Posts Tagged ‘Volunteer’

Reflections of a Dog Walking Volunteer

Posted in Uncategorized on September 12th, 2009 by katie – Be the first to comment

It’s been several weeks since I started walking dogs at BARCS and I am loving it. Any apprehensions I had at the beginning about handling the dogs are gone and I feel confident knowing how to deal with any situation I am not comfortable with. There are so many super sweet dogs!

I’ve stopped by a few times on the way home from lab just for an hour or so to try to get a few dogs walked. One of the things that strikes me every time is how snuggly they are. If I had been cooped up for like that I would be going crazy! Most of them are eager to get outside, but then once they’re out, they just want some lovin’. Many learn how to sit, which is great.

Another thing that’s been absolutely fantastic is the interaction I’ve had with other volunteers. On Labor Day I went in for a few hours and there were 6 or 7 other volunteers there and we were able to get every dog walked! The other times I’ve been in during the week I’ve been disappointed to see that many dogs haven’t been walked at all that day, and some not for 1-2 days. I’ll definitely try to keep going in at the end of the day during the week whenever I can, even if it’s just to get a few dogs out.

A few dogs have really caught my attention so far, and I often wonder how they’re doing. One is “Papa”, who is an adorable brindle puppy with a big wide muzzle. He was ridiculously cute. I know he was adopted because his new owner came to get him one day while I was out walking him. Another was “Mona,” who was a very sweet, well behaved pit mix. She was all white except for a black spot over one eye and ear and another spot on her back. And then there was “Cagney,” who was the emaciated honey I met on my second day of dog walking training. Those dogs were all gone within a week or so, and I really hope they went to wonderful homes.

One thing that I try really hard not to let it bother me is that lots of animals are pulled to go to other shelters. The Maryland SPCA comes several times a week and pulls the best dogs and cats and takes them to their shelter on Falls Road. I know that this should make me happy, because these animals will still be adopted and will even have better visibility there, but I can’t help but feel a bit deflated that they just come in and pick all the good ones. I guess I shouldn’t be so selfish, but when people comment that BARCS doesn’t have any good dogs, or it’s all pit bulls, I am annoyed because it’s like, well where do you think all the other dogs went? They got adopted right away or went to MD SPCA!

For example, LaFayette is a great dog with tons of energy who was at BARCS for a few days before being scooped up by MD SPCA. This is his MD SPCA online listing:

LaFayette MDSPCA

He was removed from their website within a few days, so I bet he was adopted immediately. I keep searching their site for other dogs I might recognize. It’s a big struggle in my mind, because I want to be sure that the dogs are okay but at the same time it’s like, maybe I don’t want to know what’s happened to them and I won’t pursue it too far. One of the other volunteers told me that she tries not to even remember their names because she doesn’t want to get too attached.

I think I’m going to continue to just try to be optimistic and assume that none of the animals being euthanized are ones that I have met, and that each dog is going to a wonderful family that will love them and shelter them forever. I am really hoping that becoming an escort does not burst this bubble for me.

Escort Training

Posted in Uncategorized on September 12th, 2009 by katie – Be the first to comment

This afternoon I attended the escort training at BARCS, which is required to help with showing animals to potential adopters. There were about 8 or 9 of us at the training class, which was a good sign. The volunteer coordinator told us about all the rules for escorting, for example that people should not stick their hands or fingers into the cages, even though *everyone* is going to want to do that. Only one family can be escorted at a time, and they have to stay together at all times. I can already tell that this is going to be challenging, especially when there are children involved mixed with an endless supply of fascinating and adorable animals.

There was quite a selection of horror stories about dealing with the public (the Baltimore public, at that) but I am determined to give it a try and hope that many of my fears will be assuaged once I get the hang of things. That’s what happened with dog walking, after all. Hopefully there will always be enough good to outweigh the bad.

One thing that they warned about is people who are there looking for a “free petting zoo.” This hadn’t occurred to me either, but obviously if you’re just there to play with some animals, and not interested in adopting, it is a huge waste of time! There are real people out there waiting to adopt animals, and there are countless animals needing attention at any moment.

