Volunteering at animal shelters or not | For animal lovers

There are some things I am conflicted about. There are some things I want to do but don’t want to do. There are some things that rip my heart apart.

I have wanted to volunteer at our local animal shelter for a while. Something kept me from venturing over to sign up. After stockpiling towels and blankets from my last clean out, I needed to go.

It was hard to do. I procrastinated for two weeks finding flimsy excuses to reschedule the day. Finally yesterday I did it.


We have several animal rescues locally. Most are no-kill. One is a Cadillac version with cat rooms instead of cages, water therapy for dogs and spacious reception and meeting areas.

Several are run on a shoestring and are fairly barebones with most of the animals fostered in homes. All are run on donations. Some get trust money from estates. Some are all volunteer organizations and some have paid employees.

Then there is THE animal shelter. It is the “projects” version of shelters. This is the one that takes all animals. It is not a “no-kill” shelter but they do try to find homes for the animals.

The other rescues and shelters will not take animals when they are full which is most of the time.

I took my surplus linens to the shelter that takes in all animals. I had adopted Mollie from them. I don’t know what was different about yesterday but it was different. Maybe I just went there on a bad day.

There is a double set of doors with an air lock chamber in between so cold or hot air doesn’t come into the building. When I opened the first door I nearly passed out. There was an indescribable stench.

I am not a wuss. This wasn’t mild animal smell. I have smelled stinky without barfing. My uncle had a farm with lots of smelly animals. I am familiar with decomposition. I wasn’t prepared for this.

I held my breath and opened the second set of doors into the reception area. Yikes! More stench!

There were two professionally dressed, friendly women behind the counter taking care of visitors. They did not seem to notice the smell. I made my delivery. Taking a leap of courage because I wasn’t sure if I could volunteer to work in this odor, I asked about volunteer positions available.

I was stunned to find out that they did not need any volunteers at this time. No need for litter changers or food servers or cage washers or even kitten fostering. They could surely use someone to scrub the main area with industrial strength bleach!

I did visit the cat section. Fortunately, that area did not stink. They have two rooms for cats. One is an open room where cats are allowed to roam and there are towers to climb and toys. The other has the traditional cages, rows and rows of them. Most were populated by older cats who were sleeping. No place to move around. Nowhere to go.

I moved from cage to cage with the lump in my throat swelling in size. There were several gorgeous black cats which are harder to place in our area. There was also one precious cat, maybe 6 to 9 months old with only one eye. She was beautiful and perky, moving around in her cage and talking to anyone who stopped by. Did she have a chance to get adopted?

I left with a very heavy heart that stayed with me all day. I couldn’t get the smell out of my nose. I showered and changed clothes but it wasn’t in my clothes. It was in my head and mostly in my heart.

For the record, my cats will not tolerate stinky. If their litter box is dirty, they will make do with an area outside the box because they will not soil their paws.

After I recover, perhaps I will try another shelter.


34 thoughts on “Volunteering at animal shelters or not | For animal lovers

  1. I hate to say this, Kate, but your experience is better than most. We have volunteered and have friends who have tried to adopt wonderful dogs that turned out to have heartworm and had to be put down, or severe kennel cough that couldn’t be healed. When we volunteered, it was “day before death day,” when they were doing big pushes for certain animals because the next day was their last. It can be heartbreaking.
    Excellent post.


  2. Pingback: Another one wins the lottery or shelter follow up | For animal lovers | Views and Mews by Coffee Kat

  3. Both of our cats were shelter animals. We have donated food and towels to them. It is heartbreaking to walk in and see so many animals needing a forever home. Some, you know in your heart, will not be placed. I wish more people would get their pets neutered/spayed so that more unwanted animals are not brought into this world.


  4. Oh I know it took everything you had not to load the car and make a run for it. My son volunteered at a greyhound rescue and he was offered a paying job at the end of the day. He said he turned it down because it made him so sad. He is a sucker for sad eyes like me, so I could just imagine what the outcome would be.


    • I like dogs too but I didn’t even venture over to that area. Puppy eyes are even sadder than cat eyes. I have a friend who helped out at a greyhound rescue. She had 4 herself along with her big lab. Now that’s a houseful!


  5. The lot of unwanted animals is heartbreaking..I’m with you on this Kate – animals don’t have choices, I have been a crazy dog lady, three at a time, seventeen altogether, all rescued… but they came to me via my husband, the ones he couldn’t bear to walk past.
    I couldn’t bear to go to an shelter, I couldn’t just choose one…..


  6. I haven’t had the same pull to volunteer, Kate, but I have two friends, from two other states, who have had very similar experiences to what you’ve shared. Both have had a lot of frustration volunteering, and in fact, being quite discouraged. I don’t know what that really means, except it indicates a disconnect somewhere, that doesn’t take into consideration that any help offered should be welcomed. I think people don’t know how to utilize volunteer help. I feel sorry that it was so distressing, but I think shelters are predominantly sad places. You have such a good heart. I hope you can find a way to balance what you have to offer with a rewarding experience.


