Note from a Shelter Worker

It’s a very different side of the fence, working at a shelter. On any given day you can experience both ends of the emotional spectrum.  You can lose and then restore your faith in humanity in a matter of minutes. You can leave feeling on top of the world because your favorite animal finally got adopted, or exhausted and defeated because in the hour before you left, the shelter received dozens of stray or unwanted animals. It’s an emotionally taxing yet incredibly rewarding job, one that not everyone is cut out for.

I work back in the administrative offices, so I don’t experience nearly as much of what I mentioned above as the kennel and office staff do. I commend them for the job they do day in and day out. But we all work in very close quarters, and often times we share the same emotions that come with working at a shelter regardless of title: frustration, happiness, sadness, anger, hope, compassion and love – to name a few. We’re like a family because we experience things the outside world doesn’t have to deal with.

We watch as someone gives up their 12 year old dog because they just don’t want it anymore. We keep our mouths shut when someone dumps a litter of underage kittens because they thought it would “be fun to have babies” then realized it was a bad idea. We watch as bunnies flow in after Easter, and we see time and time again puppy store puppies that didn’t grow up to be the cute and cuddly dog they were at eight weeks old. But we also learn not to judge those who use the shelter in times of struggle or when they’re doing the right thing. It is important to be polite to all who come in – even if they are giving up an animal – because when times get better for them, we hope then they will remember the experience and choose adoption.

The tough parts can be almost too difficult at times, but the rewarding parts of our job make it all worth it. Watching your favorite pit mix get out of the shelter after six months, seeing the “golden oldie” cats get adopted by senior citizens, making the perfect match for a family that is new at adopting… these are all things that keep us going every day. The best part? Taking your favorite dog (or cat!) out for a walk and watching them bound around in happiness can bring you out of any bum mood.

To some people it may be difficult seeing the animals in the shelter, but we know how much love and attention gets poured out to every single one. Of course it is not the ideal place for them, and we wish no animal would ever have to come here, but we do our best to keep them happy and comfortable while they are with us. We rely heavily on our volunteers, and appreciate them as much as the people who give the animals forever homes. Many of our efforts are supported by the generosity and compassion of those who have resources we need; we simply could not function without them.

So thank you to those who support your local shelter. If you volunteer with a rescue group you are still helping your local shelter because we rely so much on rescues pulling animals from us. There are also many other ways to volunteer and support, even past the money and fostering. Transports are needed to take animals to rescues, every shelter has an endless wish list including simple things like newspapers and old towels, volunteers are needed at special events – there is something for everyone who wants to help out. We know that many people cannot handle seeing the hundreds of faces of homeless animals, and we totally respect and understand that! We just want you to know there are many other ways to get involved as well. No matter what way you help, you are appreciated beyond words – by the staff, the volunteers, and most importantly the animals.

If you have any questions about animal shelters or the best way to get involved with your local organization, feel free to email me at

14 thoughts on “Note from a Shelter Worker

  1. Worded so well! While many don’t think they can handle volunteering, I can’t imagine working there. With volunteering at least I get to lean toward the “fun stuff” and I try and tell myself the bad stuff doesn’t happen. Great post!

    • Lots of people who volunteer do EVERYTHING there is to do at the shelters!! The ONLY difference is they don’t get paid. My cousin and I are both volunteers for different shelters and at her shelter, she does everything the employees do only she does it for free and at my shelter it’s all volunteers so once again volunteers do everything there, not just “fun stuff”.
      I know you didn’t say that all volunteers only do the fun parts but I just don’t want anyone to automatically assume that a volunteer at a shelter is doing less work than an employee would, a lot of the time you are expected to clean and work as much or more and of course, do it all without financial payment. (For me, the opportunity to give back after all humanity has taken from animals is its own privilege and reward, as it is for many volunteers)

  2. Wonderful post. It makes me so thankful for those who dedicate their time to the front line of the shelter. I do fostering but the shelter work would never do for me (no so good at keeping my opinions to myself). Therefore I am so thankful for those of you that do. Thank you!

  3. I can’t even imagine how difficult your job can be….but how fun at times, getting to play with all those amazing pooches! It certainly takes a special kind of individual to do what you do, day in and day out. Just goes to show that there is a place in rescue work for all kinds of animal lovers – shelters, fosters, volunteers, photographers, drivers, etc. Great post!! ~

  4. Great post – I’ve heard more about what shelter workers go through from a friend I volunteer with who coordinates with a local shelter to get dogs on the euth list pulled before their d-day. I used to be pretty judgmental of them, but now I understand how much it breaks their hearts when a dog is put down, probably more so than it does to those of us who aren’t with the dogs every day.

    • YES! I didn’t really want to include that part in this post, but honestly it’s so true and people just don’t get it. They think we’re absolute monsters for not being no-kill, when OBVIOUSLY if we could have it that way we would! That is another reason I really dislike “Urgent” and “set to die” postings – because they really demonize the shelters & their workers. We all care deeply for these animals and it breaks our heart every single time we have to make the decision to PTS, and what makes it 100x worse is when the public gives us backlash for it. They will never understand until they work in a shelter (or volunteer with someone who does :-)).

  5. Such a nice post! I worked for our island shelter as a volunteer for many years. Such hard but gratifying work. Of course, I ended up adopting way too many old cats that had been at our no-kill shelter for way too long. I burnt out ultimately. But I am surrounded by lots of furry love here at home.

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