After the meeting we went on a brief tour, and I got to see the new layout. Now, all the cats are in the same general area since they’re remodeling and rearranging last week. Now that I’ve been walking dogs for a while, I’ve gotten to see how high the turnover is, so I am very optimistic about the dogs. I still haven’t done the cat socialization training, though, and whenever I see the cats I get so overwhelmed because of the sheer number of homeless cats. You might be standing in a room with 20 cages, but within each cage is a mother and her kittens, so really that number starts to get multiplied and that’s how many cats there are needing homes. I saw a beautiful all white mother cat today with her one day old kitten. It was so tiny! There are just so many…

At the end of the training session I wasn’t sure I was ready to really do it on my own, so I asked if there was anyone we could shadow a couple of times to get the hang of it, so another volunteer and I shadowed one of the staff members for two adoption visits. The first was a young couple interested in adopting a dog. The first thing he did was ask them if there was anything in particular that they were looking for. They said they already had a dog at home and were looking for a large dog to be a companion for the one they already have.  He walked them around the three large kennel rooms, and at the end he asked if there were any dogs that they wanted to take a look at, but they said no. He showed them out and gave them a brochure listing the other shelters in the area and encouraged them to check back frequently because we bring in 30-50 animals per day so the available animals are always changing.

I was extremely disappointed that they didn’t find a dog that they liked. The staff member I was shadowing was very laid back, and had a wonderful, calm, assertive energy about him. He was great at giving subtle suggestions without being pushy. I am definitely not as subtle as he is… I will have to learn. My first instinct was to lecture them that pit bulls are wonderful dogs and don’t ever judge a breed like that. Instead, he agreed that “yes, there are a lot of pit bulls, and in the 80′s it was shepherds, and in the 90′s it was Rottweilers. It’s the humans that create the viscious reputation. In Britain, they call them “Nanny Dogs” because they look after the children.”

Afterward, I remarked that I doubted I could ever have his patience. He told me that he is “not here to be a used car salesman,” so he will never try to encourage people to adopt a certain animal, because that way if the adoption does not work out, they will not come back blaming BARCS for encouraging them to adopt a bad animal. I hadn’t considered it that way at all, so I’ll definitely have to keep it in mind, and try to take deep breaths and think before I speak.

Next we escorted a group interested in adopting a cat. They ended up taking over an hour, but we’re not supposed to rush people… I guess it just bothered me that that’s time that could be spent helping the animals. Even though the staff member I was shadowing showed them several cats that he knew were great, they wanted to look in every cage, and were very indecisive, and ultimately were interested in a kitten that was not even available for adoption because it was too young. It frustrated me that we spent that much time and neither group ended up adopting an animal.

All in all it was a very educational experience. While I am fairly apprehensive about working with the Baltimore City public, it was not enough to scare me off completely… at least for now. I hope to give it a try during the week sometime when it’s a little quieter, and build up some confidence from there.

Missing Cody

Posted in Uncategorized on August 27th, 2009 by katie – 2 Comments

About a month ago my family’s golden retriever, Cody, had to be put down due to a medical condition in which he had fluid surrounding his heart and lungs. Cody lived to be 11 1/2 years old, and had a very full and adventurous life right up until the end. I think about him a lot, especially when I am at BARCS, as though his spirit lives on in some way in each of the dogs that I interact with.

Most strikingly though, the other day I took Cocoa to the dog park and a woman was there with her two golden retrievers. The woman had on a baseball cap with a golden retriever on it, and it turns out that she is a foster for GRREAT, the golden retriever rescue for this area of the country. Both of the dogs she had with her were former fosters that she decided to keep. One of them, named Bailey, was a big stocky guy who was the splitting image of Cody. Bailey is 4 years old, and has the big boxy head of an English golden and a beautiful long coat – just a tad bit lighter than Cody’s.

When Cocoa went over to try to steal sticks from the two goldens, Bailey came right up to me and positioned himself between my legs just like Cody used to do. Later when I was sitting down, he came over to me and sat quietly right next to me so that I could rub his head. Even his breathing sounded just like Cody’s. It was very sweet and I felt like somehow Bailey was telling me that Cody was alright.

Here’s one of my favorite photos of Cody taken in May of this year:

DSCN5808

I’m Official! Dog Walking Training at BARCS Parts I and II

Posted in Uncategorized on August 27th, 2009 by katie – 2 Comments

This week I completed the two 2-hour dog walking training at BARCS. On Monday I went in for part I, which consisted mostly of basic orientation and introduction to dog walking, and then on Thursday we did part II which was entirely devoted to practicing with the dogs.

