:20 AM
... since I've never worked in an animal shelter before...
Easiest thing in the world to remedy. Go volunteer today. Help yourself while helping the animals. Double win.

Jeff

robjvargas
01-08-2014, 12:46 AM
Alleycat alluded to it already. There are different kinds of shelters in the USA. Some shelters are no-kill, some have very restrictied kill policies, and some are shelters that house animals for only so long before putting the animal down.

I mention that because each of the shelters would have somewhat different needs. No and low kill shelters are more likely to have variable needs as their animals populations rise and fall. If your character is a long-time or especially trusted volunteer, the shelter might actually assign the character duties to complete every day. Walking dogs, feeding, watering, stuff that needs to happen every day.

A shelter with a kill policy would have a more stable animal population and more steady needs.

veinglory
01-08-2014, 12:52 AM
In my experience most shelters of both types operate at capacity or near it. Those these get low take on animals for other areas.

Volunteers are screened and their duties and time slots determined by the manage or administrator. How often or how long is not an issue so long as they are reliable and regular.

Duties can vary. Some just walk dogs, or socialize puppies and kitten. Others do more general labor.

The shelter should have a specific vet who looks at their protocols and determines how restricted drugs are used. They may or may not be at the shelter on a regular basis.

melindamusil
01-08-2014, 04:05 AM
I've volunteered in a shelter as an adult. It was a city-operated "kill" shelter BUT... several years ago, a wealthy local man died and gave a lot of money to another nearby no-kill shelter, with the proviso that they come to the city shelter once a week and take any animals that have not yet been adopted (and thus would otherwise be in line to be euthanized). Because of that, the only euthanizations would be animals who were seriously, seriously ill.



-The average amount of hours worked per day. If any of you volunteered as a teenager in a shelter, how many hours were you asked to be there for? Was it a daily gig or twice a week is fine?

Surprisingly, a large number of the volunteers are kids who got in trouble with the law and were sentenced to do community service. In those cases, the number of hours can vary a lot depending on the sentence - anywhere from daily to monthly. Also, they had a different "sign in" process - instead of just writing their name on a sign in paper, they had to check in with the volunteer coordinator (to verify that they were fulfilling their hours).

For all the rest of us "regular" volunteers, you could work pretty much as much as you wanted. As long as you were working (not playing around or causing trouble), you could be there every day or once a week or whenever.



-How were the conditions of the shelters you worked in? Are they clean and tidy thanks to the people who work there, or do they need to be shut down and Animal Control to be brought in?

The shelter was VERY clean and tidy, but for a long time it was in a building that was very worn out... it had been built some 50ish years ago, and the shelter had long ago outgrown it, but for a long time the city would not give them the money to build a new shelter. Around maybe 2008, the city finally worked out a way to pay for a new shelter, and the new shelter opened a couple of years ago. The new building is gorgeous, very much built to meet the needs of the shelter and with plenty of room to grow.



-How many other people worked with you?

There were maybe 6-8 paid employees, with about 4-6 working at any given time. Number of volunteers at any given time varied based on the time of year, day of the week, and time of day. Could be as few as one or two, or as many as a dozen.



-Do vets typically visit or can there be vets who specifically work for the shelter?

Our shelter contracted with local veterinarians instead of hiring a full-time vet. It's all about saving money...

Ella Press
01-10-2014, 04:27 AM
This is all extremely helpful! Thanks to all of you! I'm researching as much as I can, but another person's input is much more valuable than a website. :)

Ella Press
01-10-2014, 04:39 AM
Easiest thing in the world to remedy. Go volunteer today. Help yourself while helping the animals. Double win.

Jeff

The thing is that I live in Argentina, therefore, if I did what you suggest, it wouldn't be of much use to me. I need to know more about how shelters are run in the States, see?

And I have helped in shelters before, always a lovely experience!
But here we have cats and dogs shelters only. I've never seen or heard of a shelter that'll take birds or horses.

melindamusil
01-10-2014, 10:30 PM
But here we have cats and dogs shelters only. I've never seen or heard of a shelter that'll take birds or horses.
Our shelter - remember, this is a city-operated shelter - only houses dogs, cats, birds, and small animals (hamsters, gerbils) in the actual shelter building.

Rarely, they may also get pet reptiles, like snakes or turtles. There is a local herpetologist (reptile/amphibian specialist) who operates his own nonprofit adoption agency to facilitate reptile adoptions. He also does educational programs, like going to local schools and letting the kids see/pet snakes. He will take any abandoned reptiles and either find another home for it or use it in his educational programs.

For large animals (like horses), they contract with a nearby horse farm. Horses in the shelter are pretty uncommon. A more rural shelter might deal with those differently.

For very exotic animals, they work with the local zoo. Once there was a peacock that was picked up by the "dog-catcher". Another time, there was a chimpanzee that was removed from a home.

Feel free to PM me if you have any other questions.

veinglory
01-10-2014, 10:35 PM
Many shelters will have unusual animals (pigs, chickens, iguanas etc) for limited periods of time before passing them into a specialist facility.

lastlittlebird
01-11-2014, 12:03 AM
I volunteered at couple of SPCA shelters in New Zealand a few years ago. I know it's not USA based, but I'm sure parts were similar and I'll just share a few anecdotal bits and pieces in case they help. I used to volunteer a couple of times a week in the mornings.

Even though we were a "kill" shelter (SPCA is also animal control in NZ, so they would often have to put down aggressive dogs, etc) the people who worked and volunteered there loved animals to the point where they would refuse to euthanize pests like baby possums and stoats when they were brought in.

There was almost always a story behind each animal. Once we had a whole gaggle of deaf dalmatians brought in because the guy breeding them didn't have proper fencing. He'd been breeding from a deaf bitch and hoping to trick people into buying her pups. They were gorgeous dogs, but very hard to place properly.... a deaf dog, particularly an energetic one like a dalmatian, needs a lot of specialized care.

