Caveats of volunteering

Robin Singh
Stories from Peepal Farm
3 min readJun 13, 2016


When I show up to volunteer at a shelter or sanctuary, I don’t really want to pick up shit and take dogs for walks, but that’s the first thing they tell you to do. Whether it’s Unites States, or India. Same shit, different place. That too, if you are lucky. Most times you’ll be just asked to play with the dogs or groom them.

Why is that? Why can’t I be working with animals. Why doesn’t volunteering look like the image in my head.

When asked to describe that image, I find myself scratching my head. I had an image. I was saving lives. Helping animals recover.

Do I have veterinary skills?

No sir, I don’t.

But come on, at least give me something important.

Look. I can’t stress the importance of picking up poop and walks. If you come to a shelter and see animals knee deep in their shit, how’d you feel about that? How’d you feel if you see dogs who are itching to get out of their enclosure, or worse yet have lost all hope and their eyes are all sunken as they know they are not going on a walk, ever?

After the initial rescue, all around the daily medical treatments, while an animal recovers is the cycle of feeding, picking poop and enrichment.

Sometimes us volunteers just show up expecting that we’ll be handed something important to do. But, really, pause. What if we are not showing up? Then who is doing that something important? Staff. Since volunteer availability is unreliable, staff is hired to do the important stuff like treatments and feeding.

At our farm and stray animal recovery center, where we have a work exchange program instead of a volunteer program; we have divided daily tasks in “critical” and “essential”.

  • Critical tasks revolve around food, medicine and water — absolute musts to keep animals alive and healthy. We have staff for this.
  • Then, there are the essentials which are around enrichment and assisting the critical tasks. These are labor of love kind of tasks which are done better by people invested in the happiness of animals. Participants of the work exchange program do the essential tasks. This way if it so happens that we don’t have any working guests, the animals still stay alive, albeit dirty and grumpy.

To sum it up, if you want to volunteer, understand the needs of the place and if you keep their needs above your expectations, you’ll have a more fulfilling experience.

Not to say there are not other projects. There is a lot goes in running a shelter or sanctuary or recovery center. There’s always animals that need homes and fundraising. Copy to be written. Videos to be made. Posts that need to go out.

There’s almost always some construction help needed. Either something needs repair, or something needs to be built. There are things that can be improved.

If you have a suggestion, think about it before just blurting it out. People running these places have crammed head-spaces. Don’t hold back your creativity but don’t be overwhelming either. Mostly if you notice something that can be done and is not being done is not because no-one has thought of it, but because of a time or resource crunch. So, it’ll even be sweeter if you can spearhead it. If there is process you can tweak which will save time and resources, you’re nothing short of a hero!

I don’t remember how many times I’ve spent time explaining things to people only to have interests fade out. If you have skills, and more importantly you can commit the time needed to execute what you propose to undertake, go for it.

I guess that’s all I got.