Do Animal Shelters Need Volunteers?

Connecticut’s animal shelters need your help.  Volunteer and save a life.  According to 2003 data from the U.S. Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics, only 1.7% of individuals choose animal welfare or environmental organizations for which to volunteer, as compared with 34.6% for religious organizations and 27.4% for educational or youth service groups.

Volunteers enable animal shelters, which often have no paid staff, to do more in the community.  This increases donor support and demand for services, which in turn can lead to the shelter’s ability to create paid positions.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics found that 35-44-year-olds were the most likely to volunteer (34.7%), followed by 45-54-year-olds (32.7%).  They noted that the most common way volunteers become involved is to be asked by that organization.  Therefore, my advice to the state’s animal shelters is to ask for help, which greatly increases the chance to enlist volunteers, rather than waiting for them to approach the shelter.

Aesop said, “No act of kindness, no matter how small, is ever wasted”.  The wisdom of this statement is recognized by many. According to 2001 data provided by Independent Sector, two-thirds of adults started volunteering at a young age and it has been found that adults who volunteer in their youth are twice as likely to volunteer compared to those who did not volunteer when young.  Across every income and age group, those who volunteered as a youth, give and volunteer more than those who did not.  Youth who volunteered and had parents who also did were found to be the most generous adults in giving of their time. 

Independent Sector found that teen volunteers get involved most often through schools and/or religious institutions.  Teenagers who are asked are almost four times more likely to volunteer than those who are not asked.  Consequently, schools and faith-based groups are the two best places to recruit teen volunteers.

According to the Urban Institute (2004), only one in eight charities have a paid volunteer manager who devotes 100% of his or her time to volunteer management.  With animal shelters, is it safe to say that it is a lower percentage than that?  As Volunteers Coordinator for Protectors of Animals, I speak to hundreds of people yearly who are interested in volunteering.  People are often surprised to learn that the animal shelter is operated entirely by volunteers, as is true for most of Connecticut’s animal shelters.  At Protectors of Animals, team leaders are in charge of service areas, such as a cat or dog placement, medication, clean & feed, socialization, or dog walking, and these team leaders train and supervise the volunteers on their teams.  This protocol has proven to be very successful for the shelter.

A 2002 study by Lindberg and Dooley found that volunteers were motivated by an organization’s mission or the population helped by an organization.  Volunteers wanted to give back to the community and some had been previously touched by the organization.  For example, many of Protectors of Animals’ volunteers previously adopted a cat or dog from the shelter.  Just as importantly, they felt that they were needed and made a difference.  From personal experience, I have found all these reasons to be applicable. 

As the tennis champion, Arthur Ashe, recognized, “From what we get, we can make a living; what we give, however, makes a life.”  Please consider offering your time and talents to an animal shelter.  Volunteer and save a life.  At some animal shelter, there are tails wagging to meet you.

For the animals,
Gregory M. Simpson

Gregory Simpson’s animal welfare involvement spans over 25 years, has provided leadership for several Connecticut organizations, as well as having served as state advisor to the national Friends of Animals.  Currently a Board member of Protectors of Animals, Inc., he was chosen by CAT FANCY magazine as one of the ultimate cat lovers in the U.S.  He is also a member of the Cat Writers’ Association.

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