We had to sterilize everything all the time. There were huge bottles of disinfectant and we would dip everything into them, like cat litter bins and dog bowls, before putting it back in the cages. We had big sponge things to disinfect our shoes as well. If the wrong bacteria got into the wrong place, a lot of animals would have to be put down. It had happened a couple of times in the past but not while I was there, thank goodness.

Rabbits can be vicious. The only time I was ever injured on the job was when a big, white, fluffy rabbit bit me on the thumb as I was cleaning out its hutch. It drew blood, the little bastard.

We would often give funny names to the animals. One of the cats I remember vividly was called Dr. Love by the staff and when you picked him up out of his cage he would snuggle into you like it was his mission in life, pushing his head further and further up past your neck... until he got traction and could make a leap to freedom from your back.

Some of the people volunteering there were petty. I had one supervisor who picked on me dreadfully, and eventually one of the staff witnessed it and basically told her not to come back. It's the same as any workplace, I guess.

Finally, one of the most vivid memories I have was being mistaken for a staffer by the guy who had to take the dead animals to the incinerator. They had a big room freezer to keep all the bodies in between his visits, and because they were required to keep all the bodies for a certain amount of time in case someone claimed them. He asked me to help him take out the bodies to his truck, which wasn't something volunteers weren't supposed to do, but I didn't know that.
It was kind of disturbing how many black bags there were, stacked in the freezer. Of all sizes. Rock hard from the cold. It was a bizarre experience.

Anyway, sorry if I went on too much. Hope some of this can help.

melindamusil
01-11-2014, 01:10 AM
In our city, they passed a law banning pit bulls after a couple of kids were attacked by a pit bull. This law was widely mocked at the animal shelter. Everyone there believed it was the (lack of) training provided by the owner, not the dog breed, that resulted in vicious dogs. We didn't have too many pit bulls, but those would usually have to be euthanized, and no one liked that.

Have you ever heard of feral cats? There were/are a few colonies of feral cats in our city. If someone complained about them, they would have to catch the cats. They were not supposed release the cats back to the wild due to the city laws. Thanks to the agreement with the no-kill shelter, they wouldn't be euthanized, but because they were wild, they could never be adopted - they just lived in the cat rooms at the no kill shelter until they died. Super depressing.

Lastlittlebird is right, that small animals can be vicious. I've been bit by hamsters and gerbils - who are usually brought to the shelter because they bite and the owner is not willing to take the time to tame them. They get a lot of rabbits after Easter, too. It's really bad because the shelter is a stressful environment for the animals, and we didn't have the necessary time to properly tame them. To make matters worse, at the old shelter building, they had to be housed in the same room as most of the cats.

One problem was people who didn't fix their cats, and would drop off any kittens the cats produced shortly after the kittens were born. Baby kittens are so precious and so tiny - and VERY difficult to raise by hand. Definitely not something the employees or volunteers there had time for. Sp anytime a cat was brought in with nursing kittens, they would wean her litter of kittens and then give her another litter of kittens. Most of the time, the mama cat would adopt and raise that litter. And it sounds terrible - it IS kinda terrible, I guess - but they would keep giving her "new" litters until she stopped producing milk or rejected the kittens (usually about 6 months to 1 year after she arrived).

Hoplite
01-17-2014, 09:59 PM
What I wanted to know was:
-The average amount of hours worked per day. If any of you volunteered as a teenager in a shelter, how many hours were you asked to be there for? Was it a daily gig or twice a week is fine?
-How were the conditions of the shelters you worked in? Are they clean and tidy thanks to the people who work there, or do they need to be shut down and Animal Control to be brought in?
-How many other people worked with you?
-Do vets typically visit or can there be vets who specifically work for the shelter?
-To raise money, do you have fairs or small events to help the shelter?
-Did you use to go there after school, even if you weren't needed there that day?

And anything else, any anecdote you wanna tell me will be so helpful I'll hug you over the Internet and love you forever. :)

I volunteered for a few semesters during college with my wife (then girlfriend) in Washington State. It was a small county shelter, but this was my experience:

1. We were required to work at least one 2-hour shift weekly. There was a sign-up sheet if anyone wanted to cover additional shifts. Typically we took early Saturday mornings.

2. We did all the cleaning ourselves. Dog pens were washed out daily, cat cages too. There was a "cat-bus" (literally a small bus that was permanently parked and filled with cat-furnishings and cats) that we cleaned as best we could.

3. During our shift there were maybe a total of 3-5 volunteers, and the two full-time employees.

4. I never saw a visiting vet, nor did we have one in house. Once again it was a small shelter and larger ones may have trained staff. For small treatments (i.e. applying eye-drops) we did it ourselves.

5. We had advertised special adoption days.

6. We went every Saturday morning. We were needed (no one else wanted to get up that early on the weekend to clean up animal poop), but we'd hang out after we had finished our work to socialize (aka play) with the dogs and cats. Our mandatory 2-hour shift typically turned out to be 1.5 hours of work and another 1-1.5 hours of hanging out.

Anecdotes:

The cat bus: it was a small and rather underfunded shelter. To create a special place to house just the healthy full-grown cats they dug out a small pit (about 1 foot deep) and drove a short school bus into it (permanently parked). They took out the driver seat, most of the bench seats, and placed things like cat-tree houses, cubby holes, etc. Besides the floor all surface were covered in that thick shag-rug material seen on most cat-play things. About a year after I had started volunteering there they had added an outdoor section. A small fenced in area, so the cats couldn't escape nor predators get to the cats, with a plank-board walkway leading from an open window in the cat bus.