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I was once part of a group that volunteered at a shelter for an afternoon (as part of a community-service project). But that wasn't very useful to the shelter; they have mandatory training programs for volunteers and none of us had gone through that, so we ended up spending the afternoon at a bunny romp. That was fun, but I didn't feel like I was helping them -- more like staying out of their way. (I'd been expecting to spend the afternoon cleaning cages or walking dogs or doing data-entry.)

If I wanted to volunteer usefully at a shelter, how is that time best structured? I work full-time and have other obligations; would a few hours once or twice a month be at all useful, or is that below the "thanks for the thought, but..." line? What are the typical time commitments that shelters look for from volunteers?

(I realize that I can ask my local shelter about their needs, but that could be an awkward conversation if it turns out they need more than I can offer. So I'm asking here to get a sense of what's typical.)

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Shelters and rescues can not function without volunteer assistance. Any time you can give will be appreciated. Each organization is a separate entity with different expectations, training and responsibilities for volunteers. Volunteers are generally asked to commit from a couple hours a month to 4 hours a week.

In reality; a large percentage of the volunteers who attend initial training never return to follow up. Some end up giving less time per month, for many months, others give many more hours than you would expect from paid employees.

There are also many different types of activities at a shelter/rescu tasks associated with direct animal care and cleaning will require volunteers with steady dependable availability at the facility. Event support (fundraising, educational, etc) are more suitable for volunteers who can respond on an ad-hock bases. Pet socialization and grooming type activities make a perfect fit for volunteers who have sporadic availability. For volunteers who have more time to give, but need to do it from home, foster is a great choice.

If you have a desire to help, contact the organization, attend the intro training, and discuss honestly what time you have available and what tasks you want to help with. They want your help, and you want to give it. Large organizations will have one or more paid staff dedicated to matching volunteer availability to needs. Small organizations may have volunteers matching other volunteers to needs.

Lastly I work with training and inducting new volunteers in local organizations. The orientation training, is just that an orientation. It is unrealistic to expect that everyone who attends will find that the reality of volunteering is what they expected. Those that don't stay to volunteer their time, often find other ways to extend support.

Give what time you can, do what tasks are appropriate for your training and comfort, if the time comes that volunteering stops enriching your life then move on. That is really all any group can hope for from their volunteers.

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I volunteer at my local SPCA, and their requirements are fairly low: they ask for a commitment of at least two hours a month for six months. I think that most shelters are always looking for volunteers and realize that most people have to work full time, and so they are willing to accept whatever time you can offer.

It shouldn't be an awkward conversation: it is best to have both of your expectations set before they invest time in training you. If they require more than you are able to provide, simply tell them that your schedule cannot accommodate that. I know that the volunteer coordinator and other volunteers are most frustrated when they spend time training someone, and that person never shows up again. People often comes in with an idealistic view of what they will be doing, and when the reality of cleaning up after the dog you are walking, or the struggle of walking an ill-mannered dog sets in, they don't come back.

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