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Animal Care Support/Volunteer Integration

  • 1.  Animal Care Support/Volunteer Integration

    This message was posted by a user wishing to remain anonymous
    Posted 06-20-2023 12:20 PM
    This message was posted by a user wishing to remain anonymous

    Hello all!

    I am working with my organization's Director of Animal Welfare and Animal Care Manager to restructure our current dog walking support roles to introduce some new volunteer roles to help support our animal care team. This is a big change and we are running into some road bumps as we work with our current volunteers so I wanted to get some insight and information as to what other shelters currently do with some of their practices to help support these upcoming transitions.

    Some historical context:

    Our dog walkers are usually the first people on-site, opening the building and taking dogs out for their morning walks. This shift has been from 7-9, with our Animal Care staff then coming in at 9 and starting their day. Our volunteers have been limited in what they could do to support the cleaning and care of our animals, so they were unable to clean/disinfect kennels, pass out or pick up any food, etc. They would walk the dog, spot clean the kennel, and then Animal Care staff would come in and repeat most of the work they did in their cleaning routines. We then feed most of our dogs on a once/day feeding schedule and they have access to their food bowls at all times, with bowls being changed out around noon each day with the next day's diet. By the time our PM volunteer walking shift started, Animal Care was in other areas of the shelter, again leaving volunteers limited in their ability to support our animals beyond a walk and spot cleaning. 

    I have been with my current shelter for over a year, and have worked with previous staff to try and bring our dog walking volunteers and animal care together to provide some more support for both groups of people. I was usually met with strong opposition from previous staff members, for reasons that were not related to what we are currently facing. With our new Director of Animal Welfare and Animal Care Manager, we have worked to develop a new plan that we felt positive was going to be a smooth transition. Surprise, it isn't. 

    We proposed some new roles and duties, more specifically for our morning teams, and additionally gave all of our current volunteers the opportunity to remain grandfathered into our current 2-hour dog walking shift. We developed a new four-hour canine care support role, which would be more focused on the animal care support. This is a role more specifically meant for new volunteers that are waiting for their animal training classes but want to begin volunteering, or for those who are interested in getting more animal care experience. Our Animal Care staff schedule was adjusted to start at the same time as dog walking so that these groups can work together and be more efficient with reducing the duplication of tasks and duties. Care support volunteers would not be taking dogs out, but would work with the dog walkers to clean kennels for dogs out on their walks. We also extended our walking hours to match the time of the care support role for volunteers who want to walk for more than the 2 hours. 

    With these changes, we are also switching to a 2x/day feeding schedule. For the morning shift, the Care Support volunteers will prep and deliver diet while housebroken dogs are taken out on a quick potty walk. After 30 minutes, food bowls will be collected and dogs will then be taken out for walks, enrichment, training sessions, etc. while kennel cleaning occurs. For the PM shift, dogs will be walked, with housebroken dogs prioritized for last in the shift, then the PM diet will be prepped and distributed, with bowls collected and spot cleaning occurring 30 minutes later. 

    The response that was received by our volunteers when presented with an opportunity to provide feedback was pretty significant, with a list of concerns being presented to us. Many of the concerns displayed that the volunteer perception of the changes is not matching the staff perception and we need to improve on our communication of these changes. To help us facilitate productive and positive conversations, I wanted to see if any other shelters have any practices similar to this and if you have any insight as to what is successful, what could stand to be improved, how you encourage successful relationships between animal care staff and volunteers. We anticipated that there would be some clash between these two groups, but the feedback we have received so far has been more extreme than we anticipated for changes that we see so much benefit too. 

    Thanks in advance for your help and guidance!