Ever wonder what goes on behind the fences of animal shelters, rescue groups, or foster systems?
Volunteering at an animal shelter, rescue group or in a foster system is no walk in the park.
If all you have in mind are monthly visits to your local shelter, getting slobbered on by their furry residents for a half hour or so, taking them out for a walk in the park, and returning them to their kennels by 1 p.m. in the afternoon, your heart’s desires for some K9-affection satiated, then perhaps volunteering at an animal shelter or as a rehomer isn’t quite for you.
This isn’t a story about fetch, nor is it about a walk in the park.
This is a story about the orphans of the pet kingdom, of man’s neglected best friend, and the people who dedicate themselves to attending to, and ensuring these furry pals’ needs are met.
Ah Beng Pet Store debunks the myths and uninformed stereotypes of volunteering at animal shelters, rescue groups or foster systems.
No Petting Zoo:
Committed volunteer and full-time member of the NUS Paw Friends Society – 21 year-old Jing Hui speaks out about the truth of volunteering at animal shelters.
Volunteering at a shelter—in a nutshell—is grimy work, not for the meek or faint-hearted.
It is a long term commitment; throwing yourself into unpaid, unappreciated, and undignified grimy work, to shed blood, sweat and tears for the often forgotten or overlooked furry population that is the Singapore Specials.
One of the things that many tend to overlook is “the dirtiness of being a volunteer at a shelter”, quips Jing Hui.
“It’s not exactly the most hygienic job on earth . . . there will be poop and urine everywhere in the shelter, and you have to be the person who clean[s] it up”.
“You might even get poop on your shirt or on your legs/arms, and you won’t even notice it until you’ve left the shelter!”
Volunteers from NUS Paw Friends cleaning a local shelter’s premises
(Photo credits: https://www.facebook.com/pg/nuspawfriends/photos/?ref=page_internal)
Due to the nature of these pups; most of these Singapore Specials were once-feral dogs hence are “not exactly very well trained”, they sometimes poop and pee on the volunteers or their belongings, explains Jing Hui.
Jokes Jing Hui, “after one whole morning of volunteering at the shelter, don’t be surprised [when] people avoid you [on] public transport”.
As a volunteer, you also become responsible for the pups you are handling, their temperament, their needs, and their safety.
Explains Jing Hui, “[certain] dogs within the same shelter do not get along and may fight”. It is up to the volunteers to stay “alert at all times”, and “make sure that dogs that do not get along are not in close proximity to each other”.
Jing Hui opens up about an accidental carelessness on her part, and the unavoidable consequences:
“There was this one time I didn’t lock [the] kennel gates properly, and some dogs managed to cross over to another kennel and [got into a fight] with the other dogs”.
She laments, “although the dogs’ injuries [were] not very serious, knowing that I could have prevented the fight and injuries [should] I have been more careful, made me extremely guilty”.
“People tend to overlook the possibilities of dog fights [at shelters]” but such an occurrence is, sadly, commonplace, and volunteers like Jing Hui have to be prepared to respond accordingly.
The Other Side Of The Fence: Rehoming
When a pup is nursed back to health or rehabilitated and ready for a forever home, that is when rehomers come into the picture.
We managed to speak to rehomer Belinda, who offers a new perspective on what goes on on the other side of the fence; what goes into getting a pup rehomed into his/her forever home.
The role of a rehomer is often a “voluntary” one, as in the case of volunteer rehomer Belinda.
Rehomers work closely with large scale organisations or independent shelters assess prospective adopters to ensure that the rescued dogs do not fall into the wrong hands, and that all goes well for the dog and family.
This group of individuals play an immensely important role in ensuring each pup is rehomed into his/her forever home.
Think: social workers for dogs.
Singapore Special dog Ella visiting her prospective home for the first time
Photo courtesy of Belinda
Social Services: Doggy Style
Many potential adopters “expect [the] adoption process [to] be much easier than buying from a pet shop”, where they simply “go to the shelter or adoption drive and pick [out] a cute pup/dog and bring [him/her] home on the same day and/or without any adoption fee”.
However, the adoption process is not that simple; it is carefully curated to ensure the pup’s future family is well-suited for him/her.
Rehomers like Belinda have to supervise adoption procedures to “assess the suitability of the potential adopter in order to find a right dog for a perfect marriage” between the potential adopter and the pup.
The process is a lengthy one, which “start[s] with a brief phone assessment, arrange viewings for the potential adopters to meet the dog(s), [conduct] pre-adoption house visit[s], trial home stays etc.” prior to the actual initiation of the adoption.
But their work doesn’t simply end with a successful adoption.
Singapore Special dog Celeste with her family during their first pre-adoption meeting
Photo courtesy of Belinda
Singapore Special dog Pancake playing with her prospective family prior to adoption
Photo courtesy of Belinda
A Long Term Commitment: No Sitting On The Fence
“Being a rehomer [is] not as simple as just “match making” and mission complete. There are lots of follow up either via calls/texts between the potential adopters, 3rd party rescuers (if any) which can be very tiring, frustrating and time consuming as we do have our day job and personal [matters] to attend [to]” Belinda explains.
“The pressure can be quite daunting whenever we re-home a dog”, there is always the fear that the dogs might “[run] away during trial home stay[s]”, be “ill-treated or returned”, concedes Belinda.
Besides, being in charge of a pup’s adoption inevitably subjects rehomers like Belinda to reprehension; she was once yelled at “over the phone for a good 20 minutes” by an unhappy adopter whose adoption was rejected.
Yet, she is good natured, joking about her experience: “it (the rantings) was so loud that I had to hold the phone far away from my ears!”
No Walk In The Park
These volunteers’ capacity to put themselves out there voluntarily; to provide doggy social service, and to put themselves in precarious situations with such patience is admirable. Their loyalty to their cause is exceptional; enduring the hardships that come with being a volunteer is indeed no walk in the park.
Less heard of, these volunteers—the unaccredited social workers of the animal kingdom—deserve more recognition than given.