Last year, the Sussex County SPCA had more than 180 volunteers to help care for the shelter’s animals and, this year, they hope to have more.
“The volunteers are a vital part of our organization,” said Joanne Murphy, volunteer and development coordinator for the shelter. “We wouldn’t be able to do more than half of the things we do — especially the offsite things, like the fundraising events — because there isn’t enough staff to cover the shelter and be at these adoption events. Those are where we make our money and get exposure for our animals.
“Our fundraising committee is extremely important, and we are a nonprofit and rely solely on donations.”
Murphy said volunteers help the private non-profit organization do many things, from playing and socializing with the cats and dogs to those who help clean the shelter, to those who do yard work.
“There are a lot of different roles that the volunteers have. We have volunteers that do our fundraisers, and we have volunteers that handle our offsite adoption events. They take the information table and the dogs, and just go and talk to people.
“It gives our dogs some good exposure,” she said. “They are really important to the socialization of the animals. The staff is here every day. They clean and feed the animals, but the volunteers provide that extra little cuddle, that extra bit of love that the animals are missing while they’re not in a home.”
Aside from volunteers who work in the shelter, Murphy said a great many people in the community also donate their time to fostering animals.
“Fostering is a great program. We normally foster out kittens and puppies that are too young to be in the shelter. They go home with the fosterers, and we provide all the supplies they need to care for the animals until they’re old enough to be spayed or neutered and can be put up for adoption,” she explained.
“For the kittens and puppies, it not only keeps them healthy but it also has them in a home environment, so they’re used to people and other animals, and to really help get them used to what it’s like to be in a house.”
Volunteers in the fostering program not only help socialize the animals but train them, too. Murphy added that many of the shelter’s special-needs animals are also fostered, to give them that extra attention.
“We also foster out some of our special-needs animals, if they’re sick or recovering from leg surgery or something like that. It’s nice to get them out of the shelter and into a quiet environment where someone can monitor them.
“We do have one of our adopted dogs who suffers from epilepsy, and she is in a foster home with four other dogs and is getting along great. She hasn’t had a seizure since she’s been there because her foster mom is able to make sure she gets her daily medication on a consistent basis and she’s always around.
“It’s also great because the more animals we have out in foster care, it makes more room in the shelter too, so we can help more animals that need us.”
Those who are interested in volunteering at the shelter must attend an orientation session first. Volunteer orientations will take place on Jan. 5 at 1 p.m. and on Feb. 2 at 1 p.m. at the Sussex County SPCA location in Georgetown.
“We do an introduction to the SPCA. A lot of people aren’t really sure what we are or what we do. So, we go over our history and what exactly we do here at the SPCA. We then take a tour of the shelter. We go into the cat room and let the volunteers know what they do in the room and how to handle the cats. Then we go on to the dog room and do the same there. It’s a quick overview of everything that goes on here at the shelter.
“After the orientation, we have them follow one of the senior volunteers for the first two times they are here, so they can get the details of exactly which dog goes in what yard, and what cat can be out with that cat — things like that.”
Murphy said the shelter currently has approximately 65 dogs and 90 cats, not including those in foster homes.
Those who wish to volunteer after the orientation may come into the shelter at any time during its normal hours.
“We don’t hold them to a schedule, a day or time. We like them to come in when it works for them, so it doesn’t feel like an obligation, they feel like it’s something they want to do, so that they are happy to be here and enjoying their time here — because if they’re not enjoying their time here, then the animals are not going to get the most out of their time.”
She added that those who cannot donate their time to the shelter but still wish to help may donate needed items.
“We are always in need of your old linens. I tell everybody, ‘The stuff that you’re throwing away from your linen closet, we will take — sheets, towels and blankets. We also are always in need of canned dog and cat food — it doesn’t matter the brand,” she said, adding that cleaning supplies, such as bleach and Dawn dishwashing detergent, are always needed.
Murphy said that all donations are greatly appreciated and that the shelter staff is touched by the community’s support.
“We really do have wonderful support from our communities, from the big stores to the little local businesses. The public, in general, anytime we put out that we need something, immediately people are offering to bring it in. A lot of local pet supply stores donate items to us or allow us to come to their store, bring our animals and information to gain exposure. We are lucky here that we have so much support from the community.”
She added that it’s extra special when children in the community take the time to donate to the shelter.
“We’ve had a lot of young children in the last two years that, for their birthday, instead of asking for gifts for themselves, they ask for donations to the shelter, which is really sweet. We make a big deal about it when they come in. We take pictures and all that stuff. It’s really nice because it’s the next generation of animal-lovers,” she said. “Especially when they’re 6 or 7 years old, it’s really neat to see that they’re thinking about the animals and want to bring stuff in.”
Throughout the month of January, the Delaware SPCA, with the support of PetSmart Charities, will be ringing in the new year with their “Happy Neuter Year” campaign.
“We can neuter any male dog or male cat for $20. The rest of the cost is covered by PetSmart Charities,” she said.
The Delaware SPCA offers low-cost vaccinations and spaying of animals throughout the year, as well.
“The low-cost vaccines — because we have a low overhead here, we’re not paying for a big fancy building — it’s a service we can provide to the public. It helps if we can help owners who maybe can’t afford to go to the vet to get their animals vaccinated or spayed or neutered. If we can do it here, that helps the animals and the owners.”
Murphy said that she is thankful for the wonderful volunteers the shelter has had over the years and hopes that more people will take the time to help out.
“It’s just a wonderful thing,” she said.
For more information on the SPCA, visit www.delspca.org. For more information regarding volunteering for the shelter, email email@example.com. The Sussex County SPCA is located at 22918 DuPont Boulevard (Route 113) in Georgetown. Their hours are Mondays through Fridays from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Sundays from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.