Animal shelter turns away volunteers, reviews program

Kyle Ferguson

The Ames Animal Shelter has recently decided to stop recruiting new volunteers while it takes time to reevaluate its recruitment program.

“I think that this decision will help the animals. They can definitely benefit from a reevaluation of our volunteer program.

Our current retention rate of volunteers is at 10 percent or less, and we like volunteers that actually stick to the schedule,” said Lorna Lavender, animal control officer of the shelter.

The shelter still lets people who have already volunteered continue to do so, and according to an e-mail sent to all interested applicants, the program will be back in the future.

The executive director of the Animal Rescue League of Iowa, Tom Colvin, said sometimes the decision to drop volunteers isn’t up to the shelter.

“There are two kinds of shelters: nonprofit organizations and city tax-funded ones,” he said. “The clinic in Ames is funded by the city, but I think they do a great job of combining the benefits of the two worlds. In the end, it boils down to how much tax money the public is willing to spend to keep programs like that running.”

However, there are some who see this as a step backward from what the shelter should be about.

“Ames used to have a very progressive shelter that was very involved in educating the public about how to properly care for these animals. Now, I just feel that they’re transforming it into a federal dog pound,” said Janette Larkin, former volunteer at the Ames Animal Shelter, who now volunteers at the Animal Rescue League in Des Moines.

Another former volunteer, who wished to remain anonymous, expressed dissatisfaction with the volunteer position.

“I have volunteered at the shelter for many years, but recently I’ve gotten the feeling that the efforts of the volunteers are not valued, and I just think that this program isn’t what it was, so I stopped volunteering.

“I’ve gotten to know many volunteers here, and they’re all dedicated people.

They showed up when scheduled, and they put in a lot of extra hours.

“I wanted to help with the animals that had emotional problems, so I told my bosses that I would do any special training I would need to work with them. I pointed out that an animal had not injured me yet thanks to my judgment, but they pretty much said to not bother. I left soon after.”

Lavender said special cases such as these are for trained staff, not volunteers.

“Decisions like that are for their safety and protection.

If we have a problem with volunteers breaking the rules, we ask them to leave,” she said.

When an animal with emotional problems is admitted to the shelter, the typical procedure is to wait for a week for the owner to claim it, and then euthanize the animal, according to the anonymous source.

“We only refuse certain types of animals here: Older animals with health problems, who would be scared living in a shelter, and animals like pit bulls with a history of attacking children,” Lavender said.

Linn Cipperley-Price, director of the Animal Protection & Education Charity, said actual certification to work with these animals is hard to get.

“In Iowa, they only give an actual certification to work with problem animals to professional veterinarians.

We allow volunteers to work with some animals that have aggressive tendencies after we’ve worked with them a little bit to make sure they know what they’re doing, and after they sign a waiver stating that the clinic is not responsible for anything that happens,” she said.

Cipperley-Price said volunteers are vital to her program.

“Our volunteers cover five-county areas in finding animals. They have to be properly organized, but when they are, they’re the backbone of any good organization,” she said.

Cipperley-Price said working with problem animals can become overwhelming. Due to the needs of animals volunteers are expected to posses certain specialized skills for the job.

“Honestly, it just sounds like some people just have some issues with their time here,” she said. “Dealing with animals is an emotional subject, and sometimes some people have trouble controlling it.”