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Tour with San Diego Humane Society

San Diego Humane Society north campus

I went to a volunteer orientation with the San Diego Humane Society. I toured the north campus, which only houses dogs, and I was impressed by the cleanliness and the elaborate systems the shelter has in place for evaluating, socializing and training.

There were 15 people in my group, nearly all women, of different ages. Some had 40 years of experience rescuing and fostering dogs. One woman, she looked about 22, was hoping to kick off her dog training career.

We walked along the kennels, viewing the dogs. It was later in the day, and most of the dogs did not bark. About half were at their gates, reaching with their tongues and paws, seeking any kind of connection. “Are you taking me out?”

"Goliath" is at the San Diego Humane Society's north campus

The other half seemed to know the drill. They knew we weren’t going to open the gates, so they remained in the backs of their cages on their beds or blankets. Some looked out. Some just slept. Maybe they had adapted to the flow, settling in after a long afternoon as my dog Ace does on his bed at home. Dogs love a routine.

I stood with my side to each dog as I passed so they could smell me without head-on confrontations. Some lunged and barked when I continued on. Some wagged. Some simply looked.

I was drawn to a black and white “Lab mix.” There was no information about him yet, other than he was still on hold for his original family to claim him. He seemed to be getting restless in his kennel, but not yet frustrated. He stuck his tongue through the bars and whined a little, barking only when the next-door dog edged him on. His big black paws had white markings, and he seemed to be trying really hard to sit still, like a kid in church. He was friendlier than some of the others. I’ll be keeping my eye on him.

The visit was a positive experience for me, leaving me energized. Some volunteers whispered sad comments like, “Oh, so many pitbulls. Poor things.” Or, “Look, someone cropped her ears. Poor baby.”

I tried not to feel sorry for the dogs because for the most part, these dogs are safe. While some face serious behavioral challenges and might be euthanized due to aggression, all of the dogs will be getting what seems to be a fair chance. The shelter gives the dogs all the time they need to get adopted and teaches incoming volunteers to walk, train and cuddle with them. It seems like the dogs get quite a bit of interaction, given their circumstances.

If you’re unable to volunteer at your local animal shelter, I highly recommend you schedule a tour anyway. That way you can see where your donations (or in some cases, your tax dollars) are going and whether or not the group is one you want to support. There are plenty of bad shelters out there, but plenty of good ones, too. For me, just seeing the animals in need is motivating. They tell me to keep on doing what I’m doing.

What is the shelter like in your area?


Monday 21st of October 2013

Hi, I am in the process of returning my foster dog. She is a gorgeous 4 year old Weimaraner that is bat shit crazy about me. I've never had a dog be so in love with me. The problem with her is that she has Separation anxiety, but not just any type. It is just towards me. She cannot be without me or else she will go nuts! Brarking, howling, yelping, the works. This happens even when I leave her at home with my live in boyfriend. 3 sitters have been terrorized by her. I've gotten calls from them at 2 or 4 am asking me to pick up my dog immediately. The only place she is ok is at her day care. But I was only able to afford day care because I had found a groupon for 10 days of daycare for 100 dollars. I noticed you are from San Diego and that is where I currently live. I want to find a day care that volunteers their services to rescue groups or that provides discounts. I won't have to give her up if I can keep taking her to day care. It's just impossible to leave her at hime. I'm having so many problems with my neighbors, it's stressful and taking a toll in my health.

Lindsay Stordahl

Monday 21st of October 2013

You know, I'm not sure of any. It wouldn't hurt to call a few daycares and simply ask if they'd be willing to offer a discount for foster dogs, though.

If you haven't already, I would definitely explain the situation to the shelter/rescue group you are working with to see if there is any possible way it could help pay for daycare. Or possibly the dog could stay at the shelter during the day or with another volunteer. Sometimes there is a way to work something out.

On the other hand, maybe you are fostering this dog independently (not through a shelter). If that is the case, I hope you can still figure out an option. I know how stressful separation anxiety can be for everyone involved!

Don't feel too bad if you have to return the foster dog. A person can only handle so much, and there are plenty of other dogs in need that would be a better match for you.

