How can you be a great animal shelter volunteer?  Follow these five steps and you will become one.

1) You must be dedicated to the health and welfare of the animals you take care of in the shelter by giving them your love and kindness, showing them you care by taking care of them when they are sick and feeling left out, being their friend when they have lost their friend.

2) Make sure that they are fed and watered as per the instruction for the animal.  If an animal requires a special diet make sure that they only get the food that is recommended for that animal.

3) Take the time to play and walk with the animals.  Some animals require more vigorous work outs to keep them happy, others only require some petting and attention.  Take the time to know the animals you work with.

4) Once you know the animals read what other volunteers have said about the animals in their write-ups.  Keep track of what you notice about the animals and add your own information about each and every one.  Some of the items you can keep track of are:

  • How well they respond to voice command while playing
  • How well they walk around people and other animals
  • How well they play with other animals
  • Weather or not they adapt to having animals of other species around them (cat and dogs)
  • Weather or not they are approachable by other people

5) You must always be there at your appointed time because the animals depend upon you to be there.  An exceptional volunteer will also make time in their holidays to make sure that the animals are well taken care of.

So if you are thinking of becoming an animal shelter volunteer then the five items above will give you a clear idea of what is needed.  This is really what any animal needs weather or not it is at a shelter, in the home, or a stray.  They all need love and attention.

 

Organizing and maintaining your animal shelter is vital to your continued success as a nonprofit organization. An organized and clean organization attracts more volunteers, donors, and adopting families. Each of these adds your continued success by increasing your mission awareness in the community you serve.

Animal Shelter

Directors and volunteers at animal shelters have a long list of responsibilities to actively carry out the day to day operations. Properly organizing and cleaning often get pushed to the backburner to tackle other high-priority tasks like recruiting volunteers, adopting families, and spreading the word about your work. Creating structure for organization and cleaning helps minimize the stress and makes the process more manageable for your volunteer team.

Best Practices

Here are six best practices to implement and guide you to reestablish order in your animal shelter.

  1. Observe your area. The first step to getting clutter and disorganization under control is to look at your shelter. Find a clipboard and pen and conduct a thorough walkthrough of your entire shelter both inside and outside. Are there areas filled with boxes and forgotten about items? What does the entrance way look like? How does your office look to visitors? Take notes about every room to create a central to-do list.
  1. Request third-party help. As an active volunteer in the shelter, things may appear normal to you that are out of place to visitors. Find a third-party to visit and conduct a walkthrough of the shelter too. Ask them to take detailed notes as they move through the building and find unappealing areas. In addition, ask them to make suggestions what will make your shelter more attractive to outsiders.
  1. Create an organization committee. Recruit members of your volunteer team to be part of an organization committee. The committee is crucial to making sure the responsibilities are planned and carried out by all volunteers. Review the information from both walkthroughs and actively brainstorm ways to make improvements. In addition the brainstorming, these individuals are responsible for researching costs or techniques, leading, implementing the new tasks and protocols. Assign each committee member a designated area of the shelter to oversee during the transition.
  1. Establish a schedule. Create a cleaning schedule that breaks down tasks into detailed time slots. Start by making a list of everything that needs to be accomplished to maintain cleanliness. Break these tasks into groups of how often they need to be completed. Establish groups for daily, weekly, monthly, quarterly, and yearly. Dedicate one Saturday per month to monthly tasks, and one Saturday per month to yearly and quarterly tasks. This type of structure eliminates the guess work for your volunteer team.
  1. Host spring cleaning days. Schedule two “Spring-cleaning” days per year. One is the spring and one in the fall. Dedicate the day to de-cluttering and getting rid of items you no longer need to carry out the mission of your organization. A good rule to follow is if you haven’t used in the past twelve months, toss or recycle it.
  1. Review yearly. In the beginning, it is important to review every quarter until you have a grasp on the amount of volunteer time required to make consistent organization and cleanliness possible. After that, make sure you review your continued progress every year with walkthroughs from a third-party. Actively review the feedback and implement changes that will help improve your overall operations.

