Recently the popular iheartdogs.com website ran an article featuring the Human Society of Tampa Bay and their search for dog snugglers. They were experiencing a shortage of volunteers who could spend time with the animals and actually cuddle them. After school started, they lost many of their student volunteers. And it showed in the dog’s behavior and temperaments.
Studies have found that shelter pets crave and need physical touch and that it is just as important to their well-being as food, shelter, and healthcare. Stress levels can increase in shelter pets. Physical touching and comforting lower those stress levels. It also serves to make them more comfortable with human touch.
Tampa Bay is not alone. Right here in the Frederick area, we are in desperate need of volunteers at our local shelter. Bette Stallman Brown, president of Frederick Friends of Our County Animal Shelter and avid Frederick County Animal Control volunteer says our animals here at home are just as much in need.
A shelter can be very stressful for even the most resilient, well-adjusted animals. The sound of dogs barking in the distance and cage doors clanging open and closed can keep cats and some dogs on edge. Many dogs seem to become stressed by being surrounded by other dogs they’re rarely allowed to meet. Unfamiliar people passing by can be stressful to many animals as well. Many dogs, cats, and other pets seem to crave touch. You scratch the cat’s head and he bumps your hand more, more; you touch the dog and she leans into you or flops for a belly rub. County shelters are often short-staffed, which means staff has little or no time to just hang out with their charges, giving them gentle touches and kind words to help them adjust. Staff *make* time for this as best they can, especially for the new arrivals. But in general, they rely on volunteers to not only walk the dogs but also to just sit with a cat, dog, or rabbit and give the animal that feeling they crave — the nearness of a kind, trusted human. I avoided volunteering at the shelter for many years, thinking it would be a depressing place. But once I started, I was relieved to find that I had been wrong. Yes, sad things happen. It’s inevitable when people don’t value their pets as family members and simply discard them, relying on their local animal shelter to clean up the behavioral or health problems they’ve allowed to happen. But I promise you, anything sad is more than made up for by the happy moments — when you see the terrified cat come out of her shell, or the dog who’s been waiting for months finally finding the family that’s just right for him. It truly is rewarding to volunteer at an animal shelter.
What I tell all new and potential volunteers is this: You may at some point start to feel that the shelter has a lot of volunteers and that you are not needed. Don’t think that. First, most people don’t stick with it more than a few weeks or months. Second, if you’re motivated, open to learning new things, and ready to help with anything and everything, you will be able to do more and more as time goes on. The experience will just get better and better for you as you are able to do more and more for homeless animals and the people who work so hard to care for them.
If you’re interested in volunteering at Frederick County Animal Control, the first step is to sign up for an orientation here: https://www.frederickcountymd.gov/116/Volunteer
- IHeartDogs – Dog Snugglers Needed at Humane Society of Tampa Bay – February 16, 2019
- Bette Stallman-Brown, Volunteer, Frederick County Animal Control and President, Frederick Friends of Our County Animal Shelter