    • When I recover I will try the cadillac shelter. I never adopted from there. The animals have it very good. If I were a stray, that’s where I’d want to go. Cat rooms with windows and perches and friends. It never smells. I tried the other one because I thought they needed the help more. I am still disappointed. Not only can I do animal work, I can do fund raising, office work, writing, etc.


  7. I too think about volunteering at a shelter but can never make myself actually do it. I can’t even watch the SPCA television pleas showing abused animals without crying. And I cannot imagine actually getting up the courage to volunteer like you did and then being told they don’t need help. Could they be afraid the “help” might report odorous/onerous conditions?


  8. Like the others going to the shelter is heartbreaking for me. I think partly because the animals really don’t understand why they are there or whats happening to them. When I went to get a cat at my favorite shelter it was so hard not to take 2 or 3… or more. When I heard Teddy’s story it just hurt my heart
    I like animals better than a lot of people. Not sure what that says about me but it’s honest..


  9. I could hardly bear to finish reading this. Animals – cats especially do not like stinky. And listness kitties in tiny cages look sad and no one wants them. Some look desperate – some hopeless without hope. Glad you took the donations there. Glad you offered to help. Something is going on there – maybe they just don’t want people to see – or maybe they have found in the past volunteers get depressed and don’t return, maybe the one who knows volunteers make a difference isn’t there.
    Hug Mollie hard. She lucked out. She’ll probably loan you out to help needy animals somewhere else.


    • I came home to hug all three cats and I told them they won the lottery! They rolled their eyes and went on with life! The little buggers! Thanks for stopping by. I know RC would be upset about this.


  10. You know it is funny I went to check out a web site the other day for the humane shelter to see if they needed volunteers but they did not need anyone at the present time. I guess it is a good thing that there are so many people out there willing to give an extra hand.


      • I know the shelter you are referring to and they never accept volunteers. They are afraid of people seeing what really goes on there. Also, there are a few no kill shelters that offered to foster some of the animals there and they flat out refused, even though they would get the adoption fee.


        • I guess I am not surprised but it is disheartening. When I adopted Mollie there was another calico that had terrible mats in her fur. It was a toss up between the two and I adopted Mollie. Mollie got sick when I brought her home and ended up at my vet for a week. When I went to pick her up I saw a nice lady with the matted calico. She couldn’t get the mats out herself so she brought it into the vet. It warmed my heart although there was a little red kitty all by himself in a cage. I always wished I would have adopted him too.


  11. I know this will sound ridiculous and stupid, but it’s true. I volunteer with a hospice service, and even though it is difficult and often leaves me feeling distressed or helpless, I do somehow find a way to hold on to the fact that at least I am able to bring some measure of comfort to the hospice patients (or their families), but that doesn’t mean volunteering there is easy for me. On the other hand, I could NEVER volunteer at an animal rescue shelter … I just don’t have it in me to see all those sad eyes every day. I know that sometimes we’re supposed to do the thing that we find the hardest to do, in order to grow our character or strengthen our spirit, but volunteering at an animal shelter is just way more than I can handle. Like I said, I know it doesn’t make sense that I can volunteer with hospice, but not with animals, (and I applaud the people that do make the choice to volunteer at an animal shelter), but I know my limits, and this is something I just can’t do.

    Sounds like yesterday was a really tough day for you, Kate. Good for you for going anyway, and taking yourself out of your comfort zone. Maybe the reason hospice works for me, (other than they were so helpful with both my mom and my dad at the end of their lives), is that with hospice, there is always an end point. With those poor animals, it can go on and on, with no chance for adoption in sight. Breaks my heart. I’m always afraid I’ll take one home. And then another. Until I become the crazy dog lady down the street. I also love cats, but right now I have dogs that don’t like cats, so for now, I’m immune to cats. Until I find one that can tell my dog a thing or two.


    • Your feelings are neither ridiculous nor stupid. My feelings for animals run much more sympathetic than for people and I really don’t know why. I rationalize it by saying that people make their own choices while animals do not always have control. And yes, my heart hurts to think that some of those cats may spend years in a cage. Where does quality of life fit in? If you are the crazy dog lady, I will be the crazy cat lady!


  12. So now I have a lump in my throat too. You gave not just pressed my hot button you piunded on it. All my cats are rescued. You arr far better than I am because I couldn’t go there because I would have left with every animal in the place. God bless you!


  13. It’s so heartbreaking. As much as I want to help, my hands write checks better than my heart lets go of all those beautiful animals. This is why I love all animals and dislike most people…


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