Maintaining an organized and clean appearance makes help your animal shelter look more appealing to outside visitors and guests. Use these steps to establish structure and make implementation a breeze for your volunteers.

Running a successful animal welfare organization is a high-demanding job. One critical component of making sure things run smoothly in an animal welfare organization is risk management. Risk management tools are often pushed aside to oversee other vital components of animal welfare like animal intake, volunteer training, compliance, animal adoptions, foster homes, and fundraising efforts. Risk management plans are important because they help organizations identify potential risks, minimize those risks, and set expectations for responding appropriately when risks do occur.

Good News
The most effective risk management plans focus on making risk management a part of your organization’s culture. With a strong on-boarding process and proper implementation, creating a risk management plan doesn’t have to be time-consuming. Follow these eight steps to simplifying the process and make risk management a priority in your animal welfare organization.

Steps to Take

  1. Utilize your volunteers. Volunteers donate their time to your animal welfare organization because they WANT to help the organization fulfill its mission. Don’t try to hold on to tasks that you can delegate to others. Recruit volunteers to serve on a risk management committee that takes on the last six steps of this plan.
  2. Brainstorm potential risks. Your volunteer committee is responsible for brainstorming every potential risk you face on a daily basis – animal bites, visitor slip and falls, volunteer injuries, etc.
  3. Match existing tools. Once they have a complete list, they need to review your existing risk management tools to see if you are addressing certain risks already. Common tools utilized by animal welfare organizations include volunteer application, adoption waivers, foster home guidelines, etc.
  4. Identify a need for new. The most important part of the committees’ responsibilities is to identify a need for new or updated tools. Are the existing tools, policies, and procedures strong enough? Is your organization missing an important item?
  5. Create new tools. Once they identify a need, they need to find acceptable risk management tools to fill the gaps. It is important they understand these new policies and procedures in their entirety and they provide you with a report on their recommendations.
  6. Educate your volunteer team. Schedule training for the committee to educate volunteers on the new policies and procedures. Review the tool, the benefits, and the expectations of the volunteers. Test the volunteer’s knowledge afterward to make sure they fully understand the changes.
  7. Audit the effectiveness. Have the committee schedule a future date to audit the new policy and procedures’ effectiveness. Did your organization experience a decrease in incidents? Do you need to make new updates? Continue to review all risk management tools on a yearly basis.

Visit our website for sample animal welfare risk management tools.

Accidents happen. Every day nonprofit animal shelter teams work to educate, provide, and raise money for animals in need in their communities and beyond. Directors in charge of these valuable animal rescue organizations know firsthand volunteers are the foundation of a nonprofit’s success. But accidents do happen – to volunteers, visitors, and foster parents. Many animal shelters utilize policies, procedures, and handbooks to minimize the risk of incidents and accidents. Do you have an accident investigation plan ready to implement when “life happens”?

Accidents
There are a variety of accidents animal shelters and rescues experience during normal daily operations:

  • Slip & falls
  • Animal scratches
  • Animal bites
  • Animals knocking down volunteers or visitors
  • Scrapes, bruises, and cuts

Each type of accident (sometimes referred to as incidents) requires a unique plan to proactively manage the outcome and take care of the injured parties.
Accident Investigation Plans
Accident investigation plans are too often overlooked as part of the plan to manage accidents. They offer nonprofit animal shelters and rescues a great deal of valuable information. You can identify 3 main items in an accident investigation:

  • What and how the accident occurred.
  • What critical decisions were made or missed?
  • What can you do to prevent in the future?