I had the opportunity to work one-on-one with Les, who is one of the most enthusiastic, friendliest, and compassionate people I think I’ve ever met. He was thrilled to be my instructor, and he took care to answer all of my questions and make sure I was comfortable with what I was doing. On Monday we spent some time in the conference room going over basic procedures and he asked me some questions about myself in order to get to know me better. Some of the things we went over were basic operating procedures for dog walkers, how to report any behavioral or health issues we notice with a dog, how to avoid getting bitten, and how to avoid dog fights. He said that in recent years there have been three instances where volunteers have been bitten: one was when a dog as cowering in the back of the cage, clearly frightened, but the volunteer went in anyway and tried to put the collar on and the dog snapped at him. Another was after a dog walker returned a dog to its kennel, gave the dog a treat, and then reached for the collar to remove it and the dog was food aggressive and snapped at her hand. The third case occurred out in the dog runs, when one volunteer was already out with a dog and then another volunteer came out and went into the dog run next to the first one, and the dogs started fighting through the fence. One dog started digging under the chain-link fence, so the walker went to try and pull him back and was bitten pretty severely. So, I think my lesson there is to a) observe and respect the dogs’ body language; if they’re telling me they don’t want me there, then I won’t go there! b) to avoid food-aggression issues from the start and c) carefully follow their instructions on avoiding dog-dog confrontations. If there is another dog in our path, we are instructed to turn around and go back until they pass. If there is another dog out in the dog runs, Les says that we should allow the dogs to interact through the fence before letting them off the leash so that we can determine whether it’s a good idea to let them off the leash or not. The most important thing is to prevent any dog from getting loose!

BARCS has three main kennel rooms or suites, each with 22 kennels inside. There are also a few smaller rooms for puppies and nursing mothers but we didn’t go in there because they are currently being renovated. (The renovation meant that there were stacks of kitty condos lining the hallways, and cages of adorable puppies in the halls – so cute!) Out in the hall near the dog walking door to the outside, there is a dry-erase board with a line for all 66 kennels and the name of the dogs in each one. Beside the dogs’ kennel # and name is the date of their last walk, and beside that there may be an L for “leash walk only”, an E for “high energy”, an X for “caution do not walk”,  an H for “house trained” or other symbols for dogs that have recently had surgery or have other special needs. Les said that an L for leash-walk only is usually because the dog has not had all its vaccinations yet, so it should not go into the exercise runs, or it is currently on medications, or the dog has recently had surgery and needs to take it easy. Apparently they used to not walk the dogs that haven’t been fully vaccinated yet, but those dogs ended up waiting way too long because they are just so backlogged, so now those dogs can go out; they just need to be on the leash only.

Both days I was there it seemed like most of the dogs had been walked the day before or two days ago at most, but hardly any had had a chance to go out yet that day. Les said that he usually starts with the dogs that have an H for house trained, because they’re probably holding it pretty bad, and then he goes on to the dogs that have not been out in the longest time.

For me, the trickiest thing is preventing the dogs from bolting out of their kennels as soon as I open the door to go in. Today we took out one dog, named Bear, who was very energetic and started biting on the leash as soon as we tried to get it on him. Once we got the dogs out the door, we either took them for a walk up and down the street or around the parking lot, or we went into one of the dog runs to play. After each play session, dirty toys and balls have to put into a plastic bag and placed in a special bin to be cleaned between uses. Also in between dogs, we the walkers have to sanitize our hands. Both Monday and today, just about every dog we took out went #2 while we were outside, which I took as a pretty good sign.

So here’s the basic routine:

Upon arrival, volunteers sign in, pick up a key to the side door of the shelter, pick up a name tag, and select from a collection of leashes and chains. I find that most of the chains are fairly short, but Les brings his own nice long one which I much preferred, so I got to use his. Some of the dogs have Martingale collars assigned to them hanging on the door of their kennel, but they seem sort of difficult to get on a lot of the time so I’m not sure how often I’ll use them. We pack up our pockets with treats and plastic bags, and a collection tube for poop or diarrhea in case we encounter a medical problem that the vets need to tend to. Then we go to the board and see who needs to be walked.

