We frequently get enquiries from members of the public asking us if there is a certain commitment level expected of volunteers at the shelter or whether there is a timetable that volunteers have to adhere to. The answer to that is no, at least that's not how we work here at Gentle Paws. We're too small an outfit to require a full-scale volunteering program. Besides, doesn't the term "volunteering" say it all? We like to believe that volunteering isn't about enforcement. Volunteering has to come from the heart. If we mandated the frequency of volunteering, the things that volunteers can or cannot do, we will very likely take the joy out of volunteering.
That is why at Gentle Paws, we give a very wide berth to volunteers. When volunteers come down for the very first time, they will inevitably feel foreign to the shelter and the way things are being done. But with time, they will come to realise that at the shelter, we do very much the same things all the time. Dogs thrive on routine. They like to be able to expect what is going to happen. When they see us enter the shelter, they get into a barking frenzy because they know that us humans would immediately set out cleaning their compounds and proceed to feed them when the cleaning is done. During weekends, they know that they can very likely expect a walk after their meal. Occasionally, they know that they have to be put through the agony of bathing.
We show volunteers the ropes the first time they come down to the shelter. There are essential things they have to know such as the feeding process, the cleaning process, where the leashes, shampoo and towels are kept, how they have to enter each compound very quickly to prevent the overexcited dogs from running out, the usual route we take to walk the dogs, which dog isn't able to get along with which other dog etc. But after the preliminary briefing, we more or less leave volunteers to themselves.
Sometimes, volunteers feel lost and helpless about what they can do at the shelter. So let us tell you now... please don't feel that way! We are happy to have you at the shelter. You need to stick it out and find your place at the shelter. This entails being proactive. Go ahead and do what your instincts tell you to. If you see that the compound is a mess, with a combination of dog pee, poo and leftover food strewn all over the place, feel free to take a hose to wash the compound, just like you see us regulars doing. If you think that the dogs are now ready for a walk, please don't think twice about grabbing a collar and leash from the store and taking a dog or two out for a walk. If you see the dishes piled up on the ground and you have nothing at hand to do, you can grab a sponge and some dishwashing liquid and help wash the 30-odd plates. If you think you're up to giving them a bath, check with us the last time they had a shower. If all is clear, then go ahead, grab a towel and a bottle of shampoo and give them a good hose down.
We've had the good fortune of having quite a few volunteers come down to help out since our opening. It's always pleasant to see new faces each week and heartwarming to know that people do bother. But what's slightly more difficult is actually retaining the volunteers, seeing green horns become seasoned regulars at Gentle Paws. We need more regulars because there are always things to do that involves the shelter. If it isn't the day-to-day maintenance of the shelter and furkids, then it is events like furry days, adoption drives and flea markets that we are busy with. But volunteering can get tiring. Volunteers must be careful to manage their time well enough so that they don't suffer from a premature case of burn out.
But at the end of the day, you will find that volunteering is ultimately enriching. It's not just the case for dogs or animals, but for volunteer work in any segment of society. Volunteering at the dog shelter in particular doesn't let you just make dog friends. You slowly make human ones as well. Us regulars usually get together after a long tiring weekend at the shelter for dinner. As I sit across my fellow volunteers, I am sometimes filled with a sense of wonder at how a whole table of different people leading such diverse lives can so easily make the transition from strangers to friends.
As I soon found out, volunteering cuts across all boundaries - age, race, experience - and binds you together. In particular, at Gentle Paws, we are driven by the common goal of creating a better life for our furkids and making a greater contribution to animal rescue in the distant future. We just want to let you know that our table always remains open to any newcomer who wishes to join us in our journey. Come down, take a look at the shelter, get to know the dogs and the humans. See if you have it in you to deal with the poop and pee and not forgetting lots of doggie love. Then decide for yourself if volunteering at Gentle Paws is your cup of tea.
Our table has room for more people. And besides, we can always get a bigger one.
If you're interested in volunteering, do drop a note at firstname.lastname@example.org. Please do note however that we're only open to new volunteers on weekends from 1-4pm.