Taking the time to investigate every accident requires time – but it is time well spent if you prevent future injuries.
Step by Step

  1. Appoint a lead person to investigate.
    Select a neutral individual to lead and conduct the accident investigation. A neutral party has no outside personal ties to any of the parties involved in the accident and is not considered a witness to the accident.
  2. Provide a briefing.
    Provide them with an overview of the accident. What you know happened, where it occurred, who is involved, and what steps are being taken to provide care and treatment.
  3. Inspect the accident site.
    It is important the investigator start by inspecting the accident site. Look for signs of the accident, anything that might have caused the accident, anything that potentially impacted the decision-making process during the accident.
  4. Conduct interviews.
    Have the investigator interview those involved in the accident along with any witnesses. Document facts only and guide interviewees to leave personal opinions out of the discussion.
  5. Analyze findings.
    Review all facts and interview details to gain a 360-degree perspective of the accident. Look for changes and updates your animal shelter can make to prevent future occurrences.
  6. Make changes.
    Implement these changes by updating procedures, policies, and handbooks. Hold a mandatory volunteer training to assure each volunteer has a clear understanding of new expectations. Have each volunteer sign a statement acknowledging they understand the updates.
  7. Document.
    Documentation is vital in any incident, occurrence or accident. Document complete investigation findings in a final report along with updates and changes implemented. Include a list of all volunteers who participated in the training and include their signed acknowledgment form.

Conducting a comprehensive accident investigation seems daunting and time-consuming. It doesn’t have to be. Create a plan and procedure now on how you will investigate future accidents. Your animal shelter or rescue benefits from a better understanding of how and why decisions are made in critical moments. You can be proactive in making changes to minimize future occurrences and promote a safe volunteer work environment.

Introducing a new dog or cat into your animal shelter is a vital yet stressful step in the path to successful adoption. Vital, because it’s the only way to gain a better understanding of the animal’s personality, traits, and behaviors. Stressful, because animals’ behavior is unpredictable – especially when their past leads them to be fearful of people and other animals. If you have volunteers new to the animal welfare world or volunteers who struggle in the initial phases of new animal socialization, now is the time to create an animal socialization plan. An animal socialization plan is a guide for volunteers to better understand animal behaviors. It doesn’t address every possible occurrence – it does provide steps volunteers can take during crucial moments.
The Steps

  1. Initial Introduction. Choose experienced volunteers who don’t get nervous in stressful moments for the animal introductions. Cats and dogs have different temperaments and unique methods for successful introductions.

    Cats
    Introduce cats to other cats in an open area with a few hiding spots set up. Make sure the cat you introduce the new cat to is well-behaved. Give the cat time to explore and feel comfortable in the room. Bring the other cat in after the cat is comfortable. Interact and play with this cat to increase your new furry friend’s trust. Cats cannot be rushed to meet and be friends – it takes time and commitment.

    Dogs
    Initial dog-to-dog introductions require both dogs to be on a leash that allows freedom of movement. They need to feel like they can explore at their own pace. Keep dogs 10 feet apart and give them a chance to sniff one another without touching.

    If any of the animals show signs of aggression, remove the animals from the meetings for the day.

  2. Assess body language. Body language speaks volumes when analyzing dogs and cats in different situations. Pay attention to their body language to gain an understanding of how they are handling and reacting to the situation. Aggressive or uncomfortable body language to look for includes:
    •    Hissing or growling
    •    Raised hair
    •    Stiff body
    •    Bare teeth
    •    Get low (getting ready to attack)
    Lunging at one another
    In these moments, separate the animals and try again the following day.
  3.  Group introductions. After the dogs or cats successfully interact with others in a one-on-one situation, move them to group introductions.

    Cats
    Add more cats to the first room. Watch to see how the cat reacts. Do they run and hide? Play? Attack? As long as all of the animals are behaving well, watch them for varied lengths of time. Increase the lengths of time daily until they can be trusted 100% of the time with the other cats.

    Dogs
    Take dogs into group settings on a leash. Give the dog time to sniff around and then drop the leash, letting them roam freely. Pay attention to their initial reactions and responses to the other dogs. Repeat this daily at increased lengths of time until they can be left on their own.

