Every wondered what i’s like to volunteer for the Dog’s Trust? Well our Explorer Lesley is here to give you the full insight by sharing her volunteering story.
*Please note that that the contents of this blog is before COVID-19, therefore things will be slightly different due to restrictions. Volunteers are currently not allowed on any site of Dogs Trust and applications are on hold.
When I lost my first dog Kali in 2018, I was devastated and couldn’t envisage getting another dog for at least another year. That, of course, didn’t last long as I met and re-homed an adorable ex-sniffer dog, Icarus aka Ike the (ex-)Snifferdog.
Anyway, back to the story. Although I didn’t think I could have another dog, I still wanted contact with dogs. Only a couple of my friends had dogs, and when you’re a dog person you miss that waggy tail wandering in your life. So I decided to volunteer at my local Dogs Trust Rehoming Centre.
It’s been a great experience, and I’m so excited to share my volunteering story.
How To Get Started
To get the ball rolling and to identify a suitable role, I looked at the Dog Trust website. To find volunteering roles near you, click here.
There are some varied roles with Dogs Trust. You can help to care for the dogs by kennel cleaning, laundry or dog-walking. Alternatively, you can tend the centre grounds and gardens, help out in reception, work in a charity shop. Or if you fancy a more hands-on role, you could become a home-from-home foster-carer.
I was in luck as they were looking for volunteers at my local centre in West Calder, West Lothian, Scotland at the time. So I downloaded the application form, filled it out and sent it off to the Volunteer Co-ordinator.
Every application is considered against the role criteria. If you’re a good match the Dogs Trust will invite you for an informal interview. Mine took place over the phone and it was just a chat about why I was interested in volunteering and what my availability would be.
They ask that you can offer a minimum of one session per fortnight, whether that be 3 hours of kennel-cleaning or an hour or two of dog-walking. You can offer more if you want and the sign-up sheets appear a couple of weeks in advance to allow you to plan your visits.
There are also special events you can get involved with, such as the Dogs Trust Fun Day and the Christmas Fête. These are always great fun and always need lots of willing volunteers!
A few weeks later, I had some great news from my interview – my application was successful, pending the usual disclosure checks. I was invited for a training session the following Saturday afternoon.
Training With Dogs Trust
The training was great. To begin with, I was shown around the centre and taken through all the skills required for the volunteer role. This included manual handling and GDPR training in addition to the ins and outs and dos and don’ts of being on-site.
Part of the training included a further understanding of the dogs on-site and how we are unable to interact with them while moving around the centre. Many dogs come in without any knowledge of their background and therefore you don’t know how that dog will react if distracted. It is hard not to meet or talk to the dogs, but it is common sense and for the safety of everyone.
Garry the Volunteer Co-ordinator asked everyone to book in for their first session for when he was on-site so that he could do a quick orientation on the day. I booked myself on for kennel cleaning for the following day.
Kennel Cleaning Orientation
Eek, my first official day at the Dogs Trust! I had a quick orientation chat and then and was shown to one of the three blocks housing the dogs. They try to have a volunteer In each block, but obviously, this depends on availability.
Having a volunteer means that the actual staff have more time to spend with the dogs. This could be spending 1-2-1 time with a dog, playing, walking and training. Or they could just be busy cleaning and preparing food for the dogs.
Before I volunteered I knew the dogs were being looked after but weren’t sure if they were perhaps, ‘loved’. However, after spending time there it’s clear that the staff go above and beyond to ensure the dogs emotional needs are met. Day-to-day they have walk time and playtime in an open secure field. You can see that the canine carers have a lot of affection for the dogs and they are very loved.
I can honestly say that I have never worked as physically hard as I did the day I first cleaned the kennels. You have a three hour time-slot to hose down all the kennels including the walls and floors, brush or squeeze the water out and then dry off with a towel if needed. It certainly beat a work-out at the gym!
The blankets and beds are inspected and if soiled are replaced. Toys are also inspected and removed if there is evidence of chewing.
If you volunteer to do the laundry run you might put the washing on, empty the machine into the dryer or empty the dryer and fold/put away blankets and towels. There is always a never-ending pile of laundry to do!
During my time doing the kennel-cleaning, I also prepared food for the dogs, filled up their water bowls and cleared away and washed up the used bowls.
After a few weeks of kennel cleaning and an unrelated back injury. So, I signed up to do some dog-walking! I generally go every weekend or two to walk dogs.
They ask you to spend at least an hour walking dogs. Normally you would walk one dog at a time for around 25-30 minutes each. The centre staff choose the dogs which are most suited to going out with volunteers, usually dogs who are not reactive and who walk well with anyone.
The canine carer who brings the dog to you gives you a short handover to let you know the dog’s temperament is like and further information which is good to know.
At my Dogs Trust, there is a large woodland area next to the centre. This place is still within the grounds but not near the accommodation blocks so the dogs can be walked in peace away from other dogs. There is a strict one-way system in place so that no dogs come face to face with each other. It is also important to keep an eye out for other dogs being walked when walking round to make sure that you don’t meet another dog.
All volunteers are given a walkie-talkie so that they can communicate with the staff should there be any issues on your walk, such as a medical emergency or a dog becoming loose. Usually, the dogs are double-clipped to their harness or collar so that you would still have one attached should the other fail.
There’s also a couple of summer houses on-site with sofas and toys. These houses can be used to spend 1-2-1 time with the dogs. Sometimes all they want is a snuggle on the sofa for 5 minutes and a little treat (if permitted, as some dogs are on special diets).
On taking them back to the centre, I always let them know about their toileting situation and if I noticed any lameness or any other issues.
I Love Volunteering!
Volunteering with Dogs Trust is so rewarding and it is lovely to spend time with the dogs. I have been doing it now for more than almost 3 years although COVID has eaten into that time. I cannot wait to go back and hope we will be able to go back soon.
If you have some time to spare then I would definitely encourage you to check the website or contact your local centre to see what volunteering options they have available. Good luck!