Yesterday I discussed the inspiration and motivation behind one of my March/April New Year’s All Year goals, volunteering at the animal shelter, and promised that today I would share how that experience is going so far. So here we go!
My local animal shelter always welcomes volunteers. Volunteers under 18 are only allowed to do specific tasks, but volunteers over 18 are allowed to help in countless ways. All volunteers fill out an application. On the application you preference shifts (AM, before noon, or PM, starting at 4) and days, as well as a desire to work with dogs, cats, or either. I preference weekday evenings and either cats or dogs. A volunteer coordinator from the shelter contacted me. She discussed with me what days the shelter needed volunteers for and said she was assigning me to help with cats. I did not know this, but apparently May-October (at least in the Greater Cleveland area) is “kitten season,” and the shelter was going to really need volunteers to help with the cats during that time.
Once a day (every other Friday), time (evenings), and type of animal (cats) was assigned, we set up a time for me to come into the shelter for training. This training was no joke – it took a little over two hours. I was shown around the shelter in its entirety and taken through every step of caring for the cats. Since my training, I have been to the shelter twice to help take care of the cats (like Peppermint, featured in the photo below!).
Here’s what happens during a typical afternoon shift at the shelter where I volunteer, inside the main cat room*:
- Shift leader assigns each volunteer (including herself) a section of cages
- Each cat is fed dry food. Most cats eat the same kind, but some are on weight management or senior diet, which is indicated by notes on their cages. Kittens also have special food.
- Each litter box is cleaned and refreshed.
- Each cat has a little clipboard with two sheets of paper. The first has their their name, approximate DOB, arrival date, medical information about things like spay/neuter, worms, etc., and any other information like if the cat is shy or anything like that. The second is a sheet changed weekly. For each day of the week is an AM and PM box. Whatever volunteer takes care of the cat for a given shift is responsible for filling out that shift’s box. In that box, volunteers indicate if the cat is eating or not, urinating or not (and if so, to what degree), and passing stools or not (and if so, to what degree). This information is used to catch problems and monitor conditions.
- If cats need medicine, the shift leader takes care of it or assigns an experienced volunteer.
- If a litter scoop is used on one cat’s box, it cannot be used on another. Once it is used, it needs to be put with the “dirty” scoops to be sanitized.
- After every cat has been fed dry food, had their litter box changed, and clipboard filled out, they receive a dish of wet food as a treat. The shift leader scoops it onto plates and the rest of the volunteers pass it out.
- Once all the cats are done with their wet treats, a couple that get along well will be let out of their cages to roam. These may be cats that have been marked as “needing exercise” for health reasons or just cats that enjoy walking around and playing. The cats will be rotated in groups for coming out to play.
- The volunteers collect the wet food plates when the cats are done. The dishes have to be washed, dried, and put away.
- Once all the supplies have been cleaned and put away, the volunteers spend the rest of the time visiting the cats. Some cats don’t want to visit, because they’re shy or because they just want to sleep. Others want to cuddle up in your lap or sit and purr while you pet them. They all appreciate company and love.
- Around the time the volunteers are able to just socialize with the cats is the time the shelter is open to the public. Friday nights are usually pretty popular for adoptions, and will especially be so when more kittens start arriving.
I am greatly enjoying my experience so far. I obviously knew the shelter took a lot of effort to run, but I never realized exactly how precise the procedures were and how much time it could take to do them all correctly – and doing them correctly is essential for the health and happiness of these cats. I really like being able to help animals in need, and I love cuddling with cute cats like Bethany pictured up above! A lot of the cats at the shelter have been there for longer than you think. The shelter I am at is a no-kill shelter, and there are quite a few cats that have been at the shelter for over a year now.
And here is where my shameless plea comes in: if you are thinking of adopting a cat, please consider adopting a CAT, not a kitten.** So many people want kittens, but older cats have just as much capacity to love and be loved – maybe even more so in the case of ones that have never had a real home. There are several cats at the shelter who are relatively young (2-6 years old) but have not been adopted. They are friendly, cuddly, sweet cats, and they haven’t been adopted simply because they aren’t kittens and kittens are more appealing. It breaks my heart. As much as I wanted to work with dogs, I am grateful I am working with these cats and giving them the attention they deserve. (And if I could take them home with me, I would! However my house already has two dogs and three 14 year old cats. While the dogs wouldn’t mind, I’m pretty sure the three cats would kill me. As would my mom.) So please, consider young adult cats or adult cats. They’ll already have been spayed or neutered, have their shots, are housebroken, etc., and they need just as much love. And if you already have experience with cats, you should consider seniors. I assure you they would much rather spend their golden years in a loving home than in a shelter, no matter how wonderful the care and visits they receive there. When I imagine a cuddly and beautiful senior cat like my cat Shadow, pictured below, in a shelter instead of sunning on the porch, it breaks my heart.
If you love animals but can’t commit (for whatever reason) to adopting a cat or dog at this time, consider volunteering at your local shelter or welfare/rescue society.*** There’s many reasons why volunteering is awesome, but providing a homeless animal with some much-needed love is definitely a great one.
Have you ever volunteered at an animal shelter before? What was your experience like? Would you ever consider adopting an adult or senior pet?
*There are also quarantine and step-down rooms where animals are cared for, but I do not volunteer in those rooms at this time. **Or consider a DOG instead of a puppy! Puppies may possibly be even more work than kittens! ***If you love animals but are allergic to dogs and cats, there are plenty of ways you can help them without being hands on! ****Last three photos taken with iPhone and filtered through Instagram.