  4. Human interaction. Throughout the entire introduction process, keep track of how the animals respond to human interaction, new volunteers, male versus female volunteers. Make note of any potential human socialization dangers.

Your ultimate goal is to adopt the animals to their forever homes. The best way to accomplish that is to properly introduce and socialize all animals with other animals, volunteers, and your shelter setting.

Animals in shelters typically come from a background of abuse and neglect. Sometimes these animals have little or no social skills with other animals or humans. Similar to humans, social skills with humans or other animals are vital.

What is socialization?

Socialization teaches dogs to interact with humans and other animals in a friendly manner. Those responsible for socializing dogs use different tactics and methods. Placing dogs in foster homes and forever homes requires they have certain socialization skills. The skills required depend on the makeup of those homes. Do the homes have children, other dogs, or other pets? How does the dog respond to children, males, females, and other animals?

Often times, animal shelters know little about the dogs in their care. Especially when the dogs are found abandoned. In these situations, how do you know what type of environment they will thrive in? The best shelters perform aggression testing to determine what social skills are in place and which need to be worked on.

Proper socialization decreases the dog’s stress and the chance of lashing out. Shelter dogs need to be introduced to socializing differently than a 3-week old puppy. Follow these steps for socializing your shelter dogs:

  1. Choose the right volunteer. Choose volunteers who are calm by nature. Anxiousness is easily detected by the dogs. If the volunteer is anxious or quick to yank on the leash, the dogs get scared.
  2. Introduce them to other shelter dogs. During the initial meetings keep both dogs on a loose leash. This gives the dogs chance to move freely to check out the surrounding environment. Keep the dogs about 8 feet apart to avoid a face to face meeting which many dogs don’t enjoy.
  3. Pay attention. Take notice of how the dogs react to one another. Look for signs of discomfort – stiff body, bared teeth, or growling. Maintain distance between the dogs in these situations or stop for the day if they don’t calm down.
  4. Introduce them to a group setting. After the dogs do well in the one on one introduction, they can be introduced to a group setting. Have the volunteer take the dog into a group environment on a leash. Drop the leash inside – give them chance to explore while still having a method to manage them. Take them off the leash after 20-30 minutes of good behavior. Continue to watch them for another 20- 30 minutes to make sure they remain calm.
  5. Slowly move them full-time to the group setting. Move new dogs into the group setting in stages. Let them stay for a few hours adding time every day until you work up to a full day with the other dogs.

Volunteers are a valuable asset for animal shelters and rescues. Without them, shelters and rescues would be unable to achieve their mission. In 2013, the IRS released a report stating that 85% of nonprofit organizations are run by volunteers and have no paid staff.  Volunteers are responsible for organizing adoption events, raising funds, and caring for the animals in their animal shelters or rescues. Last week we reviewed the importance of creating and maintaining a volunteer program. One of the prime aspects of that program is to implement a volunteer handbook.

Volunteers differ from paid employees. However, managing volunteers requires a similar skill set.  Employee handbooks are common in both small and large businesses.  Nonprofit animal shelters and rescues need to implement a similar handbook for volunteers.  Here are the two main benefits of a volunteer handbook:

  1. Sets Expectations. A handbook is a tool that defines what is expected of the volunteer during their time at the shelter. It also identifies what the volunteer should expect from the organization in return for their donated time.
  2. Protects the Animal Shelter or Rescue. Creating and identifying clear policies and procedures for your volunteer team minimizes liability. The handbook provides guidelines and rules for how negative circumstances will be handled and offers a no-surprise resolution for both parties.

