I Was Too Afraid to Volunteer At a Shelter

Victoria Schade Dog Life, Dog Training

I went to ACCT for the first time four years ago to bring home a foster dog. I thought I could handle what I was going to experience there – I’ve been to plenty of shelters over the years – but I was wrong.

I wasn’t prepared for the number of dogs in need. I walked up and down the rows of kennels filled with waggy tails and hopeful expressions, choking back tears until the sadness overwhelmed me. The shelter was chaotic and heartbreaking and I was crushed that I could only help one when so many needed a soft place to land. (Freddy, pictured below, ended up being our practically perfect first foster.)

That helpless feeling stayed with me. I tried to do what I could by promoting adoptable ACCT dogs in my socials and writing about fostering and rescue every chance I could, but it all started to feel hollow. I could talk a big game about helping, but it didn’t feel like I was doing enough.

Two weeks ago I stopped talking and started doing; I’m now an official ACCT volunteer.

I’d put it off for too long, saying that I’d be too sad or depressed to be able to volunteer consistently. That being around so many dogs in need would cripple me. I had a million excuses to not help but I finally managed to shut them the hell up when serendipity spoke to me in an Instagram post that listed ACCT’s upcoming orientation dates and I had an open spot that corresponded with the next one.

It was time to finally do something.

I went to the orientation, got approved to walk dogs (Phew!), and swallowed my worry.

Here’s a secret; I was so nervous on my first day of dog walking. Nineteen years as a dog professional and I felt like the new kid on the block because I was. Normally by the time I get my hands on dogs they’ve transitioned to a semblance of home life, whether it’s a new pup or a rescue dog. The training stuff I deal with – potty training, leash pulling, puppy nipping, basic manners – is all fairly predictable. On the flip side the dogs at ACCT are essentially living in a combat zone through no fault of their own, and because of the abnormal environment they’re forced to exist in they’re understandably stressed out. I was a little worried that my pet dog knowledge wouldn’t directly convey to what the shelter dogs were dealing with, sort of like a family doctor who becomes a field medic in battle; the skills are there but the environment requires a different mindset.

I’m about thirteen or so hours in at this point and I’ll admit that I’ve had some stumbles as I’ve gotten used to my new dog walking gig. Getting the dogs out of their runs requires leash lassoing skills (I finally figured out that many of the dogs helpfully bow their heads and wait to allow leashing like pros ), and because there are 5 double-sided rows of kennels that house over a hundred dogs I tend to forget which kennel the dogs came from and I end up walking up and down the rows like a dork. (I want to walk EVERY SINGLE DOG so I tend to rush in and out without taking note of where I am.)

But my overall experience?

I love it.

I love being able to spring the dogs from their kennels for some time in the sunshine. I love letting them pee where they’re supposed to. (Many dogs come into the shelter fully housetrained, which means that those dogs often sit in their kennels holding it until they have a chance to go out. Now do you see why I rush to walk as many dogs as possible?) I love petting and snuggling them. I love figuring out their quirks.

And I’m humbled that these amazing animals keep forgiving humans for all the crap we’ve put them through.

When I first thought about volunteering at a shelter I worried I’d be miserable, but my experiences at ACCT are filled with joy. I focus on each dog as we walk, hoping that they time we spend together is enough to raise their spirits until their forever people find them.

If you’ve thought about volunteering at a shelter but fear has stopped you, please reconsider. If you shift your focus to the dogs in need and recognize how important you are to them I promise you won’t be sorry.