Volunteer Etiquette

Volunteering for a cause close to your heart is an incredibly rewarding experience.  Whether it’s a financial donation or a few hours spent working in a shelter, volunteering is good for the soul.  No matter how you are able to help, know that it makes a difference in the lives of the animals. Although volunteers are not paid, they must still respect the rules of the organization they work in. Each facility will have its own requirements and procedures, but there are some common etiquettes that are appreciated anywhere you go.

Be Professional

Even though you’re working with animals, dressing in raggedy, dirty clothes isn’t acceptable.  Be courteous and respectful of other staff and volunteers. Don’t use profanity or spend time complaining.  Remember that you are representing the organization you’re volunteering for.  They are dependent on donations and grants and you never know who may be watching.  Working relationships between shelters and other groups can be damaged by an unthinking or careless volunteer.

Respect the Animals

A shelter environment can be stressful for many animals.  Be aware of how your actions affect them.  Don’t make sudden movements, yell, or crowd any animal.  You want to make their lives better, not add to their fear.

No Smoking

If you must smoke, do so only in a designated area.  If there is no marked smoking area, ask the staff.  Dispose of your cigarettes in an appropriate receptacle after making sure they are extinguished.  Never smoke around the animals.  This includes while walking them outside or if transporting them in a vehicle.  Secondhand smoke can cause or exacerbate health problems in animals much like humans.  For some animals, such as birds and exotics, smoke is toxic.  If possible, wait until you’re at home.


Follow the Rules

A great deal of time, money and effort goes into establishing an animal rescue facility or organization.  There are licensing and permitting criteria, insurance considerations, and legal issues.  The owner or Board of Directors sets policies to ensure compliance with all of these. It is their job to protect the facility and organization so that it can help animals not only today but for many years to come.  The rules are in place for the safety of the animals and humans and to allow for the shelter to continue to operate into the future.  As a volunteer, you will not be privy to all aspects of shelter management.  You will be given the rules and be expected to follow them whether you agree or not.  Remember, rescue work is not about you, it’s about the animals.  You must do what’s best for them.  Violating a shelter or organization’s rules can jeopardize its ability to operate.  Volunteers must trust in the management and respect its policies.  The rules truly do exist for a reason.


Safety First

Working around animals comes with the risk of injury.  As previously noted, shelter life can be stressful and scared animals can be unpredictable.  You must be aware of how your actions can affect an animal.  Don’t approach any animal that is exhibiting fearful or aggressive body language.  If you are unsure or uncomfortable, talk to your supervisor.  Don’t handle any animal without permission.  It’s a mistake to think that you can handle any animal because you have pets that love you.  You cannot compare a shelter animal to your own pet.  Always be cautious around the animals.  Be honest in your knowledge and experience.  Don’t exaggerate your animal handling skills.  If you put yourself into a bad situation and get bitten, the animal may be labeled dangerous and be euthanized.  The best way to avoid injury is to work within your skill range and understand your job duties.

Zoonotic diseases must also be considered.  These are illnesses that can be transmitted between human and animal.  Wash your hands frequently.  Use caution when cleaning kennels or carriers to not get splashed in the face.  If you are bitten or scratched, clean the wound and report it to your supervisor.  Some animals have bacteria in their saliva and infection is likely.  Again, being cautious can prevent the problem entirely.   


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