Monday, March 8, 2010

The Volunteer Arms Race of Dedication

In the 10 years I’ve been doing animal rescue work, I’ve found that disputes and divergences are rampant among the rescue community.  Animal rescue work is a highly emotional enterprise, and it attracts tireless, but strongly opinionated people.  It’s extremely challenging to get people to sign on to a single course of action—which is why groups tend to splinter and re-splinter as people choose to pursue their own view of what needs to be done.

One core problem we have as volunteers is that we are not affiliated with a 501(c)(3) group.  We work as a loose network, with only minimal oversight provided by the County.  Registered 501(c)(3) groups do work with the Shelter, but we don’t have a dedicated (privatized) group that runs the Shelter. The County runs the Shelter.  The head honcho is a Constable, which gives the entire endeavor a police-law enforcement sort of mentality.

Our volunteers end up in an arms race of dedication—with the pressure to do more and more.  This weekend, I was at two events, and was gone from my own dogs from 8:30 a.m. to 9:20 p.m., except for a brief stop to feed and run my own animals.  

At the second event, a large off-site event, I did not stay to the bitter end with the Off-Site Coordinator, who still had to oversee the return of about 20 animals to the Shelter, plus finish paperwork.  Not mention she had the two or three loads of stinky blankets shoved into her van.  My guess is that this volunteer didn’t get home, whereupon she still had to tend to her own foster dogs, wash the dirty blankets, and take care of her own needs.  I wouldn’t be surprised to find out she collapsed into bed about 1:00 a.m.

When new people begin doing off-sites, they plunge in full force—one twenty-something man and his girlfriend hauled 12 large dogs to a Wine Festival and adopted 7, with a “promise” from someone to come on Sunday for one of the 4 remaining dogs.  The couple expressed amazement that everyone couldn’t have this sort of “success”—after all, the man told me, they took photos of each dog and made up professional flyers for each animal, plus they bathed all their dogs before the event. 

I felt like such a slacker—I don’t bathe my Shelter dogs and only make up flyers for my individual fosters.  I did keep my mouth shut, though, and didn’t comment on how many dogs might be returned from that event once the festival-attendees lose the glow from their wine-tasting.

Between the volunteers who bathe and haul, the ones who spend hundreds of dollars out their own pockets to provide outside veterinarian care for the Shelter dogs, the ones who hijack their family’s bathtubs and fill them with newborn puppies, and the ones who create “kitten hotels” in their spare bedrooms, we aren’t lacking for dedication.  But sometimes I wonder if our volunteer work is actually hurting more than it helps.

Certainly the animals benefit, but one fact remains:  no matter how much we do as volunteers, the dogs and cats, puppies and kittens keep coming in to the Shelter.  Our local Craigslist brims with animals up for sale or re-homing.  Backyard breeders park their pickups on busy roadsides and offer purebred puppies for sale.  We have a “Puppy Store” in the area and another pet store that sells puppies and kittens in the local shopping mall.  Our newspapers are chock full of classified ads peddling animals.

Meanwhile, I’ll keep plugging along—I may not bathe the big dogs I haul to Off-Site Events, and I don’t take home litters of puppies to nurse along,  but I’m in this for the long haul.  Pacing myself is the key.


  1. Excellent post - you are right, we must all work together for the good of the animals, and pace ourselves to stay in it for the long haul. There are so many needs - a need for education and low-cost spay/neuter to solve the problem at its source - a need for education to encourage people to adopt instead of buying poorly bred puppy mill dogs - a need to educate people on how to train their pets in order to prevent so many owner turnins and Craigs Lists posts. This in addition to the need for volunteers to foster, and transport, and save the existing homeless animals. And everyone doesn't always "get it" when they only see their small part of it, but we need to focus on helping where our strengths lie, and encouraging others to help in whatever capacity they are willing. And if we can all build each other up instead of judging each other, the animals will win. So good job on keeping your mouth shut when someone else who thought this was easy came along - unfortunately they'll learn soon enough the truth. And in the meantime, you'll keep doing your part to make a difference.

  2. I don't think anyone can possibly have the slightest clue to all the working aspects of any volunteer organization until they have been around for a couple of years. Oops! I should have said "IF" they can hang tough to participate for at least a couple of years. So many people come and go because the reality of the the big picture is overwhelming. The key, is as you said, focusing on what you can do, well, AND remembering to take GOOD care of yourself.

  3. I often have to remind myself that I am changing my corner. I have made a difference to those fosters I brought in; to the ones I pull out of the pound that didn't get euthanized.

    I try to make the time to offer to be a volunteer driver to the low-cost spay/neuter facility. I truly believe the spay/neuter is the solution ... there will always be dumbasses, but for those who just don't know, understand or have the money ... they can be helped.

  4. ps - congrats on keeping your mouth shut. I don't know if I would have :)

  5. As we've only just hit our 6 month mark in fostering - I was slow and steady in the beginning but am learning more and more each day. I can see why people get so upset about things. It's a sad world out there - one that I refuse to believe is the end. We'll just focus on those we have and what we are able to do - and that's FANTASTIC! You do a great job. Yes, there will ALWAYS be another begging for our care, but if we "splinter" ourselves - how much good are we really doing! Keep up the good and healthy pace!

  6. Thanks for all the comments! I haven't been able to foster since my own dog got sick. I'm looking forward to bringing home another foster ASAP!


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