Volunteering at the Animal Shelter

I volunteer regularly at a local animal shelter.  After I retired I was looking for a way to give back to the community (without spending a lot of money) and I pictured spending sunny days walking happy, grateful,  well-behaved dogs.  Doing good deeds, getting exercise, and being appreciated - what could be better?

The reality turned out to be somewhat different.  In our County the Humane Society gets first dibs at animals that are being relinquished, the County gets the rest. Among the overflow are dogs that are mixed breeds, strays, sick, old, mistreated, neglected and untrained (or mis-trained).  Sometimes people who relinquish will not tell you all the dog's bad habits ("Do you think we should tell them he ate the mailman?" "No, then he might not get adopted.").

Still, there are many wonderful dogs there, but as a volunteer you have to approach each dog you want to interact with as if he or she was not one of the wonderful ones. You learn to listen to the dog, try to read his or her body language, and read any notes that other volunteers have left ("Loves to play in kiddy pool. Stand back!") . If the dog has health or behavior problems you fill out forms to be left for the appropriate staff. You have to accept that dogs have natural functions.

So a volunteer at the Shelter does more than walking in the sunshine with a dog at heel. We are there to remind the dogs that they are not part of a feral pack of dogs, that they can be part of a human pack. We keep them from going stir-crazy. We reassure the timid ones and try to calm down the jumpy ones. We socialize them. If a dog has been house-trained we give him a potty break. If not, we help clean the kennels (bleeeeeh!)

Still, I find nothing more rewarding than seeing a dog who had been cowering in the corner of the cage coming forward eager for a walk, or finding that some barky dog has learned to be quiet, or when a dog that has never looked back learns to walk on a leash.  These changes are not something I alone did, they are because of the actions of hundreds of volunteers. Some of my fellow volunteers are saints. Unfortunately, there are never enough volunteers - there are often dogs at the end of the day who haven't been walked or socialized.

Go volunteer at your local animal shelter!

San Diego County Animal Shelter Volunteer Information (Of course, there are thousands of other volunteer opportunities - you'll have to google them.


The problem with a lot of pitbulls is humans - humans who have bred some of them for aggression, and humans who have mis-trained some of them or not trained them at all.  A pitbull is a powerful animal, and if he grows up not learning basic commands then you are stuck with a large dog that does pretty much what he wants. If you put an untrained adult Pitbull on a leash you might well find yourself half-way down the block leaving twin skidmarks where your heels have tried to dig into the dirt.

Having said that, some of the nicest animals I have run into are Pitbulls - they can be happy, playful, and eager to please. There are bad ones, too, that have been trained to attack. Please consider giving one of the nice ones a  home.

Note: the closest I have come to being bitten was when a chihuahua attacked my pantleg, frustrated because he couldn't get at another chihuahua who had looked at him funny.

San Diego Pit Bull Rescue