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So Ya Wanna Be a Shelter Volunteer? Read on!

Oh Dog! I know that some of you are making resolutions for the New Year, and maybe one of those resolutions is to volunteer in a shelter.  That’s FANTASTIC!

But maybe you’re apprehensive and have questions.  Well, read on then my friend, for today my guest is Michael, a volunteer at Tabby’s Place, a no-kill shelter in Ringoes, New Jersey.

I’ve asked him some hard-hitting questions about what it takes to be a volunteer, and he’s pulled no punches in providing answers to you.  So, dogs and cats, drag your humans to the computer screen and have them read on!

FIV+ Kitties at Tabby's Place

Rumpy:  Thanks so much for being my guest today! So let’s start out by telling us what led you to volunteer at an animal shelter?

Michael:  I have always been one of those people that wants to do more to help the community and the environment, but I never seem to have enough time to dedicate for a cause.  However, in mid-2009, I was laid off from my job and was thrown into the growing ranks of the unemployed.  After the shock wore off, I realized that I suddenly had lots of free time, so I started looking into volunteering.

As an avid user of Google, I searched for “volunteer opportunities” or something like that, and I found some good websites, including  http://www.volunteermatch.org/ .  On this website, you type in your interests and location, and a list of volunteer opportunities pops up for you.  After looking at all the different activities to choose from, I realized that taking care of animals was my favorite activity among all of the opportunities.

Rumpy:  So what did you do to become a volunteer?

Michael:  I submitted an application to a local animal shelter, and then I thought of Tabby’s Place.   It was a little further away than the local shelter, but not too far (about a 30 minute drive).  We would drive by Tabby’s Place occasionally on Route 202 on our way home from Philadelphia or somewhere else.  My wife told me that she had heard about it – that they take care of cats until they die of natural causes – they never euthanize the cats, and the cats are free to roam around in big suites (not cages).  So, I submitted an online application, and I was called soon afterwards to come in for an orientation session.  Soon after orientation, I was coming in once a week, on Saturdays, to help clean the suites.  By then, I found a temporary job, so my only free time to volunteer was on the weekends.

some of the crew

Rumpy:  It must be cool playing with all those kitties!

Michael:  Although I love going to Tabby’s Place to see and play with all of the great cats, there is still work that needs to be done.  Many volunteers start out with the best intentions, but they stop coming when they realize that they don’t really want to do the work.  For our Saturday crew, we generally spend about 1 or 1.5 hours actually working, and then we can play with the cats as much as we want after we’re done cleaning.  Less than 2 hours of work per week (or every two weeks) is not much at all, in exchange for the great reward you get helping others.

Rumpy:  I didn’t think about that.  Now is there a concern with getting too emotionally attached to the kitties?

Michael:  Regarding the emotional issues, that was a concern of mine, but a minor concern.  I never had pets growing up, and I have not yet had the displeasure of deciding to put a pet down.  We have had one of our two cats, Scooter, for nearly 16 years, so I know his days are numbered, and I know I am going to cry like a baby when the time comes.  However, there are some factors that keep my emotions in tact:.

  • I try not to get overly attached to any one of the cats.  This is easier said than done.  There are always a few cats that you look forward to seeing, and you know all of their quirks and habits.  So, when they are gone, it’s difficult.  But sometimes, it’s a little easier if the cat has not been there very long, so you haven’t gotten too attached yet.
  • Another thing that helps is having all of the other cats around to take your mind off the one who has died.  There are always plenty of great cats that need great homes, so this is very helpful.

There have been more than a few cats that have died at Tabby’s Place in the 2 years that I’ve been volunteering there.  Of course, I feel sad and I miss the cats when I come in on Saturday, but it helps that I don’t have to be there when the cat dies.  I can remember the cat the way he or she was in life.

An unexpected emotion happens when a cat is adopted.  I get the same sad feeling when a cat is adopted as when a cat has died.  I feel sad and I miss the cat, but in the case of adoption, I am also very happy that the cat has found a good home.  Although Tabby’s Place is a great place for cats, it is exponentially greater for a cat to be in a loving home.

