Sep 20, 2010

It's Not a Contest People!

On any given Sunday you are likely to find me sitting in my pajamas playing computer games all day. It's not very constructive. Unless you count the following: 1) leveling yet another WOW character to 80 or 2) beating some on-line poker punk's straight with my flush. My daughter is grown and out of the house. My son is still at home but, like a houseplant, requires very little of our attention. So, I find myself with too much free time on the weekends.

Sitting around on my ass all day wasn't good for my health or my mind. I needed to break myself of this habit. I decided to sign up as a volunteer at our local animal shelter. Last weekend was my second Sunday of volunteering. It's been very satisfying so far. But I'm increasingly bugged by what I can only describe as a caste system.

I should have known this was a whole different world at my orientation. The volunteer coordinator is a very nice lady and she did a great job explaining the program. She brought a stray puppy with her. A cute little pit bull pup that was allowed to run around the room and interact with the 40 or so would-be volunteers. It's hard to resist a puppy, I know. But some of these people were hell bent on getting the puppy to pay attention to them, to the point of interrupting the presentation. It was as if they were trying to prove how good they were with animals. Calm down there Puppy Whisperer - you don't have anything to prove - it's sort of a given that everybody in the room loves animals.

The volunteer jobs are classified into four categories moving up from Level One through Level Four jobs. The Level One jobs are labor intensive with no animal contact. You earn the right to move up a Level by putting in your time at the lower Levels. I understand why they do this. Makes perfect sense to gauge someone's level of commitment before you give them more responsibility. Especially when they will be coming in contact with animals who potentially have trust issues. It's a necessary weeding out process. Who's here to help and who's here because they want to pet puppies and kittens all day? What I wasn't expecting was this sense of superiority that some of the higher level volunteers exhibit towards the lower level volunteers.

As a Level One volunteer all I am currently allowed to do is housekeeping or load trucks or the warehouse with pet food for delivery. (For an awesome program which gives pet food to low income families so they can keep their pets.) I have done only housekeeping so far. I learned quickly there are a few issues you have to deal with on housekeeping duty. First, no clear idea of what you should be doing. Except for laundry... I'll get back to this later. They have a list on the wall of duties to be performed each day and the duties get marked off as they are completed. The problem is the list has not been updated with current sheets. It only serves as a guide to what might need to be done. You have to go check it out and see if someone has completed it yet. If not, you do it. This then leads to problem two.

You don't know where anything is and have to ask for help from the staff or higher level volunteers. It's hard to be a bother to people who are obviously busy with their own duties. I tried to be as self sufficient as possible but a few times I just had to ask...... where does the garbage go?....... where can I get Windex refill solution?....... where is the vacuum? Ask the wrong person and you get an answer like "I'm a DOGWALKER!" (cue angels singing in background) "Ask one of the cleaning people." Well, excuuuuusseeee me. I can only hope to reach the levels of animal philanthropy that you have achieved. Let me shuffle off to the belltower and polish the bell while you resume your important duties.

I am not exaggerating. Most of the upper levels avoid eye contact with you and the cat ladies actually gossip and talk insider talk as if you aren't in the room. Maybe most people don't make it past Level One so this could be some sort of defense mechanism on their part. Don't get too attached to the dishwasher they'll be gone in a month. Like the red shirts on Start Trek.

Laundry is the best housekeeping job. Piles and piles of filthy pet bedding that needs washing, drying, folding and putting away. They go through an amazing amount of towels, blankets and rugs in caring for homeless pets. You really feel a sense of accomplishment shuffling baskets of clean laundry down to the cat supply and dog supply rooms. They use them faster than you can keep them supplied. Plus you can sneak a quick peak at the dogs as you stock the supply room..... but don't act too interested or you could be pegged as an animal groupie instead of a hard working volunteer.

This past Sunday I was on the early shift and staked my claim to the laundry room. Busy, busy. Awesome. While off on a clean laundry run my laundry room spot was commandeered by a grey haired lady who was making no bones about being in charge from that point forward. I wasn't happy but moved on to other things that needed doing and occupied the rest of my day.    

At one point during the day the Grandma who stole my laundry duty passed by me and announced that she was going off to clean up dog doo from the doggie play yard because "I don't mind dirty jobs like that."  I was the only person in the room.  Why did she think I cared?  I'm even being one-upped by my fellow Level Ones.   I felt like saying... "Oh yeah, well this window cleaning is really rough with my ammonia allergy and my arthritis." 

My strategy will continue to be "Keep your eyes down and keep working". I do hope to graduate to a Level where I can interact with the animals.... maybe even a dog walker, dream of dreams. If anything it won't be the hard work that keeps me from it or the heartbreaking stories of these poor animals in need of a good home.  It'll be the people.


  1. I think you are a saint for doing hard, dirty, unappreciated work because you care. I am not allowed to use the words that best describe some of your uppity co-volunteers.

  2. I graduated from raking the debris from hedge trimming,to actually operating the trimmer just last week! I'm not sure I'm allowed to talk to you.

  3. Mom is right. If I'm giving up my own free time for no pay, I would want to be treated better by my fellow volunteers.

  4. And THIS is why places like that find it hard to get volunteers. Good on you for doing it, just think of the animals (the four legged ones that is). ;)

  5. I work for an organization that relies on volunteers and understand the importance of treating your volunteers right!

  6. Mom - It's really been a great thing. I love the animals and it gets me out of my pajamas early on a Sunday. It has made my whole day much more productive. Not all the volunteers are uppity. Many of them are very nice and helpful. I guess the few bad ones just look really bad in comparison.

    Sling - I'd respond if I could. Please let me know when you graduate to lawn fertilization and tree trimming and then maybe we can talk.

    jp - Not going to dissuade me yet. You run into @ssholes wherever you go.

    FM - I suppose it's sort of a two edged sword having a mostly volunteer staff. They are generally enthusiastic but you aren't paying them so you are limited on how much control you can exert over them.

    Dawn - I don't envy you. As I said to FM it's a whole different relationship with different pitfalls than the employer/employee relationship.

  7. Its just bloody "ridicularse" but there is a part of the human brain called the reptilian part - and people in whom this dominates thrive on ritual, hierarchy and order and are unable to accept change well - they make the best sociopaths at extreme levels-

  8. Wow, that sucks. But GOOD FOR YOU for being such a caring person and so giving of your time--especially to do the crap jobs like laundry! I'm glad I'm your bloggy friend. :)

  9. You are amazing....I would have wanted to go straight to dog walking or just laying on the floor in the kitten room. Watch what you say about gray haired ladies....they can be really fast with a towel to the butt.

  10. Kudos to you for being special enough to do the job in the first place!! It takes special people to work with animals regardless of your 'level'.

    I work for a Hospital and we have the same type of caste system. The nurses won't even learn your name until you've made it a year. Until then you are "that girl". They are also exceptionally mean to you to make sure you have the grit to fight back.

    Keep up the good work and I'm sure you'll be up on level (highest) very quickly :-)