I believe that nothing brings out the good in people like a crisis. I’ve certainly seen it at the shelter! Through both fires the amount of donations and supplies we received was literally overwhelming. As were the calls from people offering to volunteer to help in the shelter. This outpouring of support and assistance is very exciting (if only we could harness this energy year-round!) and absolutely appreciated but can also be difficult to manage.
I totally understand the desire to be busy and feel like you are “doing something,” rather than sitting at home worrying during a crisis. And lots of people love animals and maybe have experience (with their own pets) so they think “how hard can it be to scoop poop or walk a shelter dog?” Or even wash dishes or fold laundry? I know I would feel that way too. But there’s the other side of it.
We aren’t just scooping poop – we’re cleaning and disinfecting kennels and cages, and you wouldn’t know our protocol or where the supplies are kept. Most animals are a little shell-shocked when they first come into a shelter and it can take a couple days for them to acclimate. In order to clean properly they need to be moved. There are risks involved in handling animals at the best of times, but when things are chaotic, the risks go up. And the last thing most of them really want is a stranger trying to pet or groom them! There are, again, procedures and protocols regarding which animals can be handled and where they can go. Someone would need to show you where the leashes and cleaning supplies and treats are kept and how we track which animals have been out. It’s more complicated than you think! And with staff super busy taking in new animals and figuring out where to put everyone, this isn’t the time to do a training for new volunteers. Don’t get me wrong – we do want you! Just not this week.
Think about this way too; what if your animal had to be boarded at the shelter while you went to stay at a shelter or with a friend that couldn’t accommodate him. Wouldn’t you want to know that the person handling your animal had been vetted and trained in some way? That we weren’t handing over your dog to a literal stranger and hoping that they knew what they were doing and were treating your dog gently and appropriately? Of course, you would!
One thing that impressed me about the Paradise Fire was that there was a separate organization that handled the volunteers. They had a team of already trained volunteers that do drills train all year-round, so they are ready for emergencies. Anyone calling to see if they could help were routed through this group, who were also volunteers, and had the time to talk to people to assess what skills they had and could either connect them to the right place or gently turn them away – with the encouragement to join their team when the crises was over so they could help next time. We could sure use that! How awesome would it be to have a team of fully vetted and trained volunteers to call upon in case of an emergency? And a group able to deal with all the questions asking how they can help. Especially since staff at each shelter is too busy to field all these well-intentioned calls.
Thank you to everyone who called – I hope you understand why we couldn’t take you on at that time. If you truly want to help, why not become a volunteer and put your efforts to good use all year long? You don’t have to wait for a crisis to hit to get involved and that way when a disaster does happen you are already on our team! We would certainly love to have you! Apply on-line through a portal on our website. We want to take you up on your offer to help and hope you’ll join our wonderful team of volunteers.
“Get Them Back Home” Campaign – Every lost pet should have a way to get back home. FREE pet ID tag and a back-up microchip are available to all residents of Rohnert Park and Cotati. No appointment necessary, just come by the shelter during our regular open hours: Wed. 1-6:30; Thurs.-Fri.-Sat. 1-5:30; Sun. 1-4:30.
Fix-it Clinics – Free spay and neuters for cats; and $60 dog surgeries (up to 80 lbs.) for low-income Rohnert Park and Cotati residents. Call 588-3531 for an appointment.
Mickey Zeldes is the supervisor at the Rohnert Park Animal Shelter. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.