As animal shelters all across the country head into “busy season,” the impact that volunteers make is often underestimated and sometimes overlooked. At Austin Pets Alive!, the people who donate their time and experience to the animals who are fortunate enough to get to APA!, are part of what I consider our “lifeblood.
APA! volunteers are here because they love animals, but what sets APA volunteers apart is that while they are here they become experts in animal welfare. They become experts in neonatal kitten care. They become experts in giving dogs an enriching experience while waiting for a family in an extremely challenging shelter environment. They become experts in helping a high volume of animals recover from surgery. They become experts in helping dogs overcome behaviors related to puppyhood isolation and trauma. They become experts in treating cats for ringworm. They become experts in supporting others as they foster animals who need more than what a shelter kennel can provide. They become experts in high volume laundry support to ensure the pets in the shelter have something dry and comfy to sleep on. They become experts in parvovirus care and treatment. The list goes on and on (literally!).
I hope that volunteers at APA! see that their actions make a difference and that they are not just an “add on” to staff–they are an integral part of what makes our organization able to accomplish so much. I’m a veterinarian so forgive the anatomy analogy, but if you think of staff as the vertebrae or backbone of the organization, the volunteers and fosters are the limbs that make it possible to walk and write!
And when I say “accomplish so much,” I mean that APA! has been able to be one of the top adoption organizations in the country (apparently the 2nd highest in the US!); is the largest foster care organization in animal welfare; and has mentored many other organizations so they can save more lives. And it is all because of our collective work. Without volunteers, it would not be possible to envision a future that ensures all pets in shelters are given the individual support they need to survive AND that prevents pets who don’t need to be there from being subjected to a shelter kennel in the first place.
When I look at one of my own APA! adoptees, Echo, I see all the hands that made her life possible. As a semi-paralyzed and incontinent survivor of distemper, her needs passed through the hands of volunteer data support to keep her lengthy records updated, volunteer long stay trackers to ensure she was headed toward adoption, other fosters who helped carry the burden in the early stages of her disease when I was out of town, the dog marketing volunteers who made sure that she was visible to adopters, and of volunteers in our foster adoption team who helped me make her stay at our house permanent.
I’m so thankful for what volunteers do to support the people and animals we touch every day. I know it is a cliché, but it truly does take a village to intervene in the broken national system of animal sheltering and to care for the animals that are the collateral damage of that system.