Everything I needed to Know About Life I Learned from the Animal Shelter

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Being Detailed

Being detailed is another vital skill. Being detailed does included documentation as well. Sometimes I require that the volunteers write down what they did for the day so they can go over what they have learned and what we still have left to do after they leave for the day. For instance, if all surfaces of a cage is not thoroughly cleaned and disinfected, the bacteria that causes illness could remain even if the cage seems clean. Another example of being detailed is to make sure that the floor is swept under and behind every tote and animal cage.

get ready to clean station

One more detailed skill the volunteers learn is in examining the animals before starting in the morning. The cleaning is not done from top the bottom, left to right. The cleaning is done from youngest to oldest, healthy to sick animals. So I let the volunteers guess which route they think is best to take before I tell them if it is right or if they need to improve on their evaluations.


We also label each and every disinfectant as per the law, and every tote that items are contained in. This being the case, volunteers learn how important it is to be accurate and up to date on where things are and how to get access to them.

Tote storage


Being creative is a prized skill and problem solving technique, as is being resourceful for a business that depends on saving money. There is many examples of being creative and resourceful which include the following:

  • Using baking pans as cage bottoms when the original cage bottom has worn out.
  • Using old pie pans as litter boxes for kittens that are too small to use the bigger litter boxes.
  • Using old cardboard boxes as litter boxes.
  • Using old coffee containers for treat and cat food containers.
  • Turning an old cleaned out bleach container into a portable watering can while walking dogs

Ultimately taking chances and making decisions for oneself is a great thing to have the opportunity to do as it is the best way to learn what works and what does not work.


Being funny will make the job fun and exciting. With any animal shelter, there is happy and there is sad moments. Everyone realizes this at some point. To make the not so happy moments livelier is a great skill. We sometimes dress up cats and film their funny moments so we can reflect on them at a later time too when we need a laugh… also it helps them get adopted. I always say any idea is worth trying once.

Kitten overload

For example we like to joke and talk about some of the funny things that animals do and watch some of the animals as they play which works well since animals reduce stress levels. Below you can see one of our undercover kitties who like to keep tabs on people.


Speaking Up

Speaking up about an issue is all too important for a business that focuses on quality control. It is sometimes possible to miss things, even for the qualified staff members due to time constraints. If a volunteer notices that a cat or dog has diarrhea, starts sneezing, or displays an odd symptom, it is important that staff is told this information so they can run a test and start treatment. Along with speaking up on important issues, volunteers learn to talk in a positive format rather than a negative format.

Team Building

How to lead a team is a skill that some volunteers have the opportunity to learn. Sometimes a volunteer will get the opportunity to instruct another volunteer if no one else is around to instruct or to shadow them. Most times the staff will allow a volunteer that has cleaned cages for a while to teach another volunteer to clean the cages and other tasks as well.

Being Soft and Gentle

Learning to be soft and gentle. For orphan animals, being soft and gentle is key. Especially for animals that are frightened, it can take a month or two to get the animal to warm up enough to be handled. You cannot ever punish the fear out of any animal – it simply does not make sense and will not help them progress any with their confidence.

Life Skills

General life skills are learned while volunteering and working at a shelter. You learn laundry, sweeping, mopping, disinfection, and dishes while volunteering. General life skills are helpful in the shelter and in life.




Animals like things that move… like toys. Cats are very agile, playful, and need exercise to remain healthy just like dogs and humans. Toys also keep animals stress free while they are caged. I often require that each animal gets a toy to play with each day.

I compare the reason that animals need toys to why a person in jail would need a television or weight lifting equipment… having something to do distracts you, keeps you busy, and adds entertainment value.

Accepting Critique

Accepting critiques is something that every volunteer eventually gets used to. The staff at the shelter understand how hard it can be to learn a skill at first and are there to help them get certain skills down.

When I give a critique I tell the person what they did, how it was supposed to be done, and emphasize on it by displaying how I do it.

Reading Body Language


Reading body language of animals is like reading human language. There are certain patterns and movements that cats and dogs do when they are happy, sad, aggressive, or do not want to be messed with in general.

Hissing for instance means the cat is scared while purring means the cat is happy on most occasions unless they are in pain. In dogs, growling means they are aggressive or scared while a dog barking and wagging their tail is usually happy to see you and interact. Sometimes behaviors or actions have no good answer as to why it happened or occurs and it is not universal by any means.

Quality Control

Double checking each day’s work to make sure it is satisfactory is absolutely required. It is always encouraged that volunteers and workers go through their work and make sure that every cage is cleaned and locked, the floors are done, and that the animals are all fed and watered. Sometimes when there is a lot to do, something can be missed.

Confidence in Miracles

Learning that miracles do exist. Once in a while we witness a miracle beyond any possible explanation. I can recall several miracle situations where a cat or dog that no one thought would last the night made it through and actually got healthy enough to be adopted. The below picture is Gracie, a cat that came in after being hit by several large vehicles. She survived and was adopted.


It is important for volunteers to see a miracle as they realize that they do happen… all you have to do is look for them.