A hurdle many directors face is how to create a concise and informative volunteer handbook. Here are 7 essential sections to include in your handbook:

  1. What is the story behind your animal shelter or rescue? Tell the story of how you formed. Include your goals, mission, and vision for volunteers to gain a better perspective of who they are serving.
  2. Set expectations for acceptable and unacceptable behavior. Behavior expectations include how volunteers treat one another, the animals, and the public.  Define work expectations in this section as well. Work expectations include the number of volunteer hours, responsibilities, and the appropriate way to take a day of absence.
  3. Policies and procedures for responsibilities are a tremendous help in minimizing potential dangers or disasters. Explain these procedures in detail in the handbook. This assures you each volunteer has the information prior to volunteering.  This is the section you address volunteer training requirements including times and methods of training.
  4. One of the biggest responsibilities of a shelter or rescue is to take in dogs, cats, and other animals that need care. This section reviews the policies for incoming animals and addresses the intake process including standards your shelter or rescue follows.
  5. Rescues or shelters that foster animals need a section on foster home policies and procedures. Often times, foster parents are overlooked as volunteers because they are not at the physical shelter.  They are a vital part of your volunteer team.  The risks and requirements of foster homes differ from other policies and procedures.
  6. Animal adoption is a major part of your operation.  This section identifies the standards and timeframes your animal shelter or rescue follows prior to placing an animal with their forever home.  This section also addresses the requirements of adopting families.  It is important that all volunteers are aware of the expectations so they can help properly place animals.
  7. It is common for volunteer handbooks to include a receipt that the volunteers sign. The signature verifies they read the handbook and are aware of the expectations outlined.

Create a strong volunteer program starts by implementing a volunteer handbook.  Work with your legal counsel to create a handbook that best suits your animal shelter or rescue needs.

 

Animal Shelters and rescues attend adoption events as exhibitors to help raise mission awareness and increase adoptions.  Events range from a small open house to a larger event with multiple animal shelters and rescues.  Deciding to attend an event comes with risks. Plan in advance to minimize these risks. Train your volunteer team on how their actions can help protect your animal shelter or rescue. Here are five things your animal shelter needs to know before attending a special event:

  1. Does the event align with your mission? Look at the mission or goal of the event.  Does their goal align with your mission? If the two do not align, the event is not in your best interest.  Attending an event that does not promote your mission, leaves you open to negative publicity or loss of a positive reputation.
  2. Read the contract. Most event organizers require you to comply with rules and an agreement to become an exhibitor. Make sure you read the contract or agreement to determine if you can meet these requirements. Common event guidelines include set-up and tear down times, proof of insurance, vaccine requirements for animals, and expectations for how you present yourself during the event. If you are unable to meet the requirements outlined in the agreement do not register as an exhibitor.  You risk a negative impact to your animal shelter or rescue if you attend and do not follow the guidelines.
  3. What can go wrong? Prior to attending an event, make a list of all the potential risks. Risks include animals getting loose, volunteers not showing, animals injuring attendees or volunteers.  Once you have a list of possibilities, create a proactive plan that identifies how you will minimize the potential for these.  For example, one significant risk is an animal jumping on an attendee and scratching that individual.  A plan to keep that from occurring includes making sure volunteers are assisting the attendees while talking to, petting and playing with the animals.
  4. Choose the right animals. Choosing the right animals to take is a key in minimizing the risk of injury to attendees. Your goal is to increase adoptions by attending the event.  Animals that have just recently entered your care may not be a good fit.  Choose animals that can handle social situations and interaction with strangers.  Animals that are skittish or easily scared have unpredictable behaviors and should remain at the shelter or in their foster home during events.
  5. Choose the right volunteer team. Volunteers who attend the event need to be knowledgeable of your animal shelter or rescue, your mission and how to present themselves during an event. If you choose to send new volunteers, make sure you pair them with an experienced volunteer that understands adoption event logistics and your expectations.

Adoption and special events are a powerful way to educate and involve your community with your shelter.  Follow these steps before attending an event to create a positive experience for all involved.