An interesting side-note about emotions:  Jonathan Rosenberg, the founder and executive director of Tabby’s Place was a very successful vice president of a large computer company, when his cat of 15 years, named Tabby, died in 1999.  He resigned from his lucrative job and committed himself to creating Tabby’s Place: a Cat Sanctuary, in memory of his boy Tabby.  Four years later, Tabby’s Place officially began its mission.  So, you can see what the power of emotions can do.

Nuttin- one of the FIV+ cats that's resided at Tabby's Place for several years now

Rumpy:  That’s a great point!  So tell us about this Tabby’s Place.

Michael:  From their website, www.tabbysplace.org, Tabby’s Place is a cage-free sanctuary that provides refuge to cats in hopeless situations. Our residents come primarily from public shelters where they had once been scheduled for euthanasia.

This one-of-a-kind facility serves as:

  • An Adoption Center, finding loving homes for cats;
  • A Hospital, providing medical and surgical treatment for sick or injured residents;
  • A Hospice, providing palliative care and a warm, loving environment for chronically or terminally ill cats to live out their lives in comfort.

Tabby’s Place does not turn cats away due to age, medical need, or “lack of adoptability.” It is, therefore, a safe haven for several older, chronically ill, or handicapped cats. These cats have special needs such as heart disease, diabetes, cancer, or blindness. At Tabby’s Place, these cats are able to live full and happy lives with the medical care, love, and affection they deserve.

Also note that fewer than half of the cats have special needs, which means that most of the cats are perfectly normal and healthy.  Great pains are taken to ensure that infections are not spread around, and cleaning is done constantly.

Rumpy:  Oh Dog! That sounds like a wonderful place, and the Rosenbergs are fantastic people!  Thanks so much for sharing your volunteer story Michael, and please keep up the good work!

As for the rest of you, I hope this has allayed your fears of volunteering for a shelter.

By the way, Tabby’s Place has a wonderful virtual tour on their website, where there are videos of most areas of the facility.  Here’s a link to the director’s office.  I chose it so you could see how wonderful Mr. Rosenberg is- he shares his office with two of the cats!

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About Rumpy Drummond

I am a malamute that was rescued by Jen. I live with June Buggie the cat. I blog about animal welfare and responsible care of companion animals at rumpydog.com. You can follow me on Twitter - @RumpyDog. And don't forget to LIKE my Facebook page! Thanks!


41 thoughts on “So Ya Wanna Be a Shelter Volunteer? Read on!

  1. Really good post. Thanks for sharing. BearHUG!

    Posted by BearBear | December 30, 2011, 1:10 AM
  2. Lovely and great post about an excellent facility. My humans have each been sponsoring a special needs kitty at Tabby’s Place. What is also really, really cool is their virtual gift baskets that one can order. So, you can get a gift for somebody, they get a lovely message and card and warm fuzzies for doing something to help the kitties.

    From an outsider’s view, I have to say what I like about Tabby’s Place is how they keep their sponsors involved in what is happening. I think that they really use social media well to communicate (and to communicate continuously). We even have a couple of photos of the kitties that are (and were) being sponsored that they kindly sent out to South Africa.

    Nice one again Rumpy – lovely article and an inspiration.

    Posted by Nuala Little Goddess (@NualaSiamese) | December 30, 2011, 1:40 AM
  3. Good post and wonderful shelter ” Tabby’s Place”! I think that Mr Rosenberg is great person who starts this schelter for the memory of his boy Tabby, who saves lots of cats, who showed us his lovely office sharing with two kitties.
    Those volunteer staff who support ” Tabby’s Place” like Michael are also amazing! The phrase he said ” what the power of emotions can do” is very impressive to me. Thanks for today’s post Rumpy! and thanks for sharing about what you are doing to help cats, Mr Rosenberg and Michael. :)

    Posted by eripanwkevin | December 30, 2011, 5:18 AM
  4. What a great interview Rumpy. Tabby’s Place sounds just awesome. Thank you for sharing with us what it’s like to volunteer in an animal shelter.

    Posted by Sheri | December 30, 2011, 7:46 AM
  5. I’m inspired to do volunteer work at the local animal shelter after reading this. I forgot how much I enjoyed seeing/taking care of so many different animals when I used to do volunteer work.

    Posted by jaxart4animals | December 30, 2011, 8:58 AM
  6. I want to volunteer in a shelter, if I have time next to my study and internship next year. But I really don’t know where to start. We only have one local animal shelter, and I haven’t heard great reviews about it. :(

    Posted by Dianda | December 30, 2011, 10:29 AM
    • Maybe what they need are some good volunteers.

