Animal shelter enhances volunteer program

Alachua County Animal Services sign

Alachua County Animal Resources and Care (AR&C) shelter announced its recent enhancements to its volunteer program on Thursday in an effort to assist staff and the current animal overcrowding.

In an Alachua County press release, the AR&C spelled out its process for people who want to become volunteers at the shelter. 

“One of the most important steps we are taking is rebuilding the volunteer program,” Education, Volunteerism and Outreach (EVO) Coordinator Sarah Gilley said in the release. “We are overwhelmed by the outpouring of love and support from our animal-loving community, and we know many of you are eager to get involved. We hear you; we see you, and we appreciate you. We are building a structured program that our volunteers and community will be proud of.”

Volunteer improvements include:

  • Volunteers can now fill out and submit their application forms online.
  • Volunteer orientation and training sessions are being scheduled more frequently at a variety of times.
  • Adding volunteer positions and updating existing descriptions to offer as many volunteer opportunities as possible in different areas.
  • Bringing back group volunteer opportunities for school clubs, local businesses and organizations.
  • New education guidelines and resources for staff, volunteers, fosters, and the community.
  • All volunteers will receive training directly from Gilley.
  • Customized training based on the volunteer’s experience and comfort level.
  • A refresher course with the volunteer coordinator to review the changes to the volunteer program.  

According to the release, the AR&C leadership team has been meeting with national and local organizations to expand their resources and learn more about successful volunteer engagement.

They are also putting the finishing touches on a volunteer handbook that will be shared after the completion of volunteer orientation and available on-site.

The volunteer phase is one of many steps that the AR&C is making to help alleviate the current animal overcrowding situation during a transition over the past month that included naming a new director, waiving pet adoption fees and turning away take-ins indefinitely due to both animal overcrowding and being short-staffed, said Faren Healey, the new shelter supervisor, in a phone interview. 

“[We’ve] put our time and energy and resources into building the programs that are only going to make this shelter better as well, including our volunteer programs, which is what I wanted to communicate to the county the most is we’ve had this outpouring of support,” Healey said. “It’s so greatly appreciated, but it’s happening fast and we’re trying to play catchup here to accommodate everybody who wants to help in a safe and effective manner.”  

Healey took over as the shelter supervisor in mid-June after Ed Williams stepped down from the position.

“We’re making improvements every single day,” Healey said. “The flow of intakes—I won’t say the stop of intakes, because obviously, those emergency cases are still coming through—but the low intake has helped. It has made a difference, it has given us time to focus more on the behavioral assessments of the animals here in the shelter and to reduce external stress and therefore make them a little bit more adoptable.”

The shelter waived adoption fees in early June due to overcrowding.

“Since the fees were waived, adoptions did increase,” Healey said. “We did see a spike in adoptions and now they’ve since tapered off.”

Along with volunteers, Healey said the shelter also needs help with foster care.

“We’re really just hoping that we can get people excited about the shelter…not just to adopt but to foster a lot of our dogs that just really need to get out of the shelter setting and in a foster setting where they’re able to decompress, destress and become a little bit more adoptable,” she said.

Long term, Healey said the AR&C needs a larger shelter. During an Alachua County Board of County Commissioners special meeting on June 28 to learn more about the AR&C department, one of the topics discussed about the current shelter—built in 1983—was that it wasn’t designed for the current operation or to keep animals for more than a week. 

“Like any big project, it doesn’t happen overnight,” Healey said. “We always wish that we could snap our fingers and have a new facility but there’s so many steps that have to happen before we can even break ground on something like that.”

Healey added it could be realistically two or three years or longer before a new shelter is built, depending on the resources available to the county.

“We definitely feel we have the county support and we think they we feel they are committed to getting the space for us and getting a new building because I think that’s our 100% most important thing is to get a new building that can accommodate the new programs that we want to implement and kind of the progression of the field of animal welfare,” she said. “Our [current] building struggles to support that same vision that we have.” 

The shelter, located at 3400 NE 53rd Ave. in Gainesville, is open Tuesday through Saturday from 10:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m., excluding holidays. Click here to see the shelter’s adoption procedures and to view the shelter’s adoptable animals.

The shelter is seeking fostering opportunities with a one-month minimum availability commitment. To foster animals, email foster@alachuacounty.us

For more information about the shelter or on becoming a volunteer, contact Healey at 352-262-0199 or Gilley at sgilley@alachuacounty.us.

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