On Monday I had the chance to walk two dogs. One was a pit-bull mix named Reiki who was very friendly and well behaved. He had a number of red sores along his back and right flank, so we reported that on the vet’s sheet. I wonder if he had been in a fight? He wasn’t there today, so I don’t know what happened to him. There’s a chance that the Maryland SPCA, who comes by several times a week, may have scooped him up because he was so well behaved (apparently they get to pick out the good ones they want to take!)

The other dog we walked on Monday was a cute shepherd mix that had already been approved for adoption. He was very sweet. Today I walked about five dogs. The first was “Bear” who was very enthusiastic about biting the leash but turned out to be a sweet dog. Here is a screen shot of his profile from the BARCS website:

http://baltimoreanimalshelter.org/adoptable_pets.php

http://baltimoreanimalshelter.org/adoptable_pets.php

After that, we walked a 5 year old Boxer named Sandy that had been surrendered from an abuse case, and was very thin and looked much older than 5 years to me, but she was very very sweet. Then we walked a very cute little mix named Hot Lips. Hot Lips has already been approved for adoption but she hadn’t been out for two days. She was super cute and had a black body with a white face and white feet and a white tip at the end of her tail. Unfortunately she has kennel cough, but she is on medication for it but we could not take her into the dog run. Next came Twinkle who had already been walked today but Les wanted me to meet her. She was a doll! Here is her profile:

http://baltimoreanimalshelter.org/adoptable_pets.php

http://baltimoreanimalshelter.org/adoptable_pets.php

At the end Les suggested I pick the last one and I came across an absolute sweetheart, brindle coated honey that was just completely emaciated. I have never seen a dog that thin before, and neither had Les – he said this was by far the worst case he’d ever seen, and he does this three times a week for I don’t know how long. This dog turned out to be the biggest sweetheart! We went over to a picnic table near the water and he just moved right into my lab for some lovin’. This poor dog’s lower back is barely more than three inches across and you can see every rib and all of his pelvis sticking out, but he was one of the biggest snugglers I’ve ever met, and that’s saying something. I didn’t see how much he weighs but it’s probably well over 40 lbs LESS than he should weigh. He is on a puppy food diet which is high in calories so hopefully he will gain weight fast. He came in as a stray, and I can’t imagine how long he was out on the street starving like that. But what a honey; that was really the best moment of the whole experience was the pure joy and relief that I could feel in him as he snuggles up into my arms and licked the bottom of my chin. Yes, I let him sit in my lap even though he’s way too big; I thought he totally deserved it.

Now that I’ve passed the dog walking course, I can go whenever I want to help walk dogs. Next I’ll try to get into one of the cat socialization classes, and then it will be time for escort training.

Call for volunteers at BARCS

Posted in Uncategorized on August 17th, 2009 by katie – Be the first to comment

For anyone interested in volunteering at BARCS:

Thank you for your interest in volunteering at the Baltimore Animal Rescue and Care Shelter (BARCS).  We are the largest shelter in the Baltimore area, handling over 11,000 animals annually.  BARCS took over administration of the Baltimore City animal shelter in 2005.  Since then adoptions have increased over 2167%!  We are in urgent need of volunteers to help with dog walking, cat socialization, assisting potential adopters, staffing booths at community events, and many other tasks.

All volunteers are required to have their own health insurance coverage.

Please let me know if you need information about volunteer opportunities for 13 to 17 year olds.  Volunteers under the age of 18 can only work with shelter animals if accompanied by a parent or guardian.  The parent or guardian must complete all required volunteer training.

I hope you will be able to attend one of our upcoming volunteer orientations.  Volunteer orientations are scheduled on

Saturday, August 8, at 11:30 am

Thursday, August 13 at 3 pm

Saturday, August 15, at 11:30 am

Friday, August 21 at noon

Saturday, August 22, at 11:30 am

Monday, August 24 at 1 pm

Saturday, August 29, at 11:30 am

Saturday, September 5, at 11:30 am

Saturday, September 12, at 12:30 pm

Saturday, September 19, at 11:30 am

Saturday, September 26, at 11:30 am

Saturday, October 3, at 12:30 pm

Saturday, October 10, at 11:30 am

Saturday, October 24, at 11:30 am

Saturday, October 31, at 11:30 am

To register for an orientation contact  Frank.Branchini_AT_BaltimoreCity.gov.