      Posted by rumpydog | December 30, 2011, 5:12 PM
    • I agree with Rumpy. A good volunteer could make a big difference! And you could even combine your studies with your volunteer time. Even if you can only dedicate lap-time for kitties while you study, it could mean the world to the cats there. There are people who come while I’m at the shelter and just have the cats sit in their laps, which is great because other people come and do all the chores in the room, but don’t have time to give affection to the cats. The chores are essential, of course, but the cats really want some love. I’d check out what the shelter needs are and let them know what you’re able to offer (in terms of time). They’ll be grateful for anything you can do.

      Posted by lemonysqueezes | January 7, 2012, 7:24 PM
  7. We have a shelter here that takes dogs and cats. It’s where I got TeddyCat the other day. They have quite a contract you sign before you go home with your pet. Pet’s Inc is the best.

    Posted by Patricia | December 30, 2011, 10:44 AM
  8. Great post Rumpy!

    Posted by catfromhell | December 30, 2011, 11:57 AM
  9. Those are some lucky and loved cats. Great piece on shelters.

    Posted by lillythecat | December 30, 2011, 12:19 PM
  10. What an informative post! :-)
    I just wanted to stop by & wish you a very Happy New Year!


    Posted by Create With Joy | December 30, 2011, 2:35 PM
  11. How very inspiring the history of the founder of Tabby’s Place is! Power of emotions–no kidding! My engineer son lost a dear companion cat he had had for 12 years, through multiple moves,(one to Seoul for 3 years and back to Atlanta), and the births of both his children. He just works harder now at his engineering job, for which he is really gifted, and gives generously of time and money to animal welfare. I LOVED this volunteer interview. It is very true a lot of volunteers don’t really want to shovel out all that poo-poo, right?

    Posted by granbee | December 30, 2011, 3:05 PM
  12. Aww, that’s inspiring! I have done some volunteer work with elder people before, but never with animals – maybe I’ll give it a try this new year, because the really do deserve all the love we can give them :)

    Posted by SaraPey | December 30, 2011, 4:17 PM
  13. Great article. So many people volunteer thinking it’ll be all fun. Michael is so right when he says they quit shortly after. Although Tabby’s is a no-kill shelter, many shelters are (unfortunately) and volunteers find it hard to deal with that also.

    My contribution at one point was writing up free articles for the paper about animals who were adopted and interviewing people who gave services to the shelter.

    Thanks for visiting my blog and clicking on a like button. That was very nice and it gave me an opportunity to visit you back.


    Posted by dogear6 | December 30, 2011, 4:20 PM
    • It is hard, but I believe that only when enough of us face the reality that is animal control, and feel that hurt, that we will do the hard work to change the way we deal with animals. Thanks for what you do to help them.

      Posted by rumpydog | December 30, 2011, 5:06 PM
  14. This was so great hearing what it’s like to volunteer to help animals, and that place sounds really great – for cats, that is. I don’t know if I’d like my person volunteering though. I think I would be outnumbered by cats – she would bring too many of them home.

    Posted by Bongo | December 30, 2011, 5:14 PM
  15. GREAT POST!!!!

    We support a local no-kill dog rescue called McKenzie’s Animal Shelter here. It is a wonderful thing they do and they work hard. The Collies as well as Tigger are cheering as they read this post and May God Bless this effort to save and care for these kitties. :)

    Great Post!

    God Bless You!

    Chuck and the Collies :)

    Posted by colliesofthemeadow | December 30, 2011, 8:01 PM
  16. Wow Rumpy. This is some great post. I like how you’ve featured the a shelter that doesn’t turn away cats- even those who needed to be euthanized.

    I’m glad there are places like this to volunteer in out there. Too bad we don’t have dog shelters here. It would awesome if I could spend time volunteering as well.

    Huggies and Cheese,


    Posted by haopee | December 30, 2011, 8:43 PM
  17. What a hero!

