Animal control officers at the Kenai Animal Shelter are struggling between their workload and a lack of volunteers to keep the shelter open to the public during normal business hours.
The shelter is usually open from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Monday through Friday and from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday, but those hours fluctuate.
"We're constantly juggling volunteers as they come and go," said Animal Control Officer Brett Reid, "It can be very depressing for an animal lover to work here. And I don't blame them, I can understand why."
Reid and Chief Animal Control Officer Bill Godek are the only two paid staff members working at the shelter. Whenever one of them has a day off or is out of town, the shelter is left with only one employee. So if a call comes in that the officer has to respond to, the shelter is locked up until he gets back.
"There's a notice on the board when we have to close," Reid said. "It's just a way of providing the maximum service we can to the community by being gone at moment's notice if something comes up. The closed sign is up frequently when we're out of town. On any given day, the shelter may be locked if something comes up."
Volunteers can keep the shelter open if the officers are called away. The shelter had six volunteers who worked on a regular basis, usually scheduled to cover for Reid or Godek on their days off. But it's hard to keep volunteers around when they're really needed, like in the morning, because people have jobs and other commitments that take them away from the shelter, Reid said. The shelter recently lost one volunteer to a job, so it's short again.
"We're always looking for people," Reid said.
He advised anyone interested in volunteering to come by the shelter and pick up an application.
Area groups, like the Girl Scouts and 4-H participants, volunteer at the shelter, but they need supervision so they're not as efficient as a trained volunteer, Godek said. And the shelter does have other volunteers who just want to play with the animals or who can only come in for limited amounts of time.
"It's like farm work, it happens at morning," Godek said. "We want people to come here and pet the dogs and walk them, and that's nice, but it doesn't always work out with what Brett and I are doing. There's a lot of other responsibilities, so not every volunteer works out."
Volunteering at the shelter involves cleaning kennels, caring for the animals, dealing with the public and handling the animal adoption paperwork. A volunteer who can handle those responsibilities can staff the shelter alone when the officer is called away.
People who aren't allergic to the disinfectants used at the shelter, who have an understanding of how to deal with dangerous animals (although volunteers are not expected to), and who aren't afraid to get dirty are preferred as volunteers.
"Be prepared to wear boots and clothes you don't mind getting Clorox on," Godek said. "Be prepared for a lot of fecal matter, urine and other bodily discharges, a large degree of barking and a large degree of sad stories."
One of the deterrents of volunteering at the shelter for many people is the euthanization of the animals.
"Probably one of the worst things to deal with is that animal they get attached to will be gone, " Godek said. "It's probably one of the harder things to be involved in. We don't ask volunteers to be involved, but as time goes along they do indirectly participate in that so they have to understand it. It would be nice if that were not the case but, unfortunately, nationwide, that is the case."
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