Sissy Sheridan: My Animal Shelter Experience

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This past year I started volunteering at a no-kill animal shelter. I’ve had a love of animals since I was very little, but I wanted to do more than help out with my own dogs at home. My family has three dogs - one is a rescue from Puerto Rico named “Teddy." He was adopted from the Lost Cat and Dog organization. While I was performing in a musical in Maryland and had some free days, I looked for a no-kill shelter where I could volunteer. A no-kill shelter means that no healthy or treatable animal is killed, even when the shelter is full. reports that each year, approximately 2.7 million dogs and cats are killed because shelters are too full and there aren't enough adoptive homes.

I grabbed my computer and looked up local animal shelters. I got lucky on the first call - they said they would love the help! Because I was only 13, I had to bring my mom along. It is common for shelters to have an age requirement of 14 without a parent. They want to make sure you are responsible enough to perform the tasks needed to care for the animals alone or with a staff member.  

I fantasized that my volunteer time would be spent cuddling puppies and baby kittens, but the first thing I noticed was the smell! It just comes with the territory. There were so many cats and dogs and so many pens. This shelter tried hard to give the animals as much space as possible, but they had a lot of guests. My first task was far from my dream. I was to wash all of the food bowls by hand that the animals had recently used. There were probably 60 bowls! It took me about 45 minutes. This may sound boring but it’s important. The shelter doesn’t just house the animals - they want to keep them disease-free and healthy. Cats and dogs need clean living areas and bowls to eat and drink from. I learned quickly that volunteering is hard work and you have to be up for anything, especially when it comes to animals.  

The shelter was always buzzing. There was a washer and dryer that ran constantly, taking care of dirty bedding. There were people carrying in and stocking food. There was a veterinarian assistant walking around administering medicines to those animals who were ill. There were people hosing down all the pens. People taking the dogs out for walks. People filling the food and water bowls.  

After I finished cleaning all the food bowls, I was excited to learn I would get to bring some dogs in from their walk and and give them treats! Next I got to walk a newer member of the shelter, a sweet little black Labrador. On our way outside, I saw a dog with a wheelchair for his back legs. A wheelchair! As you may or may not know, I am a huge advocate for those with disabilities, so seeing a dog who was able to have a second chance at life was really amazing! His name was Chubs, which I think is the cutest thing ever!

Volunteering at your local animal shelter is a great way to help the community and furry creatures! Shelters do not receive a lot of money to run on - whether they are private or public - so volunteers are crucial to keeping the animals safe and healthy until they are adopted. If you are unable to volunteer, most shelters can use food, bedding, treats, toys, and financial donations.

Adopting from shelters or rescue organizations can also make a huge impact on saving animals lives. There is always a need for space and resources for new animals that arrive daily. Adopting a pet from either of these is usually much cheaper which can be a plus when trying to convince a parent to let you have a pet! Many animals are older and have had some training which makes the transition of brining a new pet home easier.

Oh, and you’ll be glad to know that Chubs was adopted by a family with a bunch of kids, some of whom had disabilities themselves. They couldn’t wait to welcome him to his forever home. 

Want to help? Here are some ways you can!

Petfinder (adopt a pet)

Humane Society (get involved)

Rescue Group (learn more about how to help) (adopt a pet)