Give Your Heart to AARCS
Written by Ioana Busuioc
There is a place for everyone within the volunteers of AARCS! Whether you want to dedicate your time solely to kitties, or dogs, or both, there will never be a shortage of volunteer opportunities (and fun)! Through AARCS, there is also the opportunity to work at various events around the city, should an individual be unable to commit their time to helping out hands on with the animals. These can typically consist of auctions and raffle events, adoption events or representing AARCS at booths during various shows, such as the Calgary Woman’s Show at the BMO. No matter your schedule, every hour and every individual can make a positive difference in the life of the hundreds of animals that come through AARCS every month. Check out AARCS.ca/volunteer/ for volunteer needs, requirements, and applications!
The dog caregiver shifts at AARCS run three times a day, with the first time being 8:00AM, followed by noon, and lastly 7:00PM, to make sure all the dogs get fed, walked, that their living quarters are nice and clean for them, and of course that they are given lots of attention! Upon completing the online module for general volunteer introductions, as well as the dog caregiver training module, there will be a second shift to complete, one which will be entirely hands on. After completing the training, volunteers are able to go ahead and start choosing shifts according to their schedule as well as AARCS’ volunteer shift needs. Typically, a shift runs for a couple of hours, and includes taking the time to wash the dish bowls and toys, as well as disinfecting them so that there are always enough resources for all the dogs. Volunteers are also responsible for making sure there are updated notes for the next volunteers or shift leads, in order to make sure that if there are any medical concerns that come up, such as a dog not eating or urinating for example, that they get looked at immediately through our Veterinary Hospital. And sure, there is the occasional “poopsplosion” to clean up, but at the end of the day, seeing the difference proper care and attention makes in the dog residents of AARCS makes it all worth it. Many of the dogs that come in have not benefited from being socialized by loving folks or come from situations in which they wouldn’t have had the chance to feel comfortable and cared for, and being a part of a team that helps these dogs grow and prosper in order to be quickly adopted into their forever homes is truly magical a tremendously rewarding experience!
Unlike the dog caregiver shifts, the cat shifts run only twice a day, once at 9:00 AM, and again at 6:00 PM every day, but ultimately the shift serves the same purpose as a dog caregiver shift: to make sure all the kitties have been fed, their litters changed, and of course, socialized with. There are different rooms for AARCS’ cat residents according to their needs, including Barn Buddies and the quarantine room, as well as the free roam kitty room. Once the general volunteer introduction and cat caregiver online modules have been completed, volunteers must also partake in a hands-on cat caregiver training shift, after which they will be able to volunteer according to their schedules and AARCS’ needs. Upon arriving at AARCS for a cat caregiver shift, there will always be a “team meeting” in which the shift leader for that shift will chat with the volunteers about what needs to be done based on priorities. Volunteers are also able to voice whether they feel uncomfortable with certain cats, and a shift lead will be able to take over. Ultimately, we want volunteers to feel safe and to continue contributing towards making a difference in the lives of cats without fear or reservations! After getting a room assigned, volunteers must take the time to mix the appropriate foods for the cats (wet and dry), as well as cleaning their litters and any potential debris in the enclosures (yes, this could mean the occasional hairball!). There will sometimes be a need for medication for some of the cats who might have been sick or ones who have had surgery, but there will always be a shift lead or staff member to take care of medications. Though most of the cats that come through AARCS are there to ultimately get adopted, the population of the Barn Buddy room consists of slightly more feral cats, and typically those who will be returned to farms to be mousers or where they were originally found once they have been spayed or neutered. If a feral cat is seen as having the potential to grow friendly towards humans, it will continue to get socialized in order to be adopted as well. As is with the dogs, volunteers must be sure to take note of any change in behaviour to ensure the appropriate care is given to all the kitties. Various kitties can be wearier of people, and some will be ready to cuddle right on the spot, volunteers must be aware of these different behaviours and ultimately make sure the cats feel cared for and that their space is respected. It might not always be glitzy and glamorous in terms of clean up especially, but you can always feel a deep appreciation from the wonderful kitties that come through the shelter. Also, should you ever want to spend some time with the cats, there are typically a few roaming in the Meow-Town room for volunteers to stop by to pet and play with!
