Animal Rescue Insider: Two Days Volunteering at Ontario SPCA Shelters
This is Part II of a two-part series with guest blogger Kevin Mackenzie, Development Manager, Leadership Giving with the Ontario SPCA. For Part I, see Animal Rescue Insider: Two Days on the Road With the Ontario SPCA.
During my time learning about the various roles at the Ontario SPCA, I had the pleasure of visiting the Ontario SPCA Orangeville & District Branch. They’d been told I wanted the real experience of a day working in the shelter, and boy did they deliver! To describe each day as a marathon of preparation, attention to detail, care and hard work is an understatement.
After a brief tour of the facility, I was put to work right away. My day started with a crew of a half dozen volunteers sorting bottles and cans. This is an incredible arrangement this branch has. The entire community is encouraged to drop off their empty liquor/beer bottles and cans, and each Wednesday morning, a crew of volunteers sets up beside the branch, sorts them all into categories (clear class, coloured, cans, etc.), counts them and gets them ready for pick up by a large truck that takes the empties back to the beer store. The shelter gets the money from all these empties which helps fund their important work. It’s an innovative arrangement, supported generously by the entire Orangeville & District community.
Once the sorting was finished, we realized one of the skids the truck needed access to was snowed in after a recent heavy snow, and I had to shovel the skid out. If a volunteer wasn’t there to do this, who would?
Then back inside the shelter I went to clean and disinfect the water and food dishes, litter boxes and areas in which the cats up for adoption reside in. This is done daily, and the care taken to ensure all the animals live in a clean and safe environment is impressive.
Next I was dispatched to a shed/garage behind the shelter where I had to retrieve ten bags (big heavy bags!) of cat litter for use in the branch. Again the thought striking me was: Who would do this if I or volunteers weren’t here to do the heavy lifting? The staff are specialized in animal care, but there is so much more that goes into the successful operation of one of these branches. My back and neck needed some rest at this point. Ha.
After some time spent speaking to an animal control officer about his role, and the volunteer coordinator and front desk receptionist about the many hats they all wear, I was taken to one of two different thrift stores, The Paws & Claws Thrift Store – again staffed by volunteers, with proceeds supporting the Ontario SPCA Orangeville & District Branch. What incredible innovation to finding funding!
As you can tell by this write up, innovation and collaboration were the two words echoing in my head as I drove away from Orangeville. The collaboration and innovation between the beer store and shelter; the collaboration between the shelter and their many volunteers; the collaboration between the community and shelter in dropping off hundreds and hundreds of empties there each week; the innovation of the thrift stores operating with the sole purpose of helping fund operations (animal rescue, surrender, adoption, medical care and much more) at the Orangeville Branch.
What a great branch, staffed by a great bunch of people. Thanks so much for hosting me!
Next page: A Day at the Ontario SPCA Provincial Education and Animal Centre (PEAC) in Newmarket
My next shelter visit had more pleasant surprises about the organization that I recently joined and the people who make it what it is.
The Provincial Education and Animal Centre (PEAC) in Newmarket is unlike any shelter I have ever seen before — from the large glassed in rooms the animals up for adoption reside in to the incredible detailed intake process that ensures each and every animal brought into the shelter is managed individually with attention and care given to his or her health.
I was given a tour of the entire facility. It began in the ‘back’ where animals are surrendered, or brought in if rescued. I got to see rooms segmented into days of the week indicating what day the animal arrived here. The process was explained to me of how an animal comes in the door and is immediately subject to strict guidelines to ensure that the animal is healthy and does not jeopardize the health of any of the other animals on-site. There are a number of steps for an animal to clear before being introduced to the adoption population, and I truly had no idea of the level of detail and strategy that goes into the intake of a new animal at one of our shelters.
I was lucky enough to spend time with two of our arrivals councillors, Megan and Jenny. An owner came who had to sadly surrender his cat due to trouble with allergies at the home. The cat was inspected thoroughly by two staff with great care and affection. A stressful event for any animal (new surroundings, smells and an owner surrendering it and saying goodbye), but the staff here are loving, compassionate and very good at their jobs, easing the transition as much as possible.
In the afternoon, I got to spend time with some of the adoptions team, Jenn and Emily, working the ‘front’ area of PEAC. What great people! When you walk into PEAC, you are greeted cheerfully, and these skilled and knowledgeable staff members are there to help you choose the perfect pet for you and your family. Computers are set up so soon-to-be pet owners can answer some questions as part of the innovative “Meet Your Match” program. It helps pair the right animal with you based on characteristics or behaviours of the animal and the owner.
The sense of pride and pleasure the team at PEAC take in helping find the “forever home” for these animals is inspiring. They do not refer to the animals as ‘pets’ or ‘animals.’ They speak about them as colleagues or friends. I got to hear stories about great dogs like Bruce (who was adopted two days after I was at PEAC), Duke and cats like Sylvester (pictured) and Katie (who actually gives hugs). These animals have real identities. Real personalities. The staff at PEAC care about them deeply, and it shows in everything they do. I truly hope you get an opportunity to drop by PEAC sometime and experience what I did.
Through its province-wide network of 50 plus Communities, the Ontario SPCA is one of the largest, most responsive animal welfare organizations in the country, providing care and shelter for tens of thousands of animals every year.
Photo Credit: Ontario SPCA