It's the most wonderful time of the year.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

My First (and likely last) Volunteer Experience

Settle in for the LONGEST POST EVER!

I’m totally a quitter and I feel really bad about it. REALLY bad.

I have wanted to do something at our local animal shelter for a LONG time. I don’t find that I have a ton of extra time to actually spend at the shelter, but I was really thinking I might be able to help in other ways. I thought I might be able to help with a blog, a facebook fan page, a twitter page, maybe some sort of photography thing. I have some great fundraising ideas! REALLY awesome ideas!

I filled the application out, and I went to the animal shelter a couple weeks ago and attended their new volunteer orientation. The girl that did the orientation was great. She was really friendly and knowledgeable. I was SO excited about it. I was even MORE excited when I learned that they don’t even schedule you to volunteer – you just come in and help whenever you have time. Have a few extra hours you hadn’t planned for on a Saturday? Come on in! Awesome!

They did, however, make it very clear that you need to schedule your first volunteer session so that an employee can take you through everything and show you what to do. I went home thrilled. I called a day or two later and scheduled an appointment. I also mentioned that I managed a lot of social media outlets and campaigns as part of my job, and I would love to help them with something like that. I got the response I was kind of afraid of “yeah – we can’t really let the public do that type of thing.”

I tried to explain that I would even be willing to write things for them on an as-needed basis – as in I write it, hand it over, and then they decide if and what to use it for. I’m offering free copywriting here. That shit doesn’t come cheap if you have to pay for it. Oh well. I was still really excited to be able to go in for a few hours each week and help out.

The next week came. I brought a change of clothes to work – I even left work an hour early to accommodate their schedule (not a problem). I got to the shelter and went to the front desk, told them who I was, that I was there for my first volunteer and that I had scheduled it and was told to see the front desk. I’m not going to go into all the details of my three front desk experiences, but let’s just say nobody up there is going to win any awards for their outgoing personality.

This lady walked me into an office, had me sign in, and said “well – just…if a person wants to see an animal take it out and put it in one of the rooms. We clean the rooms between animals.” “What rooms?” “There are two here and one…eeeh – back there” (general hand motion). “Great – and how do you clean them?” “There’s some stuff back there…here – you just pump it and spray it. So…yeah – that’s about it…whatever.”

Yeah. Okay. Seriously? I had to schedule a time for this?

So I wander up the hallway…look at all the animals, and figure I will go in and check out the cats. I go to walk in the cat area and a woman is walking out. She seems to know what she’s doing and she gives me a very weird look. I ask, “Is it okay if I go in to see the cats?” Again with the weird look – looks STRAIGHT at my big-ass nametag that says, “VOLUNTEER” and says, “Are you a volunteer?

For reals? I said yes, and she said “wonderful! Come with me.” Lovely! Someone that will actually show me how to do something!

She starts to show me how to sanitize the rooms between animals, when…I don’t remember if I felt a tap on my shoulder or heard someone say something, but I turned around and there was a woman with her hand stuck straight in my face saying, with great authority, “Hello, I’m ‘Kate.’ Who are you?” “Uhm…hello, I’m Ginger.” “And did you schedule your first volunteer session?” “Yes…” “With whom?” “Uhm…’Mike’…” I got a look like there was simply nobody there by the name Mike. So I tried “uhm…Mitch? No…I think it was Mike…I called the person listed on the sheet…that I was told to call…he said to come in today. I believe he even mentioned you by name?”

Well, as it turns out, Mike’s not real into letting Kate know when he schedules these things. Whateves.

Kate takes me around and is actually quite nice, pretty funny and very helpful. This is more of what I was expecting from a scheduled appointment. After 30 minutes or so of guidance, Kate informs me to just have it, and assures me I will develop my own style of handling everything. Likely story.

So I look around…what to do? I go back to the cats…there’s some puke…I clean it up. There’s a food bowl that tipped over onto the floor. I clean that up too. I take a minute to talk to each cage. What now…? I walk back out…I look at the dogs. Crap. Literally. There is poop in at least 30% of the kennels. I know this should be addressed, but I’m not really sure how. So, I walk back there, and the first dog at the door lunges at his cage door and starts barking like crazy. Then all the others dogs are like “Ruh? Rut-ro! PERSON!”

I went to a Third Eye Blind concert in high school, after which, I couldn’t hear right for three days. This was louder than that.

It was SO freakin’ weird! I immediately knew what it felt like to break into someone’s house and have a dog go crazy on your ass. I felt like an intruder who ran into guard dogs. I had to psyche myself up “it’s okay. You’re supposed to be here! Scoop poop! You can do it!”

I’ve never had a dog (thanks for that, Mom and Dad). I don’t know how to handle them.

And then it hit me. I was actually afraid of these dogs! Holy crap! I have never been afraid of any animal with more than zero and less than eight legs in my life! NEVER. I have stood in front of tiger cages and thought “gah! If only they would let me in! I want to go in and squeeze that tiger!!!” (This is probably not healthy.)

How in the world was I going to get in there and clean that poop? Every one of these dogs was nose to nose with me while they were lunging and barking at their kennel doors.

