5 Things I Learned from Being an Animal Shelter Volunteer


When I was getting ready to start volunteering at the local animal shelter in King County, Washington, I wasn’t sure what it would be like. I’d read so many things about animals being euthanized if they weren’t adopted right away and feared coming face to face with the frequent death of furry felines. I thought maybe animal control officers were mean. I wasn’t sure if I would learn things I didn’t want to know.

Fortunately, for me, it has become a wonderful part of my life! Here are five things that I have learned while volunteering at the local animal shelter.

1. There are too many animals needing permanent homes

After a year of volunteering, this still gets to me. The sheer volume of homeless animals is astonishing. This is probably why I have adopted six cats, and continue to become fond of many more. Sometimes the need is overwhelming. So I try to focus on the positive: The kitties are safe and cared for in the shelter, good people adopt them (most of the time), and they receive needed medical care and immunizations.

2. There are many wonderful animals to choose from

If there is one really positive aspect of so many homeless animals, it’s that you get to take your pick in finding just the right match. While the vast majority of shelter animals, both cats and dogs, are mixed breeds, I have also seen full-blooded Persian cats and Boston Terriers available on county shelter websites. I’ve seen cute little Pugs and Chihuahuas. There are kittens of every color and fur length, young adult cats, and seniors looking for quality retirement living. If you want it, you can find it: orange tabbies, Siamese, shiny black cats, white kittens with odd-colored eyes, the list goes on.

If you dedicate time to your shelter search, you will find exactly what you are looking for. But most likely, in the process, you will fall in love with a particular animal who happens to be in the shelter before you find one that matches every single criterion you are looking for.

3. Animal control officers love animals

I think I had a stereotype that animal control officers would be unkind for some reason. However, in reality, at least here in King County, I have discovered that the people who choose to work in this field do so because they love animals. I don’t think I’ve met one animal control officer who didn’t have multiple pets at home. Despite being scratched, bitten, peed on, and pooped on, they get up and go to work every day, primarily because of their affection for animals.

4. License your pet!

I confess that I had not licensed any of my cats before I started volunteering at the shelter. I’d thought about it, weighed the pros and cons, but had not completed the process. I kept wondering, should I or shouldn’t I? Well, if there is one message I have received loud and clear while volunteering, it is to license your animals.

I’ve seen so many people come in looking for their lost cats, desperate to find them, and say that not only were the kitties unlicensed but not microchipped either. I’ve seen people bring in framed photographs of their lost cat, hoping to find him in the shelter. Licensing helps the municipal shelter connect your lost pet to you if he or she enters the system. The licensing money helps fund the lifesaving work that is done at shelters. It goes to a good cause. Plus, in most locales, it is the law. All 10 of my pets are now licensed!

5. Volunteering is FUN!

The best thing about volunteering is meeting new people who share a similar fondness for animals. You get to know the employees of the shelter, as well as people who come in looking to adopt. Generally speaking, people who love animals spend time at animal shelters, and people who love animals tend to be good-hearted. Plus, you get to care for cute kitties! You also learn animal care practices from the professionals, and it feels good to be a part of something larger than yourself that benefits a cause you believe in.

Do you want to volunteer? Have you done it? Tell us about your experience in the comments!

Read more about volunteering:

Read stories of rescue and love on Catster:

About the author: Kezia Willingham works for Head Start by day and is a freelance writer on the side. She lives with her family, which includes 6 cats and 4 dogs, in the Pacific Northwest. Her writing has appeared in xoJane, Literary Mama, and the Seattle Times. You can follow her on Twitter.

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