A volunteering story by: Daniel Erickson

When working with animals at a shelter like the Canine Adoption and Rescue League (C.A.R.L.), a very large and important part of the role is making sure that they are given the attention that a normal pet would have (or at least as close as possible). They need to be socialized, so that when they make the transition to adoption, it’s as smooth as possible. According to Brittany, “Every weekend I would drive out to the shelter and help walk, feed, and bathe the dogs. I would also take the dogs out to the exercise pen and let them run around and play fetch.”
In addition to working directly with the animals Brittany would work around the shelter, doing general maintenance and other duties associated with the business. These included both physical maintenance and administrative work. “I would then help tidy up other parts of the shelter or organize paperwork in the front office.”
Another aspect of supporting an animal shelter is participating in community outreach initiatives. Although a lot of people are interested in visiting an animal shelter, sometimes the rigamarole of the real world can get in the way. Therefore, organizations like C.A.R.L have to find ways to get in front of the right people – the kind who are passionate about animals. They do this by working with their surrounding pet stores, which Brittany would also help with. “Some weekends I would meet at the local PetsMart where the shelter brought in select dogs to be adopted. There, I would sit and play with the dogs and answer any questions as people came to visit with them.”
With all of these different tasks, Brittany like the “physical and emotional interaction” with all of the dogs, because she felt like she was able to make a difference in their lives. Obviously a shelter is meant to be temporary, but it can help and be rewarding when someone can make it feel like a home in even a small way.

The Inspiration

Brittany was born into a military family, and moved around a lot throughout her childhood. Animals were one of the constants in her life through all the changes, and she felt a connection to the idea of getting involved with helping dogs through C.A.R.L. Another added advantage was that it gave her a new way to get out there, meet new people, and explore the area. As she puts it, “I had just moved out to California to live with my aunt who works as a vet. I wanted to do something that would feel rewarding and get me a little familiar with the area. I have always had a love for animals and being around them.”
Her passion for animals was such that when she first moved out to California, she was seriously considering the pursuit of a career in animal care. “At the time I thought I wanted to follow my aunt’s footsteps and become a vet too, so she recommended that I start out by volunteering at a local shelter and put in a good word for me at C.A.R.L.” It made a lot of sense and provided a great way for her to get experience working in a facility that provided care.
As soon as she got approved to start working at the shelter, she jumped right in! Not only that, she also quickly found it to be a very fulfilling and embracing community. “The next week I started volunteering at the shelter and immediately made some great connections with the people that worked there.”

The Aha! moment…

Above all else, the time that she spent working with C.A.R.L. ended up being a rewarding learning experience. It was absolutely reinforcement that she loves the intimacy of working with animals in need. The experience also provided insight into the value and mutual benefits of providing volunteer time. As Brittany puts it, “I really found that I love to work with animals and it opened my eyes to seek out other volunteer opportunities in the community.”
In retrospect, it also taught her a lot about herself. It helped her to determine whether this was a future path that she would ultimately want to dedicate herself to in a professional capacity. Much like an internship can teach a student about what they want (or don’t want) to do someday, the time Brittany spent at C.A.R.L. showed her the hard parts and negative side of this line of work. “I…realized that while I love being around animals, I am ultimately not cut out to be a vet. Working with the animals instantly put a smile on my face and knowing that I was somehow making their lives at the shelter a little better felt so rewarding. However, there were some difficult times when an animal would get sick or have to be put down and I was not emotionally strong enough to handle that. The experience really made me appreciate the work that my aunt and all vets do, but I decided to pursue another route for my future career.”
Brittany still has a passion for working with animals, and she will continue to do it as a passion outside of work. Moreover, the volunteer experience gave her such a positive outlook on volunteering in general. She has gone on to work with other organizations and support other causes as well.

To summarize it in three words…

  • Rewarding, Compassion, Altruistic

Why should you do this

If it wasn’t already clear enough, Brittany has had an extremely positive experience with volunteer work. It’s helped her as an outlet for her passions, learn about new people and new areas, and also find out a little bit about herself. These are all valuable lessons that anyone else should consider if they’re even remotely thinking about giving their time to a cause. In closing, I’ll leave with exactly what she said when I asked her whether or not she would recommend this type of work to someone else:
“Absolutely. Volunteering is a great way to grow and learn as an individual while giving back to those in need. I feel like a large part of me would be missing if I didn’t have the experience under my belt from volunteering in my local community. It is an opportunity that brings out the best in people and gives us a sense of purpose in society.”

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