#ONEdifference: Seeing Value in Volunteers

Michigan Humane Society’s smart volunteer program is helping thousands of adoptable pets in Detroit find their way to new homes.

Shelters all over the country rely on volunteers to help make a difference for pets and people in their communities. In some places, maintaining a strong base of volunteers can be a persistent challenge. That’s why the volunteer program at Detroit’s Michigan Humane Society is so extraordinary, with more than 1,200 active volunteers supporting MHS operations each month — and a waiting list for new ones.

“We’ve got probably close to an 8:1 ratio of volunteers to staff,” says CJ Bentley, MHS Senior Director of Operations. “We could not do what we do without the volunteers that we have, and they are integrated into everything that we do.”

To help every volunteer make the best possible contribution to MHS’s overall success, Bentley and her colleagues recently made a commitment to give volunteers the same level of training that their paid staff receives. She says this simple innovation has made a big difference in how teams work together, sharing the same goals and taking pride in their successes.

Having a well-trained, dedicated pool of volunteers is a big win for pets as well as the organization itself; dogs and cats at MHS get human interaction multiple times each day, which helps to reduce stress and keep them happy and healthy while awaiting adoption.

“It’s not just people coming in and cleaning out cages,” says behavior program supervisor Sarah Pistalca. “It’s not people taking a dog outside for five minutes. These volunteers are coming in, they’re taking animals out and they’re getting to know them on an individual basis and finding out what each animal needs … so that we can focus on individuals and not a mass population.”

“What seems like such a simple idea as to make sure that our volunteers are getting the same training that our staff does,” says MHS VP & Chief Marketing Officer Michael Robbins, “is actually cornerstone to our philosophy, which is to make sure that anyone who walks through the door at the Michigan Humane Society has the tools to better the lives of animals.”

Partnering with Purina ONE is another way MHS is working to amplify the difference it makes for pets awaiting adoption. Robbins says getting quality food is critical for dogs and cats in a shelter environment where they may be more stressed than pets in a home. “Not only does it have to be good for them, it has to be food that they want to eat. Making sure they eat regularly and have a food that has a great appeal to them, in addition to being nutritious, is a core part of our partnership with Purina.”

The smart programs at MHS are paying off in the form of successful adoptions. For the past five years, it has ensured that 100% of all the healthy dogs and cats who pass through its doors are placed in homes.  Additionally, in 2014, MHS ensured the same outcome for 100% of all treatable dogs in its care, and is working diligently to achieve the same for 100% of treatable cats.

Learn more about Michigan Humane Society.

Photo credit: Michigan Humane Society