All in all, there is always something to do, and speaking from experience there are so many wonderful cats to interact with and get to know. It truly pays off to see some of the shier kitties grow comfortable and end up getting adopted into loving homes. One of our volunteers, Leslie, has been volunteering with AARCS for 3 years now, and she says she always leaves feeling like she’s done something good after volunteering with the kitties. She always leaves feeling really happy, and she really likes the people she works with here. Coming from the corporate world, it’s nice to volunteer somewhere where people from all walks of life can get together. As she put it: “It’s a great spot to meet people from everywhere!”. Another volunteer, Emily, has been with AARCS for a year now. For her, with a family member being highly allergic to cats, she is able to come in for kitty cuddles whenever she wants to or can, and that’s what makes it so worth it to her!
Please note that AARCS recommends and encourages individuals volunteering in the shelter, who have pets at home to have “shelter only” clothing and shoes, or to toss everything into the washing machine upon coming back home. We never want to put your own pets at risk, and for this reason we encourage showering upon arrival, or at the very least washing your hands before handling your own pets after volunteering!
There are always loads of fostering opportunities through AARCS as well, and as a matter of fact, fostering plays a huge part in enabling us to rescue and rehome so many animals in need without getting overcrowded and subsequently avoiding the difficult decision of euthanasia due to overcrowding. Fostering is an integral part of our operations, and as with the cat and dog caregiver opportunities, it is also tremendously rewarding! Fosters provide a temporary, safe and loving space for an animal in need, and even if you have children, roommates, other animals, a small living space, etc. – there is ALWAYS an animal that will fit right in and benefit from some one-on-one attention. Typically fostering requires a 3 month commitment, and the animal must remain in the foster’s care until it is adopted. Essentially, a foster would be able to provide a safe space for the animal(s), and also assist with basic training, transportation to vet appointments, and of course socializing so that the animal(s) can find their forever home quickly. The added human interaction in foster helps animals grow more comfortable around various types of people, build their confidence, and give them to chance to know what it’s like to be a beloved family member, all of which enables them to get adopted into their forever homes way faster! Not to mention positive animal interactions greatly help us too, with animal companionship lowering many effects of stress, anxiety, depression, and more, as well as providing us with unconditional love and appreciation from these sweet souls. It’s also worth mentioning that many people can’t always guarantee they will be able to commit to owning a pet for life, whether this is because of health reasons, living situations, moving homes, and so on, and fostering is a great way to have that animal companionship without the lifetime commitment. Additionally, there are foster opportunities for all sorts of dogs, puppies, cats and kittens in Calgary, and Edmonton also has a dog foster program. For more information on fostering opportunities, conditions/requirements, as well as application forms, check out AARCS.ca/foster. In terms of finances, it’s worth mentioning that AARCS pays all reasonable expenses, which includes veterinary care, food, and other items such as toys, treats, kennels and more, when available! Fostering is a selfless opportunity that helps us continue taking in hundreds of animals in need of care, and the benefits are not only noticeable in the animals saved, but in our fosters’ lives as well!
As with the cat caregiver side, AARCS recommends having shelter only clothing when volunteering with the animals directly if you have pets at home!
AARCS is fortunate enough to have an in-house Veterinary Hospital which is designed specifically for the homeless animals in AARCS’ care! This fully operational clinic allows AARCS to keep up with spays and neuters, but also more severe medical emergencies without having to transport animals to any other location. The facility can always benefit from extra hands on help, and volunteering with the Veterinary Hospital is a unique way to help out animals, while also gaining some handy knowledge along the way! Having personally volunteered there myself, I can attest to how interesting it is to work so closely with veterinarians who’ve studied animal biology and know so much about various conditions and treatments. At the Veterinary Hospital, volunteers typically help the vet technicians by holding animals for check ups and calming them down, cleaning up to ensure a sanitary space for procedures, helping directly during surgeries once the animal has been anesthetized, bathing animals who’ve had fleas or worms, sitting with animals to ensure they have a comfortable wake up and that they don’t regurgitate post surgery and anesthesia, and so much more. There is always something to do, and day to day things are always changing based on animal needs! As mentioned previously, there is always something unique to witness or partake in, such as amputations in extreme cases, but keep in mind if you’d like to volunteer at the Veterinary Hospital, that there is always the potential to deal with blood, various graphic injuries, and seeing pets go under.
