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Come January, the Jefferson City Animal Shelter will be restructuring its volunteer program, kicking it off with two volunteer orientation workshops from 8-10 a.m. Jan. 22 and 25.

During the workshops, potential volunteers will have the chance to tour the shelter, learn about volunteer opportunities and talk about expectations. Anyone hoping to volunteer at JCAS must enroll in the workshop.

Although it’s going through a restructuring, JCAS Manager Lori Blatter said there wasn’t anything necessarily wrong with the previous program — they’re just making it more organized with a set of levels for dedicated volunteers.

It’s also a way to have essential needs — tasks like washing food bowls, folding laundry and cleaning kennels — met before “enrichment” activities most volunteers seem to lean toward: walking dogs and playing with kittens.

Blatter said these tasks are needed first and foremost to provide the “most excellent level of care” for the animals. And as volunteers complete the first levels of the program, they’ll be rewarded by having the chance to train and move on to engaging with the animals more directly.

The restructuring will also let JCAS create a more cohesive schedule. Currently, the shelter has eight full-time staff to care for a shelter that’s open six days a week, from noon-4:30 p.m. On the seventh day, staff is in rotation — animals are just like children; they can’t be left alone.

The busiest time, however, is from 8-11 a.m., before the shelter opens its doors to the public, and that’s when Friends of JCAS volunteer Donna Ponder roams the halls, busy with laundry, replacing food bowls and, yes, scooping and cleaning up animal waste.

“When it’s structured, when I know Donna is coming, and we are heavy on cats or heavy on dogs this week, we know she’s going to do that, so we can let the (animal control officer) go out and do something that he needs to do that might not get done until later,” Blatter said. “We need more of that consistent volunteer, the long-timer.”

With the new structure will come an improved enrichment program. The shelter is working to change a “catch-all” room into a visiting room for dogs, where people interested in adopting or visiting a dog can sit and spend time with them, outside of the caged environment, to get a better feel for the dog and let them relax.

“We have the cat room where they can go in and interact, but how do you interact with that dog in an area that is not quite so stressful as back there when they’re all barking and you have 100 kids running up and down?” Blatter asked.

It’s especially important in the winter, when weather doesn’t always permit the dogs to roam outside.

With the help of Friends of JCAS, the shelter is creating an “amazing living room-type room — as living room type as you can get.” The group has been instrumental in making that happen, Blatter said.

Volunteers in the higher levels of the program will be tasked with, among other things, walking dogs, stuffing peanut butter-filled toys and caring for cats who need one-on-one time.

Expanding the enrichment program is important because, Blatter said, it’s an essential part of an animal’s care.

“Their mental well-being makes them adoptable,” she said.

Even though the shelter’s live release rate sits at a comfortable 85 percent, with 1,258 adoptions in 2019 as of Nov. 21, Blatter is always looking to make the process of accepting animals, caring for them while they’re at the shelter, and finding them loving homes easier and more streamlined.

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