Being an Animal Shelter Volunteer

Have you ever thought about volunteering with an animal rescue group or a local shelter? It is very rewarding work, especially when you see an animal get a wonderful home. However, there can be drawbacks to volunteering that you may or may not encounter. Let me tell you about my experiences working as an animal shelter volunteer.

animal shelter volunteer

Rascal was a municipal shelter dog who had been neglected. We adopted him out to a very loving family. Image credit: G Gamble

Being an Animal Shelter Volunteer

I started being an animal shelter volunteer with a local rescue group in 2005. First I had to complete an application and confirm my tetanus vaccine was up to date.  The tetanus vaccine is necessary in case you get bitten or scratched. They started me out by having me help with the “Adopt a Pet” events at the local Pet Smart store. We’d take municipal shelter dogs out on Saturdays and Sundays to try to find them homes by showing them to store customers. It was always wonderful when we’d adopt a shelter dog out to a loving family, especially if that dog had been neglected or picked up as a stray.


While I was doing “Adopt a Pet” with the rescue group I saw many things at the municipal shelter that tore at my heart. Some of the cage cards on the dog runs said “Owner surrender, new baby, no time for dog.” I didn’t know these people but I hated them. How can you give up your dog? These poor dogs didn’t understand why they were there and some were really frightened.

One Sunday we found a dog at the municipal shelter lying in a pool of blood in its kennel. It had the parvo virus. The shelter was closed and there were no workers there. The president of the rescue group I was volunteering with contacted the shelter manager and told her about the dog. We couldn’t do anything to help it. It had to be euthanized. I will never forget that as long as I live.

The more I thought about the shelter dogs the more emotional I became. I enjoyed doing the “Adopt a Pet” events but when I realized that many of the dogs we took back to the shelter on Sunday night were going to be euthanized the next morning, I fell apart. The drive home from the municipal shelter was always difficult. I usually cried most of the way home. Luckily I was asked to help clean the rescue’s facility so I jumped at the chance to do something else.

animal shelter volunteer

One of the perks of being an animal shelter volunteer is that you can take time to play with the puppies. Image credit: G Gamble


Cleaning the rescue facility was fun. I didn’t mind the poop and pee because I usually came home smelling of bleach. It was easy to become attached to the dogs and cats at the facility. I knew these animals weren’t going to be euthanized. It was always fun to interact with the animals and get to know their personalities. The worse part of working at the rescue facility was trying to give the sick cats their medicine. Have you ever tried to give a cat a pill? It’s not a fun experience. Luckily most of the antibiotics we gave them were through droppers. It was liquid Clavamox. We cared for the cats that were sheltered at Pet Smart in their adoption center. If one became sick we took it to our facility for a week and put it in the special room for sick cats. Once a cat was well enough for adoption, we took it back to Pet Smart.

animal shelter volunteer

A cute Labrador mix puppy at the rescue facility sticks out its tongue at me. I loved the Lab mix puppies! Image credit: G Gamble


Once the rescue group found out that I was a hard worker and not a flake I was offered more things to do. I became more involved in the group’s activities: helping with fundraisers, helping with home visits, and finalizing adoptions and I enjoyed it.  I started to write articles for the local paper and then write the newsletters each quarter. Then I became treasurer of the group and also ended up doing the tax returns. So that was nine things I was doing to help the rescue group. I enjoyed doing the work but was becoming overwhelmed. My Mom asked me once “Isn’t there anyone else down there that can help?” My problem was that I couldn’t say no when asked to do something and then I would end up volunteering to do more.

animal shelter volunteer

Flyball was my favorite exhibition at the pet expo. The dogs would run relays down tracks to retrieve balls and bring them back. It was awesome to watch. Image credit: G Gamble.


We started doing the pet expo and I was in charge of that. That was an entire weekend each year which was exhausting but rewarding. We managed to place some of our puppies in good homes due to people we met at the expo. Pet expos are fun to go to because they have all kinds of exhibitions like: agility, dock-dogs, fly-ball, and stage shows. You can also see all kinds of pets that include everything from snakes to hedgehogs. It was hard work but I loved it. We stopped doing it when another company took over running the expo. The new company wanted $500 for a 10 x 10 feet space. The old company gave us a 10 x 20 feet spot and only charged us for electricity which was under $100.


The drama was probably the hardest thing to deal with. There was one lady that would take on projects, get other people to do all the work, then take credit for it.  There were a few that didn’t like each other for one reason or another and there would be fights over silly little things. Then there were fights about adoption procedures and restrictions. Eventually many of the volunteers left which was unfortunate because it didn’t benefit the rescue group.


Over time, I slowly gave up one responsibility after another. I had major surgery in 2010 so I gave up the position of treasurer. This was a good move for me as my mother’s health was declining and I finally got to spend quality time with her before she passed in 2015. Now I help with a few fundraisers and write weekly articles promoting the rescue’s animals in the local paper. I learned a lot from that experience. I found that I can do more than I thought I was capable of but I also found out that I need to learn to say “no.”

animal shelter volunteer

My elderly mother was home taking care of four big dogs. I needed to spend more time at home helping her. Image credit: G Gamble


I thought I’d give you a few tips in case you’re thinking of volunteering with a rescue group or local shelter:

Don’t criticize anything.

Do what you are told to do.

Don’t always say “yes” to requests for you to do new things. Think about it first.

Don’t get into little gossip groups. This can create havoc.

Don’t expect praise or thanks for what you do.

When it’s necessary, do remind them that you are a volunteer and not an employee.

If you volunteer with a rescue group or shelter you might see things that really concern you regarding the health and welfare of the animals. If you do, don’t hesitate to call the state. Most animal health offices are in the state’s department of agriculture.

animal shelter volunteer

Participating in the local parades was always fun. Here I’m walking my favorite lab mix, Petunia. Image credit: ABF


Overall my experience with the rescue group has been rewarding. I loved the animals and enjoyed seeing them get good forever homes. Being an animal shelter volunteer is extremely gratifying.  Homeless animals need love and to be able to spend time with humans while they are waiting for their forever families. The key is to remember that it’s about the animals and not the volunteers.


  1. We lost our dog to cancer over the summer and despite adopting a new puppy, I still feel I need something more. I think volunteering at a shelter would be nice. Thanks for the idea!

  2. I really thank you for the advice on volunteering. I plan to volunteer at our local dog shelter so this is super helpful! I have a problem saying no so I needed to hear not to say yes to everything! It’s especially hard when it comes to animals for me!

    • You’re welcome. I didn’t want to slam the rescue I volunteer for but I think the problems I saw are everywhere. I know what you mean about being a pushover for animals. When I started volunteering we only had two dogs. One year later we had five! lol

  3. I think that the people who volunteer at animal shelters are amazing! I would want to take ALL of the animals home so I’m better off just sticking to donating food and toys, LOL!

  4. I have been helping out at our local animal shelter for years. I love the time I spend there. It is a very rewarding way to spend the day.

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