The argument officially dates back to 2012 when the Baltimore County Animal Shelter began accepting a small number of volunteers. Pretty soon some of them began agitating for change.
They started a Facebook page, photographed shelter animals and posted the pictures in an effort to increase adoptions. They were critical of shelter conditions and complained about decisions of the shelter administration. Sometimes they didn't follow rules.
As you might expect, this didn't sit well with county officials who felt these folks were pretty much just trouble makers. Ultimately a number of volunteers were let go.
Today Baltimore County's volunteer program is minimal. It includes just 20 volunteers. They are allowed only limited duties: dog and cat socialization and making toys and bedding.
"So what?" you may ask. "What difference does it make whether there are lots of volunteers or not?"
The reason is that a thriving volunteer program is a critical piece of the puzzle at well-run shelters. It enables shelters to improve animals' lives while in the shelter and get more animals adopted.
BARCS, the shelter in Baltimore City, has over 400 active volunteers who work in numerous roles and put in approximately 38 thousand volunteer hours a year.
The MD SPCA has 800 volunteers who have worked over 45 thousand hours in the nine months from January through September of 2014! If these were paid hours, even at minimum wage, the SPCA has gotten over 326 thousand dollars worth of work this year for free.
Watch this video to see the MD SPCA volunteer program in action.
The MD SPCA isn't resting on its laurels. Its volunteer program is always open, and Volunteer Manager Katie Flory would love to see the number of volunteers grow.
So, one has to wonder: what is standing in the way of
Baltimore County creating a thriving volunteer program at the
Baltimore County Animal Shelter?
Yes, some past volunteers created problems. Yes, these problems left a bad taste in the mouths of county officials. Yes, it's a real problem when volunteers operate under their own auspices. They must come under the control and management of the facility for which they volunteer.
But what's past is past. That was then. This is now.
So, let's get started. Let's see the county create a structured volunteer program with great training, clear procedures, and real coordination.
If you look at BARCS, the MD SPCA, and many other shelters, it's obvious this can be accomplished. In fact, both BARCS and the MD SPCA have long offered to help the county make such a program a reality.
The county has not accepted this offer of assistance. I understand that asking for help isn't easy. It involves admitting that you need it. But there's no shame in it.
In my opinion, the smartest people do what they know best, and rely on others to help when it comes to things they don't know how to do.
To be fair, this is clearly not the only project on the county's plate. Government is responsible for many things. The shelter is just one of them. But if you believe that animals matter, it's very important.
As the county prepares to build a new $6 million shelter facility, it needs to think about how it will run things there. Adding a vibrant volunteer program is vital.
It's time to enter the modern day world of animal sheltering. A volunteer program is a way to start.
So, let's create a thriving volunteer program at the Baltimore County Animal Shelter. Then, we can sit back and enjoy all the unpaid help and dedication that volunteers bring to the table.
I believe our county government wants to make our county the best it can be. This is one way to do it. Volunteers do work.