I took a few weeks off to regroup following some major changes in my personal circumstances. And yesterday, I went back to my volunteer work at the Montgomery County Animal Shelter.
Is it weird that I was really happy to be there?
It was hotter than hell’s hinges outside, not a cloud in the sky, no breeze to speak of. But no matter the weather, the dogs still need to be walked and photographed. And there is nothing happier than a shelter dog escaping confinement, especially to the dog park with kiddie pools and toys.
I was glad to see half a dozen volunteers walking dogs and a few more working in the cat rooms. With frequent breaks, I managed to get in three hours. If you figure 15 minutes for each pair of dogs I took out, you can see the problem. There are over 400 dogs in MCAS at any given time. Today, right now, there are 454.
Most people think that the staff walk the dogs. They don’t. They can’t. It takes all their time to feed, medicate, clean kennels, help the public look for missing animals or pets to adopt, and do the mountains of associated paperwork. For those dogs to get outside, it takes volunteers.
Currently, we try to get every dog outside in the sunlight and open air for 15 minutes every week. That’s right. Out of a seven day week, it’s everything we can do to get each dog 15 minutes of freedom.
The more each dog gets outside, the healthier that dog will stay, both physically and psychologically. Imagine how hard it is on a dog – especially a housetrained dog – to spend 24 hours a day in a kennel, surrounded by dozens of other dogs. These dogs are under constant stress from the confinement, the noise, the exposure to other animals’ germs, and the lack of sunlight. They need exercise to release that stress. They need access to fresh air and grass to help them stay cleaner and healthier.
For that to happen, we need volunteers. We’ll take you any day we can get you, but we especially need more volunteers during the week. If you can give just two hours a week to walk dogs, you will be making a tremendous difference to those animals. The healthier and happier they are, the more readily adoptable they are.
What does it take to be a volunteer?
You need to be over 18. You need to sign a volunteer liability release. And you need to show up willing to work. That’s about it.
Practical recommendations: Wear close-toed shoes. Wear old clothes you don’t mind getting really dirty. I bring my own leashes; it saves time, they are easier on my hands. I also wear a pair of gardening gloves to protect my hands when I’m taking big dogs to and from the dog park. They are so excited to get out that they often pull surprisingly hard; I have actually had my hands rope burned a couple of times, which is why I started wearing gloves.
When you get home from the shelter, do not handle your own dogs or sit on your furniture until you have thrown your clothes in the washer and showered. It’s a basic safety protocol to keep from transmitting any germs or bacteria from the shelter animals to your own pets. I have followed this simple protocol for years and never had a problem.
Come volunteer. There are 454 dogs (and 352 cats) who will thank you.
The Montgomery County Animal Shelter is located on 242, just east of 45. Go over the bridge, and then u-turn back to the shelter, which is on the north side of 242. The shelter is open 7 days a week.