My Decision to Volunteer at a Shelter

I have been fostering cats and kittens for a local organization called Cat Town for the last year. They focus on taking the most shy, unsocialized and semi-feral cats from the shelter, placing them in foster homes to get them ready for adoption and actually finding adopters. They are affiliated with a local municipal animal shelter.

I love fostering but recently adopted my last foster cat, so I am unable to foster more right now (I have another cat and my apartment is not that big!). I have thought for years about volunteering at a real shelter and have really, really wanted to. But when it came down to it, I would get scared and overly emotional. I went to a volunteer orientation at a shelter in Illinois when I still lived there. I felt sick to my stomach and was completely turned off to the idea after that. The shelter was loud, cramped and smelled really bad. The animals looked so miserable in their tiny cages. I knew shelter life was rough on animals, but I just didn’t want to be forced to see it up close. For someone who loves animals as much as I do, it is just so hard to see that and not feel completely helpless, guilty and sad….and completely scared for those animals. Even though I really wanted to help, I couldn’t bring myself to show up to that depressing place knowing that the animals were stuck there. I really just wanted to take them all home.

At a recent Cat Town meeting, I met another foster/animal lover who said the same thing about volunteering. She admitted she couldn’t bring herself to do it because she’d want to rescue every animal. I felt relieved that I wasn’t the only one who felt this way. But after I got home, I realized how ironic it is that a lot of the people that care most about animals have the hardest time volunteering at shelters. We are the ones these shelters need most.

I realized how stupid I was being and immediately thought of the animals over the years I could’ve helped but didn’t because I wanted to be able to save them all. How ridiculous. Even if I could only help one animal feel good for 10 minutes, I should’ve done that rather than nothing at all. I wish I could save every animal from shelter life and place them in a loving, lifelong home. I can’t, but I want to do my part. I can help out as much as I have the capacity to help, even if it’s only a small amount of time and I only get to interact with a small number of animals. Anything is better than nothing. I can spend some time with animals who might otherwise be left alone…scared, sad and confused. I can help socialize a cat who might have otherwise been assumed to be feral and inevitably euthanized. I can contribute my time and give as many animals as possible some love and attention instead of relying on other wonderful volunteers to do all the work.

I finally made the decision to volunteer at a local animal shelter. Last night, I went to my first orientation. To my shock and relief, the shelter was really nice and so were the people. It was clean, well-lit, organized and didn’t smell awful. The animals actually didn’t seem that miserable. There were an abundance of volunteers interacting with the cats and taking dogs outside to play. I felt such relief and wondered why I didn’t come sooner. The woman running the orientation was as sweet as could be. We went on a tour and got to see all of the different areas of the shelter. We saw dogs, cats, bunnies, guinea pigs and even a rooster and some ducks. They were all so sweet and adorable. We got to meet the “resident” cat named Flips… a sweet orange kitty with severe neurological problems who became a permanent shelter resident. The employees and volunteers take care of him. He wanders the shelter and has his own cozy section of the office to sleep and eat. I felt really good about helping out at such a good place.

I will train with cats first and then I hope to cross-train with the rest of the animals too (dogs and bunnies!). Some people may think it’s silly to take this so seriously and be so hesitant for so long, but it really is a big decision for me. I hope anyone else with the same hesitations will reconsider.

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