Thursday, September 16, 2010

AC&C Volunteer Orientation, First Round

So now that the first round of volunteer orientations is complete, we have a few thoughts on the process.

First, the good: the information presented at the orientations is, generally speaking, a good overview, well prepared, and well presented. We have no doubt that the volunteer coordinator, Elisabeth Manwiller, has genuinely good intentions.


In a time when the AC&C has suffered budget cuts and is drastically understaffed and overworked, it is unwise to put into effect a volunteer process so arduous that few are likely to see it through to the end - and a process so focused on classes and training drains precious resources that are desperately needed elsewhere.

Volunteering to do even simple things is now a multi-step project that involves multiple training classes (which will now need to be taught on a regular basis... by whom?), applications and interviews. Perhaps the best way to illustrate this is by example; let's say you're interested in coming in as a volunteer in the Manhattan shelter and socializing cats, and you can commit to a 4 hour shift one day per week. In order to do this, you'll need to apply to be a Cat Companion Level 1 volunteer. The steps you'll have to take are:

- Attend an orientation. Last night's was conveniently offered a mere 120 blocks or so from the Manhattan shelter.
- Submit an application
- Complete a half hour face to face interview. If accepted, a $25 fee will be due.
- Complete 4 mandatory classes: "Cat Behavior, Body Language and Handling", "Shelter Info and Kennel Cleaning", "General Medcial Class", "Bio Writing Class"
- Mentor with AC&C staff or volunteer.

If all goes well, the guidelines given by the volunteer coordinator indicate that you could be starting your duties as a volunteer in as little as "a month or two". Yes, that's a quote. How much training does one actually need to socialize a cat? We would imagine that if you have cats at home, you could probably be up to speed in a hands-on orientation offered at the shelter in less than an hour. Most of us have been through volunteer training in other shelter environments where you begin your duties in less than an hour.

This entire volunteer program has been created by, is supervised by, and is run by one person - a person who is taking a week's vacation now that the program has been introduced, so there will be no progress during that week. She alone does every interview and every orientation for all locations, and she has created a program that very few will complete and is in serious danger of collapsing under its own weight in a time when AC&C desperately needs helping hands.

In a time of budgetary crisis, the AC&C has spent their precious resources created training classes that they now must offer to volunteers on a regular basis prior to allowing them to volunteer. Here's a (not necessarily complete) list of those new classes:

Dog Behavior, Body Language, and Handling
Shelter Info, Kennel Cleaning and Dog Walking
General Medical Class
Bio Writing Class
Cat Behavior, Body Language and Handling
Rabbit Behavior, Body Language and Handling
Adoption Counseling
Breed Identification
Power of a Picture/Story

The coordinator continually brings up her dream of a "fully funded program" - and no wonder. With some funding, you could create a program that not only has a ton of hoops to jump through, they could be flaming hoops!

The AC&C is DYING for manpower and yet they have created a volunteer program that ensures that very few will ever get the privilege of helping them. It doesn't take 4 training classes to socialize a cat or walk a dog, and it doesn't take huge amounts of money to run an effective and open volunteer program.

This gets even more offensive when you consider fostering - foster parents are covered as well under the volunteer program. Potential foster parents for AC&C must now:

- Attend an orientation.
- Submit an application
- Go to an interview and, if accepted, pay $25
- Attend a foster care class
- Complete "Power of a Picture/Story" Training
- Attend Bottle Baby Training (if fostering neo-natals)
- Attend classes specific to the species fostered:
  ...Behavior, Body Language and Handling class
  ...General Medical class
- Mentor with AC&C staff member/volunteer

Then you might be able to foster an animal, months later. While the AC&C drowns the people struggling to meet these requirements in red tape, approximately 1/3 of animal intake goes to their deaths.

It's not too late. Simplify. Get the help you need. Take advantage of the help being offered to you by so many - there had to be at least 100 people at last night's orientation.

Do you really want to weed them down to 3?

You can download the listing of volunteer opportunities and prerequisites here.

1 comment:

  1. It looks as though they're being a bit over-ambitious about what the volunteers could be expected to do. If I was running the shelter I'd be concerned that they were being trained as though they were to replace paid staff for daily animal care.

    I can see the logic of this if they don't have enough money for staff and necessary things aren't getting done, and it might be made to work if the volunteers are being used as cover for staff holidays etc. which could save on wages without impacting on care standards.

    Not having enough staff/trained volunteer time available to train new volunteers is a perennial problem and they might be better deciding what could be done with minimal training (e.g. kitten socialisation) and getting volunteers started on that while providing classes for those who wanted to develop skills to do more difficult things.