    Posted by Bassas Blog | December 31, 2011, 6:10 AM
  18. Great piece on volunteering at an animal shelter. My mom comes home with funny smells on her. Mom tells me she also volunteers at an animal shelter known as the Helen O Krause Animal Shelter in Dillsburg, PA. This is one of the only true no-kill shelters in our area remaining. There are also FIV, FELV, Special Needs cats and other cats available for adoption. Helen Krause takes in strays and abused cats. We also have a no-kill dog shelter too. The personal satisfaction of helping out these unwanted and abused animals, even if it is just to make sure they have a clean and warm place to live, is very rewarding. I encourage everyone to volunteer at an animals shelter. Volunteers are what keeps the shelters going and helps keep the animal population off the street.

    Posted by Stelitta | December 31, 2011, 10:19 AM
  19. Also, as an ex-TP volunteer and pooper-scooper in 2009 and 2010, I can tell you, you learn a lot of things you wish never did. My hat goes off to all the staff at Tabby’s Place that have to deal with it day in and day out.

    Posted by Mike | December 31, 2011, 10:09 PM
  20. Thank you for sharing about Tabby’s Place. I learned about it a few years and as always I’m in awe if anyone who works with special needs animals. I hope to visit someday. It was great getting a volunteer’s perspective.

    Posted by dawn | January 1, 2012, 10:06 AM
  21. This is such a great post. I’ve love to see more interviews with different kinds of shelter and rescue volunteers.

    Posted by Pamela | January 1, 2012, 11:58 AM
  22. Interesting information… I was always curious about how people end up working there… TY :-)

    Posted by ElizOF | January 3, 2012, 5:52 AM
  23. A terrific post–it’s important to teach would-be volunteers what’s likely to be expected of them. I suspect fewer of them would give up so quickly if they had a slightly more realistic sense that what’s needed includes some “dirty work” as well as petting and cuddling the wonderful animals in shelters. It’s not so hard! But it needs to be a clear part of the arrangement so that they can see how rewarding it is to care for the *whole* animal. We can’t help being uninformed or even naive, especially if inexperienced. Sometimes even the experienced think they’re just in it for the perks, but of course shelter animals need more than any others most of the time, so it’s really helpful to do as you’ve done here and help everyone realize how worthwhile it is to to those little bits of chores to make the lovely playtime possible and rewarding. (Not to mention how much the staff of such shelters deserve the help!) Thanks to you and Michael for this!

    Posted by kathryningrid | January 6, 2012, 11:17 PM
  24. I’ve volunteered with my county shelter for about 10 years and found it very rewarding. Our shelter has volunteer opportunities to fit about everyone. If you don’t want to work “hands on” with the animals, there is always fundraising, office work, PR, offsite educational opportunities, a non-profit shelter store, and much more needing time and attention. If you love animals, I say “Go for it!”

    Posted by LAPCATS Sacramento Area Cat & Kitten Adoptions | January 7, 2012, 2:13 PM
  25. LOVED, LOVED, LOVED this post, Rumpy!

    Posted by lemonysqueezes | January 7, 2012, 7:25 PM
  26. OH! Dog what a wonderful place, and the people working there are just the best of humans. I could not do a job like that as I would want to take all the animals home and I would break my heart about them all! So I salute everyone there and say Thank Dog there are humans brave enough to do the job!! What a lovely fun and well equipped place …… also the travel to and from work would be prohibitive! xxxxx

    Posted by willowdot21 | January 27, 2012, 7:23 AM

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Rumpy Dog

Rumpy Dog

All About Me!

Hi! My name is Rumpy, and I am an Alaskan Malamute. I used to live in Middle Tennessee, but now my family and I reside in southeast Alabama. I have this cool blog that I started in 2011. Here at rumpydog.com we talk about all things animal, with a focus on animal welfare and responsible animal companion guardianship. But we also like to throw in a heaping helping of cute! cute! cute! I mean, how could you look at me and not melt, right?

My story? Well, I was found on the side of a busy street. Jenny thought she would help me find my home, but nobody claimed me. So now I live with her. She's a pretty good ole' gal, but she is mighty stingy with the dog cookies. *sigh*

There are also some cats- they each have their own story. June Buggie is their chief spokesperson. He is 16 years old, crotchety, and not afraid to say what's on his mind.

All writings and photos are the copyright property of Jenny Threet (unless the writer is a guest blogger, in which case it is the property of that guest blogger) and may not be used without permission.

You can contact me at rumpydog@hotmail.com.


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