Nancy's Point

Tuesday 15th of October 2013

I'm glad your visit was such a positive experience. That's great! I imagine there are many animals in need in your area due to the sheer number of people living there. I'm wondering why you were drawn to the particular dog you mentioned... I must admit I have not visited our local humane society.

Keep us posted if and when you start volunteering! I'm pretty sure it's when...

Lindsay Stordahl

Tuesday 15th of October 2013

I haven't heard great things about Dunn County's humane society, but hopefully that information is not accurate.


Monday 14th of October 2013

I really need to get back to our humane society for volunteer work. This is a good time of year to do it since many volunteers will likely come less often when the weather gets cold.

I can see myself falling in love with some of the dogs. But although our shelter isn't considered a no-kill, they save as many as they can. I am less tempted to take one home when I know that once they are up for adoption, they stay up for adoption until they are adopted.

Lindsay Stordahl

Monday 14th of October 2013

I always want to take them home no matter what! Ahh! Good thing I can also be rational and remind myself of all the extra work another dog would be. I definitely need to find one that is as lazy as my current dog.


Monday 14th of October 2013

I'm angry at our shelter. I went in, donated, filled out the form, called ... nothing. So I'll just keep donating. *sigh*

Mark Jenenr

Sunday 20th of October 2013

Flea, I think it's a case of persevering. Some shelters have an abundance of volunteers (in the UK at least) and taking more on may not be a priority. Plus, due to a lack of funding and organisation, many of the systems in place aren't the greatest or most efficient. It's also a fair bet to imagine that the paperwork and office side of things in these places will be catered for by volunteers and have a high staff turnover, so it's very likely mistakes will be made.

If you really want to work in one, I'm sure the old adage: If at first you don't succeed...' applies here. I'm sure you'll get noticed in the end. Good luck, it's a lovely thing you;re trying to do :-)

Lindsay Stordahl

Monday 14th of October 2013

I've definitely had that happen to me. I think what you described is extremely common and maybe even the norm. I physically went to a shelter in Fargo and filled out an application and physically handed it to the person at the desk. I never heard back. No call. No email. I had to keep on calling and emailing them myself until someone finally got back to me. They had lost my form.

It doesn't make you all that excited to volunteer, does it?


Monday 14th of October 2013

It sounds like San Diego city shelter is no-kill? Wow, that's fantastic! As far as I know, we only have one city (Westminster) in our county has a no-kill shelter. I love that they don't euthanize (except feral cats), but their staff is so rude! I went their a few times with a friend whose cat went missing, and they treated her like trash ("how dare you not microchip! How dare you allow your cat outside!"). When she mentioned that her cat was probably scared and may not be too friendly right now, she was very nastily told, "Oh, she's feral? We put ferals down right away. She was probably euthanized."

Most of the other cities in Orange County use the county shelter and it is a very depressing place. It's dirty, and the animals don't seem well-cared-for. I've only adopted from them once. I homed two guinea pigs from them. I'd only planned on taking one, but the second one was in such a bad state. He had nails so long they were growing into his paw pads and these gnarly mats all over his back. When we got home, it took me all of five minutes to clip his nails and remove the mats with some kitchen scissors. Five minutes! No one at the shelter had thought to spare five minutes on this guinea pig?!

Lindsay Stordahl

Monday 14th of October 2013

I've never heard the San Diego Humane Society use the no-kill label on any of its web marketing or in person. It might not consider itself no kill or it might want to avoid that label since members of the community have different ideas of what "no kill" means. I'm not sure if it is open admission or not, but I'm guessing it only takes in animals as space opens up. The Animal Services department handles all the stray animals in San Diego County, so this obviously lessens the humane society's burden. I'm sure the Animal Services shelters are facing many more challenges than the humane society's shelters.

That's sad about your guinea pig. I'm sure it was all related to a lack of management and communication. I'm glad you took two of them home that day. I think the majority of shelters could stand to improve their customer service skills. No one should ever be treated the way your friend was treated. You have to wonder if they even want to reunite lost pets with their families. Sad.