Volunteers Gone Wild

I used to think that volunteers were the best thing that could ever happen to an animal sheltering organization; then I moved to southwest Virginia.  I understand the vested interest that volunteers have in the success of an adoption program; but, I found a place where volunteers thought that they should drive the organization.

It all started when one of the local animal welfare organizations infiltrated our shelter with their own volunteers.  One of their volunteers sat in a County Commission meeting on the first day of my arrival to lament me being hired.  This same volunteer would sit in on many County Commission meetings, using her status as a volunteer (as being in the know), to misrepresent information about our euthanasia rates.

This is the first organization that I have ever directed that did not have an adoption program.  All animal were placed through other rescue groups and that is the way that everyone wanted it.  We could be the bad guys and they could be the good guys.  Well, that was going to change. 

I decided to start adopting animals from my shelter.  The volunteers that came from the other rescue organization all quit.  They staged a walkout when we started adopting pets.  What a stupid thing to protest.

We started seeing an immediate increase in our placement rate.  Dog adoptions were over 92 percent.  We had an incident in which  a couple dogs that were loved by a few volunteers started showing aggression to staff and visitors.  I have a rule that any time a dog starts trying to eat the hand that is feeding it, it is time for that dog to go.

The two dogs were euthanized and the remaining volunteers decided to organize a protest by picking the shelter and bullying us on social media.  They brought in the local media and wanted to show the shelter staff the trouble they can cause if we don’t do what they tell us to do.

Although the volunteers would never be able to bully us to adopt out aggressive dogs, they were successful with those who oversaw our organization.  They didn’t like drama and they felt that giving in to the volunteers would decrease drama.  From my view point, they were more concerned about keeping the drama to a minimum than protecting the public.

I am sharing this story to show  you that in the animal welfare business, you can be on the right side of an issue and still lose.  Throughout my career, I always said, “If you are going to get into trouble, get in to trouble doing the right thing.”  In this business, your first priority is to protect your community.

For a volunteer program to be successful, it is important that your volunteers are on the same page that you are one.  Feelings can run high between organizations, understand the motivation for those that claim to be your friends. 


I grew up in a profession that believed that our volunteers were the life blood of our organization.  Our volunteers could give our animals the special attention that we didn’t have time to provide.

I continued to believe that throughout my career until I ran into a group of volunteers who believed that their service to the organization gave them justification to have the right to direct the operation of the animal shelter.

It was the first time in my life that I believed that our volunteers were a detriment to the organization.  Sure, they were providing valuable care to the animals, but they became a force of demanding staff to overlook the behavioral problems associated with dogs, so as to push the aggressive animals into adoptive homes.

The volunteers were quite effective.  They complained to the right people, made their plea to the media.  There purpose was to undermine the mission of the animal shelter staff to protect the public.

To some degree the volunteers were success in getting the power players to question the decision of staff.  But, mostly these players didn’t like to be embroiled in conflict.  They saw the volunteers as representing a caring community, instead of their role as inflicting their special interest.

This was a problem that was being experience State wide to such a degree due to the high frequency of aggressive animals being released from animal shelters back into the community, the State had to step in and enact laws to force shelters to tell the truth about the behavior of the animals in their care.

Volunteers have special interest, the care that they provide the animals makes them biased towards those animals.  Many volunteers will try to force a shelter to ignore the shelter’s mission to protect the community.  Our elected overseers should have the foresight to recognize this dynamic.

No Kill and Volunteers

The No Kill movement has discovered shelter volunteers as the new infantry for its army to bully shelter employees. The first salvo is launched when shelter volunteers create clone Facebook pages that so closely mimic that of the animal shelter, that people querying the animal shelter is likely to bring up the clone site. Since Facebook provides no regulations as to who can create Facebook pages, it is likely that one or more additional Facebook pages could exist for the animal shelter without the shelter knowing who created them.

Usually the fake Facebook page will begin highlighting the animals that have been euthanized and attempt to shame shelter staff for having committed those deaths. When the pages first appear, they give the appearance that they are a support arm of the shelter and then they begin their slow trend to turn the community against the shelter.

Even though a shelter can have a high release rate, the volunteers running those clone Facebook pages decide what live release rate is necessary to satisfy themselves… it is usually much higher than that of the shelters.

The Facebook pages will create false narratives of the animal’s behavior that unsuspecting people will think that shelter personnel are killing perfectly healthy and adoptable animals; not knowing that most of the animals have health or behavior issues that prevent a sound adoption.