Thanks to the clinic’s staff, including the wonderful Dr. Thusari, the atmosphere is always surprisingly calm, and volunteers can always inquire freely when they have any questions or need help. Dr. Thusari herself has said how everything is always so interesting, and how she very much enjoys seeing these great animals recover and being a part of that process. When I volunteered for the first time at the clinic, there was a tooth extraction going on for one of the cats, and that was the first time I saw a cat go under for surgery and get operated on. I would not say that if you’re incredibly squeamish this is not for you, but it is definitely an entirely different volunteer opportunity, with a fair amount of shock factors! The most common procedures are spays and neuters, but oftentimes animals will come in with various infections, viruses and parasites. Volunteers do not have to administer medication unless it has been okayed by the vet techs first! By far my personal favourite aspect of the Veterinary Hospital is being able to be a friendly, comforting face for animals who are no doubt scared, confused, and uncomfortable due to illness. On one of the first shifts I worked, I was asked to sit with one of the dogs that were coming out from surgery after a neuter. Being a larger dog, it took more time for the anesthesia to wear off, and I was instructed to stimulate the dog (aka lots of petting!) and watch for signs that she was waking up, as well as making sure she was laying comfortably and safely so that in the event of regurgitation, she would not choke. In times like these, you definitely develop a bond with the animal, and it is so rewarding to be that person to be there for them throughout a scary ordeal. Helen, one of the Veterinary Hospital Tech Assistants who has been here since the clinic opened a year ago, mentioned how there are so many cool opportunities to learn, and that there is a great chance for individuals to get some hands-on experience for animal care/vet industry. That being said, you definitely don’t have to have any sort of background in animal education, biology, or medicine to be able to volunteer, just come ready to learn a ton, comfort lots of animals, and possibly have to bathe very grump wormed cats! According to Jessica, one of the vet techs that has been with AARCS for a year now, “[the best part of working with AARCS is] to be able to help so many animals that would never receive any medical help otherwise, and to be the first step into getting them healthy and into their new homes”. I can personally attest to how amazing it is to be able to help animals hands-on with various procedures even as volunteers and to be able to learn from people who are entirely dedicated to animal health, recovery, and wellbeing.
Most, if not all volunteers, find that volunteering through AARCS allows them to give back and fulfill their desire to help out animals in need. AARCS volunteers have a passion for animals and feel emotionally rewarded for playing a role in helping them find safe and loving homes. I could go on and on about the benefits of volunteering, but the best way to showcase just how amazing spending time with an organization like AARCS is to go right to the source: the volunteers themselves!
Many volunteers enjoy AARCS because of how flexible it is with their own schedules, and because of how many opportunities there are. As one volunteer put it: “There are lots of volunteer opportunities, which lets [her] pick the days and times that [she’s] available. There are no issues with balancing responsibilities”. Another volunteer has stated that with her hectic schedule, she appreciates the flexibility at AARCS and that she can choose her own times and dates, including many evenings and weekend opportunities. Once they have start volunteering with AARCS, many volunteers have said they find themselves wishing they could be there every day, or that they could commit more of their time there if it wasn’t for other responsibilities. That being said, with fostering there may be additional responsibilities that require more time and attention. One volunteer stated that depending on a dog’s needs, there could be a need for some rearranging in one’s life, but it’s worth it every time, and once your foster gets adopted, you don’t have to get another one until you’re ready again.
Kimberley B. one foster who has been fostering for 4 years with approximately 10 dogs, had even said that “fostering allows you to integrate your volunteering into your family time”, which is safe to assume can be an amazing way to bond with other family members and teach responsibility to children! Though some animals may require more attention as fosters, such as those with medical conditions or behavioural issues, but once they get settled in and they’ve adjusted to a routine, as one volunteer put it: “It’s actually no more than having one dog, they play a lot, so they both enjoy the exercise and interaction”. Additionally, many volunteers, like Sue and Heather, have retired, and this gives them the opportunity to busy themselves and help out with a great cause!
One of the best aspects of volunteering with AARCS was beautifully put by one of our volunteers, Tami, as “the love animals have to give can only enhance your life. And the love you give back to them enhances theirs. Just the knowledge that I have helped a fellow creature live a better life makes me a happier person”. This is a sentiment shared by all AARCS volunteers, as many enjoy helping out and feeling that their work with the organization matters. You get to actually see animal lives getting transformed for the better through wonderful care each day. One volunteer has even stated that fostering through AARCS has allowed her to be more understanding and patient with other dogs, as they all have their own little quirks, especially rescues, who are going through a lot initially. Another volunteer, Victoria, had mentioned how her heart had grown in ways she didn’t know it could thanks to fostering. Kelly had also stated how her life has grown in so many ways. With fostering in particular, Kelly says she’s had many of their adoptive families continue to stay in touch and send updates and photos. Her and her daughter’s contribution to their “happy-ever-after life” has brought them tremendous joy. She continues to say: “There are so many proud moments, like when you bring home a mama-dog that you have to carry outside to the bathroom because she is so afraid and a few days later, she puts her head on your lap and starts to run around more freely in the yard. Or when a puppy that is just a rack of bones turns into a fluffy-bum in your care. Or when their forever family meets them and they are so in love with this dog that has flourished in your care.”. While in this type of work you do get to see a lot of bad sides to humanity that can be heart wrenching, as Annik puts it, the good side is always so much more uplifting and wonderful to see, and being a part of it and knowing what we do is really making a difference helps happiness grow.