Hmmm…every one but one little, teensy pug. I can handle that one. I went in the kennel, stepped over the little bed thing (why is that thing smack in front of the door, anyway?) and closed the door behind me. It dawned on me, “Will I be able to open this from the inside if I latch it?” I wasn’t sure, and I couldn’t think clearly enough to be sure, so I didn’t latch it. I scooped the poop, and before I could turn around, the dog was out of the kennel.

I put the poop down, and tried to get the dog, but I didn’t want to lunge at him (that’s scary – ask me about it), and the dog did not want to be got. I miss him once. I see a leash! Score! I pick up the leash, but, wait…huh? All the leashes have a metal half-circle loop. All the collars have the same metal half-circle loop…how the crap do you attach these two things to each other???

Forget the leash. I get to the dog, he’s so scared, he pees on the floor (which I remembered the next morning, as I was going back over everything in my head, that I never cleaned that up…sorry) – I am trying to be gentle. I pet him and speak nicely to him, but he can’t hear me over those maniac dogs. I gently take his collar and I get him back in his kennel, and get the hell out of that room.

I go back to the cats and basically hide. What if someone wants to see one of those dogs??? I can’t go back in there!

It was horrible. Looking back…I think every single one of those dogs was just so desperate for attention that they were begging, the only way they knew how, for me to pick them. But it scared the crap out of me.

Eventually I couldn’t take it anymore. I felt like I was a waste of space staring at the cats, and I was afraid of the dogs. I left. I felt horrible. I STILL feel horrible.

I had planned to go every Tuesday after work. I knew I was really going to have to psych myself up to go back, but this past Tuesday, as I was getting ready to leave I thought “eeeh – I’m running late…I don’t have time to grab a change of old clothes.” And as I was in a meeting that ran past 5:00, I looked at the clock and thought “well, I guess I won’t make it to the shelter.” Who was I kidding? I wouldn’t have gone if Jaclyn had been like “Hey – why don’t you just leave at 3:00.”

It’s not the animal shelter. I know that. It’s me. There are volunteers that go in there all the time, who I’m sure didn’t have any more of an orientation than I did, and they do fine. It’s always taken me a little while to adjust to new situations, and I have tried to work on that, but I don’t know if I can talk myself into going back.

I originally started this post hoping you would all leave really positive comments and make me go back, but I realize now, after all I have said, I couldn’t possibly go back there. What if someone there read this? They wouldn’t let me in the front door. So I guess I solved my own damn problem. No more shelter.

And Christopher: you’re welcome. I’m 98% sure I have been officially blacklisted from animal adoptions everywhere. Certainly nobody, after reading this post, would ever adopt an animal to me. You got your wish. No more pets. Thank God we got Buster before people found out.


  1. Ginger you are being way to hard on yourself. You are young yet, you will figure this out soon enough. About 90% of assholes who volunteer for stuff have been dying to be in charge of something their whole entire pitiful lives, so they are petrified anytime anyone else shows the tiniest bit of interest in what they are doing. They want to be in charge. Period.

    5% of people who volunteer want credit for volunteering. They want to pad their resume, look good in their community, or have someone kiss their ass for being such a giver.

    The other 5% care about the cause, issue, person, or critter for which they are volunteering, but may not have the intestinal fortitude to withstand the other 95% of volunteers.

    You got stuck in a crummy situation filled with poop and poop heads (not all, sounds like you met at least one of the 5%). Hang in there, and give it one more chance. I am sure the dog who peed appreciated the squeeze you gave him even if it was an unintentional, desperate squeeze!!

  2. Seriously, Ginger - that was hilarious. And very sad.

    I wouldn't go back there either. BUT that's not to say that you can't contribute in a meaningful way as a volunteer. There are lots of other nonprofits with an animal focus that would be grateful for your social media skills, your copywriting, your fundraising ideas ... and most importantly your passion for the cause.
    Google Animal Rescue Winston Salem and see what you can find.

    Don't let one bad experience make you give up - but don't volunteer at the shelter again. Find somewhere that would truly value your help.

  3. I mostly second Ouida's recap. It may not be for you (I'm not really convinced of this), but you have to give it another shot. If you'd like to further acclimate yourself to loud, borderline insane barking, you know the way to our house...

  4. just mostly bt??? come on now!! your dad is in the good 5% btw! in that 5% he is in the 1% of people with saint status.

  5. You guys are sweet. But, again - totally not the shelter. The shelter is super awesome. Totally heartbreaking, but super awesome. From what I understand, they are actually quite advanced in how they run it.

  6. Ginge,
    What if you go volunteer at the Humane Society to hone your dog/poop volunteer skills before returning to the animal shelter? I know you preferred the animal shelter because the Humane Society is a "no-kill" shelter and you felt the county animals needed you more, but just think of the Humane Society as a county shelter with training wheels.
    PS- You'll still have an opportunity to adopt a donkey and goats and foster them at my place!

  7. I felt that way when I started volunteering in the PEDS Ward. They wanted me to just walk in rooms and start reading to kids! I hid in the toy area and cleaned toys. Maybe shelters aren't your way to help animals. you'll find something you like.

  8. Sorry you had such a bad experience! Your heart was in the right place. I hope you find somewhere else you can contribute. I am pretty sure based on some of your previous posts about Buster that you will not be banned from pet adoption. He seems to have enough love, toys, and canteloupe to prove you are worthy pet parents!