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!
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.
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.
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!