One day in class I wondered if anyone had data about volunteer demographics. Who volunteers in animal rescue?
From my own observations, it seems predominantly female. Besides one male, most of the male volunteers I’ve met are spouses of volunteers, like my own husband.
While looking into this, I found that someone had written a thesis paper on volunteer retention at animal shelters.
The typical animal welfare volunteer is female, White, pet-owning, heterosexual, employed, childless, married or partnered, Democratic-leaning, between the ages of 40 and 59, has an income between $50,000 and $99,999, and is Protestant.
Me? Well, 8 out of 11 isn’t bad.
The paper talks about the importance of communication between volunteer managers and volunteers, and trying to leverage each volunteer’s skills to the best ability. In interviews the author conducted, she found that volunteers felt more needed and as a result higher satisfaction in the shelter over a local Humane Society.
Mismanagement of volunteers can quickly lead to burnout and isolation. A couple years ago, I had driven to the shelter to bring a feral to the spay clinic. Because the drive is a couple hours, I intended to make myself useful while the feral was spayed, and clean cages or whatever tasks they’d want to assign me.
I got there, and did not feel welcome. I stood around awkwardly around the random carriers of animals awaiting spay/neuter, waiting for someone to hand me a litter scoop or something.Not wanting to stand around in the way, I just started cleaning up dirty newspaper inside of a cage, wiping it down, scooping a box. Over my shoulder, I heard someone whisper, “she doesn’t even work here.”
Whoa. Maybe I didn’t work in the physical shelter, but I’d been volunteering as an adoption counselor and foster for at least a year by then. I did not feel comfortable standing around and doing nothing, but I didn’t feel comfortable cleaning cages when I was getting comments behind my back. Needless to say, I didn’t visit the shelter very often while I was working with that group.
I didn’t stop working for them though. Because they needed me, even if they didn’t like me. Sometimes I wondered why I didn’t quit, but then other times there would be a shortage of volunteers and a sudden overflow of cats. Real situation that has happened before: “okay, we pulled four pregnant mama cats from the kill shelter, who’s taking any of them home?!
A fellow colleague of mine recently signed up to volunteer at a different shelter than she normally did, and every time she offered her services, their response was that they’d already found another volunteer to do it. Meanwhile, I’m sure there’s a shelter or rescue elsewhere that’s dying to have more volunteers.
Who knows, maybe there’s a volunteer networking group somewhere that helps this issue of evenly balancing volunteer need amongst animal welfare groups. If there is, do share.
Anyway, I look forward to mining this paper’s bibliography.