The Friends of Marshall Animals have been working to train new volunteers to assist in the care of the animals and facilities in the new Marshall Pet Adoption Center for the past month.
So far, the new volunteer program has initiated almost 60 new volunteers to assist shelter staff in the care of the cats and dogs up for adoption, with two additional orientation events scheduled for Friday, Oct. 8 from 2 to 4 p.m., and Monday, Oct. 11, from 9 to 11 a.m.
“We have had a lot of people interested in volunteering,” said program coordinator Amanda Smith, “So I have been holding a lot of orientations.”
The orientation is a 20-minute presentation of safety measures and the layout of the facility, followed by a tour by the FOMA. Smith said that once a volunteer completes the initial orientation, they are permitted to volunteer in the cat room as well as assist in facility management, but additional training is needed to work with and walk the dogs.
“The orientation is the first step for everything, but our Chief of Police, and I think rightfully so, wants us to have additional training in place for work with our dogs,” she explained.
The additional training is also offered through the Friends of Marshall Animals and would require volunteers to participate in an hour-long presentation about dog body language and correct walking and handling procedures.
After the course, community members would complete a supervised, solo dog walk to gage their ability to follow procedures and handle the animals. After this, they are able to volunteer through the groups online system to walk animals, work in the cat room or for any number of other available opportunities.
Program volunteer Holly Fay, who completed both the initial orientation and the additional dog training, said that the FOMA volunteers made the process easy and fun.
“They made me feel very comfortable throughout the whole thing, it was easy to go through,” she said.
Volunteers ages 13 and up are welcome at the shelter, with those 15 and younger required to have a parent present, and those ages 16 to 18 years old allowed to volunteer without a parent, though a parent or guardian is required to attend orientation with them.
Fay said that the organizations online sign up system for volunteers, coupled with the Facebook pages, all make volunteering with the organization easy and simple to do one your own time.
“Now I can go in and volunteer for as much time, or as little time as I have, its really fantastic how they have it all set up,” she said, “They have really done a great job with all of the opportunities they had with the new shelter.”
Smith said that the MPAC has volunteers from a wide range of ages, including Katya Sleazina, a 15-year-old volunteer with the program.
“I have always really loved animals, so I was very excited for the new shelter to open to come and volunteer,” she said.
Sleazina said that the orientation was easy to go through, as well as the additional dog training, that both provided her with the tools she needed to start working one on one with the animals.
“I just think it’s really great, you can see such a difference in the behavior of the dogs with just a few weeks of working with them,” she said.
Sleazina isn’t the only one who noted a marked difference in the behavior of the dogs through the new volunteer program.
Volunteer Lori Aksamit, who through her experience in other shelters has begun assisting in the training of new volunteers at the MPAC, said that the group is working towards making sure that each dog goes out every day to expel extra energy and receive proper attention from humans.
“The dogs are much calmer, you seem them become socialized so much better,” she said.
This helps the animals reach adoptable status, helping to keep the kill rate at the shelter down as well as find the animals at the MPAC forever homes faster.
She said that the foster program has additional plans to expand programs as their volunteer base continues to grow. Additional ideas, including a program where children can come read to the cats and dogs, as well as opening the shelter up to host events that would include an educational component, are all being considered by the group.
“We definitely weren’t able to have this kind of program at the old shelter,” Smith said, adding that the additional space offered in the new MPAC facility, especially the community room, has offered the organization boundless opportunities for training and growth.
Orientation class sizes are limited, so community members are asked to send an email to MPACvolunteers@gmail.com if they are interested in attending. All sessions will be held in the MPAC Community Room at 2502 E. Travis St.