 

Volunteers are one of the cornerstones to running your animal shelter or rescue successfully.  You rely on them to help with day to day needs, care for the animals, organize events, spread the word about your mission, and be passionate about the great work they are doing. Did you know they are one of your biggest risks?  Volunteers are human and unpredictable in their actions.  To successfully manage their actions and minimize risk, implement an official volunteer program.  Here are the categories your program requires:

Volunteer Handbook

Volunteer handbooks contain valuable information about the animal shelter or rescue.  They provide new volunteers with:

  1. Background information
  2. Mission and Vision
  3. Application process
  4. Training expectations
  5. Behavior expectations
  6. Volunteer waiver
  7. Organization policies

Require new volunteers to review the handbook prior to completing a volunteer application.  This information sets the precedence for expectations during their time volunteering for your organization.

Volunteer Waivers

Volunteer waivers are typically included as part of the handbook.  They are vital for animal shelters and rescues to have in place.  A strong waiver includes:

  1. Release of liability for injury and bites
  2. Acceptance that injuries are not covered under a worker’s compensation policy
  3. Acceptance of policies and procedures
  4. Emergency contact information
  5. Release to contact to provide medical help or attention if needed

Volunteer waivers are a safety precaution. Volunteers may still choose to file a lawsuit if they believe the animal shelter or rescue is responsible for an injury.  Waivers are part of your defense in court but should not be your only defense.  Work with your legal counsel to draft a waiver that best suits your animal shelter or rescue needs.

The Right Insurance

The best way to be proactive in protecting your animal shelter or rescue from financial loss as a result of a lawsuit is to purchase insurance.  There are many types of insurance you can purchase for your organization including:

  1. General Liability Insurance
  2. Professional Liability Insurance
  3. Accident & Health Insurance
  4. Director’s & Officer’s Insurance

Liability insurance protects your financial assets by paying defense and settlement costs of a covered lawsuit.   Take the time to research animal shelter insurance options today.  Purchasing insurance after a lawsuit is filed will not protect you.

Volunteer Training

Volunteer training is vital for new and existing volunteers.  Create a strong volunteer training program by answering these questions:

  1. What do you want the training to accomplish?
  2. What do your volunteers need to know?
  3. What do your volunteers already know?
  4. How do they learn best?

These answers will help you to create a valuable training program that is beneficial to both the volunteer and the organization.  Once training is completed, have your volunteers tell you what they learned and how they can implement this in their tasks.  Training is never complete and should be offered on a routine basis to volunteers.  The knowledge and education help make them valuable to your team.

 

There is much joy to be had while running an animal shelter. Finding animals forever homes on a regular basis can be hard work, but is very rewarding. However, for all the things that can go right in your shelter, there are many others that can go wrong. That is when a liability waiver comes in handy. Liability waivers can save you a lot of headache and financial hardships. Here are a few examples of what a liability waiver can protect you and your shelter from.

1. Dog Bites.

Dogs are the most sought after animal in a shelter, and the majority of visitors in your shelter will likely be looking to add one to their family. When perusing the dogs, the visitors may put their hands in the dogs cage to initiate contact. While many dogs will be docile and friendly, others may perceive this as a threat and bite the stranger’s hand. This can be problematic because injury or disease can happen as a result. If that visitor signed a liability waiver though, then you are clear of any blame.

2. Cat Scratches.

Cats are another animal that is highly sought after in a shelter, and chances are your shelter houses many. One of the cats in your shelter may come into contact with many visitors in a day, and may scratch them. While a cat scratch, or bite may seem harmless at first, it can have lasting consequences. A cat scratch can lead to a nasty bacterial infection known as cat scratch fever. A visitor who contracts cat scratch fever from one of your shelter cats may hold you liable. However, a liability waiver would say different.

3. Slips, Falls. Etc…

Even if your shelter animals are well contained and on their best behavior, there is still many things that can go wrong. A dog may urinate on the ground, and someone could slip in it. The puddle may have gone unnoticed by the shelter staff until this accident occurred, so a wet floor sign didn’t get put out. Liability waivers can include a clause for this situation, and any other non animal related incident.