Volunteering at the shelter

When I first moved here almost 10 years ago I wanted to join a local canine group but after searching and coming up empty handed I gave up the notion. Then a chance visit to the dog shelter gave me the idea of becoming a volunteer. I would make weekly trips to the shelter, clean the kennels and walk the dogs. Pretty much my everyday anyway but this was with the lesser dogs that ended up through no fault of their own, unwanted and left.

Volunteering somewhere that you are passionate about is almost always a feel good experience and thats the way it started out at the local animal shelter. But not too long into my new volunteer role did I start to see the way things really were. I'm a take charge kind of person which does not always do well in a volunteer type position. As a long time dog trainer I thought my skills could be put to use, not so.

I didn't realize that there was already a trainer in place until one day I was walking past one of the pens when I heard the yelps. There wasa dog with some aggression issues being "worked with," I cringed and went to ask what was up? I was told that the resident trainer was working with the dogs and he was not the type of trainer I was. The whole facility was on board with this guy and his training methods so there was nothing for me to do about it.

I kept on with my volunteer work and was soon coming in twice a week. I noticed that there was a lack of communication between volunteers and thought that a communication book would be a wonderful idea left on the check in desk. If a volunteer noticed something with a certain dog whether it be good or bad they could write it down and let the next shift know about it. I mean shouldn't you know that a dog that has tried to bite someone? Or that a particular dog cannot stand to have a choke collar on? I thought so, but shortly after I placed my book on the desk it simply vansihed.

Being that I have a long history of showing dogs in the conformation ring and enjoy researching new breeds I have a pretty good idea of what certain breeds are, even mixes. One day when I saw a small dog in a cage I noticed that it said mixed spaniel but I clearly saw a Japanese Chin in the cage. I went to inform the front desk that it was indeed a purebred and not a mix which I think is extremely important when an owner may be calling in to see if their dogs breed might be at the shelter. The cage sign was not changed.

As far as purebreds are concerned if one shows up in the shelter in my opinion the local rescue should be called. Not that the shelter can't handle the dogs but because a shelter is a stressful environment and rescue groups have lists of people waiting for their particular breed. If they don't have someone in mind right away they have foster homes for these dogs, of course this is a better place for a dog than a shelter. But the first time I made a call to a local rescue group I received a reprimand from the "top dog" at the shelter, one which was the equivalent to that of a bad elementary school kid.

After the scolding I had a whole new perspective on this shelter. After visiting and talking to other volunteers at different shelters I realized that this was not the typical animal shelter, no this one was in a league of their own. I found out that almost all other shelters require their volunteer trainers to be positive reinforcement trainers and that they always call local rescue groups in hopes that they might have someone waiting for this breed. All of the rescue groups that I know will retrieve a dog of their breed without hestitation.

Its been a longtime since I was a volunteer at that shelter and I have to admit one of the worst experiences of my life.