First Aid

First aid and medicine is important. We teach volunteers about the use of first aid for people and animals such as peroxide, alcohol, gauze pads, bandages, and how to prevent infection in the case that someone gets scratched or bit.I also run them through a small educational lesson about the kind of medicine we use for deworming, defleaing, vaccinations, and antibiotics we use. The picture below was one of the first wounds I had come across. The cat had superglue applied to her back by a child but eventually was healed up and adopted out!


Special Equipment

Volunteers and especially kennel cleaners also get a small run down of how to use personal protection equipment such as masks, gloves, and smocks in the case of dealing with an animal that might have an infectious disease.

Behavioral Aids

Cat tower holding many cats

About behavioral aids for people and animals. Volunteers get to see just what kind of behavioral aids benefit animals and how it impacts their behavior. We teach them about the best kind of toys, hammocks, scratch pads, and so on. A behavioral is beneficial because it helps decrease stress, increase fun, and works as a security item for them when they really need it.

Animal Laws

Learning about the animal laws in place for state and ordinances in place for the city. In particular, it is important for the volunteers to know the 3 cat limit, 5 dog limit, rabies law, the leash law and the fact that all dogs have to be registered with the city.

Daring to Dream


Volunteers are inspired to dream and to envision a future that they can fight for with hard work, determination, and a never give up mentality. We had a cat that a volunteer named “Dreamer” because he dreamed of a forever home she said. He found his forever home a week later.

Challenge and Reward

Volunteers are instructed that if a cat has to undergo any stressful situation like cutting out a mat, bathing, and socialization for scared cats, that they give them a treat or canned food. I teach the challenge and reward method, where animals are rewarded for the challenges they complete so they continue making progress for rewards.

Open cage



Preparing for the next day of work by filling up cat food containers and cat litter containers for will cut down on the amount of work that has to be done the following day. Volunteers learn the still important lesson that you shouldn’t put off till tomorrow what you can do today.

Fill Up Cat litter

Fill up Cat Food

Little Steps At a Time

Learning to monitor progress. Since every volunteer has one favorite dog or cat, I find them asking questions about how they are doing from week to week. It is not uncommon for our volunteers to notice changes as the animal stay increases. “This dog is better today after we treated his diarrhea” or “This cat is doing much better with his cage stress when we get him out twice a day.”

Community and Teamwork

The community makes us who we are by volunteering, donating, and supporting us. People support s by sharing our events, attending our fundraisers, and spreading our mission by word of mouth. No person can do everything, but everyone can do something!

The below picture is a collection of quilts that a loyal volunteer made for us. Below that is a picture of a school volunteering at the shelter to socialize the animals, give out treats, and just have fun in general.




Enjoying Life

How to enjoy life. Through the years I have seen how interested a cat can be in just a crinkled ball of paper or how thrilled a dog could be with only a small doggie bone that cost close to nothing. While some people have expensive game consoles, there is other people that are not as fortunate and must live with what they have.

Animal teach us that it is not what you have that matters, it is how you take advantage of it. As a shelter that does not have a lot of funding, we live by this message.

Companionship and Friendship

Volunteer with cat and wand

Companionship and friends matter. In life we meet friends that are with us for a very long time while others are in our life only briefly. I remember I would take home baby kittens and foster them until they were old enough to be adopted and had to say good bye to them when they went to a new home.

Even though the cats were only with me for a short time, each one touched my heart and left a memory, a lesson, and paw print for me to remember them by.

It seems like that every volunteer befriends a cat or dog to the point that they immediately open their cage first when they begin cleaning. Over the past six years I have seen some cats and dogs be adopted that I had a hard time saying goodbye too.

Hand-eye Coordination

Hand-eye coordination. People that work and volunteer at the shelter soon learn hand-eye coordination is tantamount to that of an avid video game player. Cats and dogs move so fast and can quickly escape from your ever so vigilant eye. Not only do you have to keep up with them, you have to learn how to put a collar on a moving critter… that requires skill!


Remembering things. It can be quite the trick to remember everything that you have to do each day in the animal shelter. Scheduling and marking on a calendar is usually a must. How else would I remember to give a black cat in #8 a shot of Azimycin, an orange cat in #5 a dewormer, and to give the calico kitten in #2 an ear mite medication. So it is important to write things down.

What Being Successful Means

Me feeding cat

How to be successful. At the shelter you learn to be successful by transforming animals who are down on their luck into a splitting image of happiness. An ex-ample is turning a dog that comes in at half their body weight and parasite infected into a dog that is at the perfect weight and free of any parasites. Transformation is a truly beautiful thing and so is the process of getting there. Being successful is less about money and being the best about being compassionate, caring, and working hard at being who you were always meant to be. In fact, as shelter workers and kennel technicians we know that late nights with no sleep, going with the flow, compassion, and never giving up is essential to success.


Responsibility. Working in the shelter you learn to be responsible for showing up, doing the work you say you will do and for reporting any updates to the manager before leaving. In the below picture, the staff are attempting to find a lost cat.

Finding lost cat

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