Orientations take about 75 minutes and are held in the Conference Room at the BARCS Animal Shelter at 301 Stockholm Street, across from the Ravens Stadium.  At the orientation you will learn more about volunteer opportunities, take a tour of the shelter, and have an opportunity to sign up for training.  I look forward to working with you.

Some orientations are scheduled at times when the shelter is not open to the public.  The front door may say closed but it will be unlocked.  Please come in and ask for the volunteer orientation.

Frank Caesar Branchini

Volunteer and Events Coordinator

Baltimore Animal Rescue and Care Shelter (BARCS)

Frank.Branchini_AT_baltimorecity.gov

(410) 396-4695

Phone hours:

Mondays, Thursdays, Fridays:  10:30 am to 4:30 pm

Saturdays and Sundays:  10 am to 4 pm

BARCS Volunteer Orientation

Posted in Uncategorized on August 17th, 2009 by katie – Be the first to comment

The initial BARCS volunteer orientation was Thursday, August 13, 2009 at 3:00pm. There were a total of eight of us, plus the volunteer and events coordinator. He was quite distracted and frazzled because they were getting ready to take a group of animals to an event at 4:00. I quickly realized just how understaffed they really are.

He first gave us some background on BARCS and described the many opportunities for volunteers. He emphasized a lot of the changes that have been made since BARCS took over from the city shelter in 2005. For example,since then, their adoption rate has increased over 2,000%, but they still have a long way to go to catch up to places like the Maryland SPCA and HSBC, who have a lot more resources and are able to offer things like dog training classes for all adopted dogs. BARCS is working hard to get visibility, and he said that they often do three promotional events per week, all staffed completely by volunteers.

He also said that they take in all animals, not just dogs and cats. Apparently at one point there were several alligators brought in!

The main thing they need volunteers for is escorting. Since BARCS is the intake shelter for cruelty, neglect, and bite cases for Baltimore City, they can’t have people wandering around unattended, so all shelter visitors have to have an escort take them back when they come to look at animals. This means that BARCS is in urgent need of people to escort visitors, especially during busy times. In addition to escorting, they also need people to walk and train dogs and to do cat socialization. The dogs and cats that we will be interacting with will have all gone through intake vaccinations and behavior assessments. In order to do these things, we have to complete special volunteer training courses in addition to the basic volunteer orientation. I have signed up to do the dog walking training next week, which is in two parts. Once that is done I can take the escort class and be ready to go! They are also offering training in dog training, special events, and pet photography and petfinder listings, so I will hopefully be able to attend those as well soon.

As part of the volunteer orientation, we went on a quick tour of the shelter. As expected, it was about 90% pit bulls in the dog kennels. One thing our guide mentioned is that if you see a dog sitting at the front of its kennel, give it a treat so that it learns that’s a good behavior, and is more likely to get adopted. Cute, but also sad at the same time. We saw the “Rainbow Room,” which is where they do euthanasia. We saw a chart in the hallway that lists every dog, and has a check mark next to their name indicating that they’ve been walked that day. A few dogs had X’s next to their names, because they are not to be walked due to aggression or other issues. I was pleased to see that every dog without an X had been walked, and that was probably a result, the volunteer coordinator told us, of a certain volunteer who always makes sure every dog gets to go outside that is allowed.

Just in the halls we passed a 120 lb Rottweiler being processed for intake, several mama dogs with teeny tiny puppies, and a littler of orphaned kittens that needed to be bottle-fed. He told us that they process as many as 50 new animals a DAY. We met one of the animal control officers and saw the animal control vans in a garage with stacks of 100+ plastic and metal carrying crates. One of the most overwhelming things I saw was a room full of mama cats. Each cage held a mama cat and her litter of 6-8 kittens. I’ve never seen kittens that small – they were the size of hamsters! It dawned on me that there were about 10 cages in that room, and not only do each of those mama cats need a home, but so do all of her kittens. There were probably a total of 200 total cats there that day. It’s was a lot to take in…

Hopefully as an escort I can help move more people through the shelter and get more animals out the door alive. I think that BARCS is making great strides, and I know that they will continue to grow and achieve great things. I’m looking forward to being a part of it, no matter how tough it might be.