Volunteering with AARCS also provides volunteers with refuge from daily stressors; one volunteer started with us to help with her PTSD, and has found that time with the cats has helped her through her health issues, and she even ended up adopting her first foster because of how positive her impact was with her health. For families that foster, this opportunity has given them a chance to take it on as a family and help foster empathy and responsibility in children. Fostering also gives volunteers the chance to benefit from animal companionship without necessarily committing to being a full time pet owner. For many volunteers, permanent pet ownership can be costly or not possible due to living situations. According to one volunteer, fostering has kept her healthy thanks to daily walks, has given her something to care for, and something to bring her laughter, AARCS is a community that really supports its members, which is a definite benefit for her. Beyond helping animals, many volunteers also find that they’ve struck up strong friendships over the years and that volunteering through AARCS feels like one big family through which they can grow in so many ways. Overall, when asked, the majority of AARCS volunteers had stated that through AARCS they are much happier, that they feel as though they have a purpose and that they can meet amazing new friends, all the while devoting their time to helping animals find loving homes and feel cared for. What’s worth mentioning too is the fact that an organization like AARCS works tirelessly to help animals and humans come together, instead of being two separate entities. Amy, the Animal Health Coordinator, goes on to say that AARCS’ efforts are a testament to a wonderful collaboration with both animals and humans. In helping animals, we are able to help First Nation communities by taking in and spaying or neutering as much of the animal population as we can, with any programs that require human intervention, such as the SNAP program, we contribute to animal wellbeing as well as to human wellbeing; keeping the animal population in control greatly helps with sanitation for all!
When considering what advice they’d have to give to individuals considering volunteering their time at AARCS, every volunteer asked was beyond enthusiastic. Many volunteers spoke of how amazing it is to have the support of AARCS and to feel like you’re apart of such a great community is really reassuring. It’s a very fun, supportive network and it’s a great way to help animals and spend time with like-minded people! Fostering especially can seem daunting if you’ve never done something like it before, but there are so many volunteers ready to help out and advise you as you go along, and it is so rewarding to see animals that have been helped through their transitions. If you struggle with stress, anxiety, PTSD, depression, and more, it is such a great way to relieve those types of pains and fears and to really feel like you have a purpose. I know personally when I go in, I can always tell the animals are so thankful and happy to see you, and that can make such a huge difference with mental and emotional health! As many volunteers had said, you’ll never leave AARCS feeling like it wasn’t worth it, or with a frown, and yes sometimes it can seem sad to be around so many animals without homes, but it makes all the difference knowing that they are loved and cared for, and will soon find their forever homes thanks to our help. One volunteer had even said that her only regret was not starting sooner because she was afraid of the responsibility, but thanks to the amazing support at AARCS, fostering has brought her so much joy. No matter what your role is, or to what capacity you are able to help, there is always a positive impact. One volunteer stated that many of the animals that come in have never known a loving home, and they aren’t fully aware that they are in good hands and are safe at this point, so especially with fostering, there are some tough times to be expected. What matters most is being open-hearted, patient, and loving, and the rewards you will reap from seeing these animals transform and come out of their shells will always outweigh the downsides. With fostering as well, “always remember that the more you adopt out, the more you can save”, as Charlotte stated, who has been fostering for 8 years now and is continuing to help out animals in need.
If you can’t volunteer with animals, there are also many other various ways to help out! Donations are always appreciated and very helpful, as well as support with inventory, and tons of event opportunities around the city. Our wonderful Behaviour Coordinator Natasha has spoken out about how it’s so exciting to see so many new faces come in, and ultimately it’s wonderful to see the legacy for AARCS keep going. She believes we’re doing really great work, and the best part is seeing where AARCS will go in the future. In the end, the only way you’ll find out if you like it or not is if you try it out, you’ve got nothing to lose, and you’ll be part of a long-lasting legacy, and you’ll make a difference no matter what!
Thank you kindly for reading, I hope this was helpful and informative!
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May 16, 2018