My Volunteer Journey

As a high school student looking for places to volunteer, I was so glad that I came across the SPCA of Northern Nevada! I went in thinking it would be easy and that I would spend time cuddling cats and dogs during the four hours I was volunteering, but instead, I learned so many new things about caring for pets. 

Once you get trained to help the animal care team, learn the adoption center basics, and help for ten hours, you can cuddle animals. But, there is still so much work that goes into the privilege of being up-close with the shelter pets.

The SPCA of Northern Nevada (SPCA-NN) team puts in an astronomical amount of hard work every day to make the shelter a safe space for animals. Being able to come in every week as a volunteer is huge, and not only that, I’ve learned so much about pet care and have become a better pet parent! I had never considered what kind of pet parent I am, but after volunteering with the SPCA-NN for these past six months, it changed my perspective.

Pet Nutrition

The food given to the shelter pets came to me as a culture shock because I assumed that all the nutrients your pets need are in their everyday dry food, but I was wrong! While watching the dog staff prepare the pup’s food, I noticed all the extra additives like pumpkin, farmers’ dog wet food, low-sodium chicken broth, and more, depending on the dog’s needs and requirements. 

I wondered: why do they put all these extra ingredients in the dog’s food? So, I went home and did some research. I learned that pumpkin is filled with vitamin A, which helps with brain and eye development. Adding wet food to your dog’s dry food diet can help them stay hydrated and prevent urinary tract infections, and chicken broth can make the dog’s food even more hydrating.


I also learned more about dog and cat enrichment. I knew beforehand that socialization and enrichment are so important for your dog and cat’s social life, but they are ten times more important for shelter animals. The majority of the time surrendered or rescued pets experience extreme stress and fear when coming into an animal shelter, so they’re required to get a little extra love! 

The volunteers and staff make whipped cream pup cups and homemade Kongs out of empty paper rolls and stuff them with peanut butter, cheese, hot dogs, and other yummy treats to get them comfortable. The staff and volunteers also go around the dog kennels and throw treats over the kennels. This is called “food chucking,” a type of enrichment activity in which we help the dogs become comfortable with human interaction without even having to go into the kennel; their safe space. 

On the cat side, volunteers can use a clicker with an extendable “target” attachment and put a yummy liquid treat called Churu on it. The cats absolutely love it, and we use it to teach them to high-five so they’ll be absolutely irresistible and adoptable! 

Pet Body Language

Understanding pet body language is very important in order to learn and respect your pet’s boundaries. You will learn this during your dog and cat socialization training, for safety and educational purposes. 

For example, when coming up to any cat you should allow them to come to you first. Once they do, you can slowly reach the tip of your knuckle out to the cat to let them sniff you. This will determine if they want to be pet or left alone, and you should respect whatever their decision is.

When coming to greet a dog while in their kennel it’s best not to make direct eye contact, because this can make them feel intimidated and scared. To seem less scary, turn sideways, avoid eye contact, kneel down so you’re close to their size, and allow them to sniff and get used to you. 

If a pet is showing aggressive behavior and you notice their body language is off, it’s best not to approach them and ask a staff member for guidance. Learn more about pet body language and behavior here.

The Thrift Store

The SPCA-NN Thrift Store is also a very important piece of the puzzle that is the SPCA-NN! The thrift store is a great place to volunteer if you love retail but still want to help animals! 

I went to volunteer at the thrift store a couple of times and it was a lot of fun. I curated outfits for all of the mannequins and even came back when not volunteering to do some shopping of my own. If you can’t volunteer, you can help the SPCA-NN by donating clothes, dogs toys or accessories, shoes, etc. You can peer in the Cat Cafe to see the kitties looking for homes as well! Click here for more information about thrift store DON’T-ATIONS and about the thrift store in general!

Volunteering at the SPCA has given me more insight into the pet parent I want to be. I’ve learned so much in the small amount of time I’ve been here. If you are looking for a place to volunteer please consider the SPCA-NN, you will become a better pet guardian, too!

By Trinity Harris

Learn more about our volunteer program and sign up to become a volunteer.

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Check out our Pet Education and Resources Hub for more information on pet nutrition, enrichment, body language, and more!

Pet Education