Making the decision to adopt a pet from an animal shelter or to offer your services as a volunteer is perhaps one of the most rewarding things you could decide to do. However, it is worthwhile keeping some safety tips in mind to ensure that your time at the shelter is an enjoyable one.
- Always report to Reception first – do not go wandering around the shelter unauthorised. There may be areas which contain animals in quarantine and you may inadvertently transfer infection throughout the shelter. Certain animals may be contained while they are being assessed for behavioural problems and they may react aggressively to a stranger’s presence. There may also be hazardous chemicals or equipment which could be a danger to someone not trained to handle them.
- Leave your own pets at home – the noisy and often stressful environment at most animal shelters will be disturbing to your existing pets and may cause them to misbehave. There is also the risk of infection again as you have no idea what the animals arriving at the shelter may be carrying in terms of disease.
* In certain instances, you may be requested to bring your existing dog (eg, if you are rehoming another dog and it is important to check that they can get along) – in this case, follow the shelter’s instructions carefully.
- Always wash your hands before visiting and after leaving the shelter. Also wash your hands if you are visiting different areas of the shelter and there may be a risk of cross-infection. Cats, for example, especially kittens, are very susceptible to “cat flu” which can be easily spread through third-person contact.
- Always ask for staff advice before reaching through a cage to touch an animal. The strange and stressful environment of the shelter can cause even the most gentle-natured dog or cat to lash out in fear and a hand coming through the bars can be very threatening to a frightened animal. The restrictive space also means that you cannot withdraw your hand quickly enough if the animal strikes.
- Do not open any cage or run doors unless authorised to do so by staff – an escaped animal could cause havoc in a shelter.
- Do not enter any cage or run unless authorised by staff – the animals could feel threatened and attack you.
- Find out all you can from the staff about an animal’s background before “meeting” an animal – for example, a cat may dislike being touched on a certain part of its body or a dog may be particularly protective when it has certain food items or toys.
- Move slowly and gently when handling small animals such as rabbits and other rodents – sudden, quick movements can frighten them into kicking, biting or clawing to escape.
- If you are unsure, ask! Don’t be embarrassed – the supervising staff would prefer your questions to any potential mishap. This can save a lot of mistakes, accidents and possible injuries.
- Make sure you are given a tour and briefing of health and safety procedures before you commence your duties. Familiarise yourself with the protocol with regards to animal attacks, animal escapes, accidents with equipment and any other potential hazards.
- Ensure that you have the training, supervision and guidance needed to enable you to work safely and with confidence.
- Make sure you report any fault in equipment, not matter how minor, and also any accidents or “near miss” situations you might have had. Most shelters will have an accident book for this purpose. Many also ask that you report any injuries or wounds from any animal.
- Make sure you wear personal protective equipment if the situation requires it – such as gloves, eye protection and ear defenders.
- Follow the safety rules for interacting with animals – for example, avoid staring dogs in the eyes or looming over them; do not approach them too quickly and immediately try to grab or handle them around the neck and face; always move slowly, talking in a calm, reassuring manner.
Keeping safe is often just about using common sense and following the rules. However irritating or exaggerated the precautions may seem, they are there for a reason and it pays to follow them.