What Volunteering at a Shelter Taught Me
Sergio’s Volunteer Diary
In 2016 I volunteered to work at New York City’s Animal Care Center. The ACC is the “city pound” for NYC. The experience taught me a lot. Here are five lessons I learned.
Don’t judge a dog by its breed. Before starting my volunteer work at the Animal Care Centers of NYC’s shelter in Manhattan, I was somewhat afraid of Pit Bulls. This fear came from my own experiences at the local dog run; a few dog fights involving Pit Bulls caused chaos and panic among the other dog owners. Most of the dogs at the ACC are Pitt Bulls or Pitt mixes. I’ve been so fortunate to walk and handle some awesome “Pitties” with whip-wagging tails and lap-dog dispositions.
Spending time at the shelter is better than “chilling with Netflix.” Imagine a room full of cats and kittens meowing and purring. Or a dog pulling you to the park to rub its nose through the grass. Volunteering gives me a sense of satisfaction by helping others and it makes me feel appreciated. On my last walk, I was out with a happy pup and a woman turns to me and says: “Wow that’s one excited dog… it’s amazing what you volunteers are doing.” The best thing about my efforts is it will help increase an animal’s chances for a new home. It’s a great place to meet new people who share a similar affection for animals. And I’ve rediscovered that doing something new is actually so much fun.
You have a front row seat if you’re looking to adopt. If you’re looking to add a new family member, then there’s no better way to get to know your potential pet. Did you know that 20-30% of shelter animals are purebreds? So that Labradoodle or Persian cat that you’ve always wanted but couldn’t afford may be waiting for you at a local shelter. I’ve been tempted on numerous occasions to walk up to the adoption office and take a pooch home. When the time is right; my new found knowledge and network of friends will enable me to take on the challenge.
You learn a lot about yourself. When I shared my decision with my friends to volunteer, many of them responded by saying: “I could never do that; it would be too heartbreaking to see all those homeless animals.” I felt that way for years, but after starting my journey, I now realize how truly blessed I am to be part of a kind community of caregivers and loving animals. I learned to be more compassionate with the less fortunate. Just the other day in my neighborhood, I stopped a woman to say hello to her happy Pittie. I asked her how the big guy got that huge scar on his back. Apparently, the previous owner tried to burn the poor boy with acid. With tears swelling, I thanked the woman for sharing her story and realized how resilient dogs really are.
Animal shelters need more of us. Animal shelters cannot survive without volunteers. Most of their funding comes from the number of volunteer hours logged in a year. So more volunteers and resources means more animals getting adopted. On one occasion, as I was finishing my shift, one of the dogs was incessantly barking at me. I walked up to say hello to try and calm her. I looked at her log sheet, and realized that she hadn’t been out for a walk yet. I straddled on her leash, and as we swiftly walked through hallway, she crouched and relieved herself in the elevator. I learned that there was a shortage of staffers and volunteers that day. With a few hours of your time or a few bucks out of your pocket, you can also share in the joys of spreading love to some admirable animals.
To learn more about the Animal Care Centers of NYC, click here.
Sergio Urciuoli is the owner of Mila, one of Urban Dog’s Rhodesian Ridgeback models. He is a frequent collaborator here at Urban Dog and as evidenced above, a volunteer at the ACC.