Pat wakes up every Tuesday and Friday morning and takes a bus, then another bus, a subway ride, and then walks ½ mile to the Animal Rescue League of Boston. Once there, Pat helps perform Match-Up II Behavior Evaluations on 3-10 dogs depending on the day. Pat is not an employee; she is a volunteer. Having your volunteers help with the Match-Up II Behavior Evaluation can have a huge positive effect on your shelter or rescue. Many shelters do not have the resources, enough employees, or a behavior department to perform behavior evaluations in a timely manner or at all. Utilizing volunteers can help offset such limitations, and can ultimately result in higher adoption rates for dogs. They can provide support throughout the evaluation process in many ways. For example, they can be trained to actually perform and record evaluations, to video tape them, or to run dogs back and forth from kennels to the evaluation room with supplies at the ready, which makes evaluations go faster.
The range of experience required for a volunteer to be considered for helping with Match-Up II evaluations can be fairly broad. Their experience may not include formal animal education. Or, to the contrary, they may be in the process of training for or are already working in animal behavior, training or veterinary fields. During the Match-Up II evaluation, evaluators record objective behaviors that happen, such as ‘wag tail’, ‘growl’, and ‘jump up’. A person performing a Match-Up II evaluation is not asked to choose vague, subjective descriptions, such as dominant, shy, or independent. A behavior either happens or does not. This helps volunteers with no formal animal training to see behaviors and record them as they are and without personal bias.
Although the objective coding of the Match-Up II evaluation makes it easier to incorporate volunteers into the program without a lot of experience in dog behavior, it is crucial for any volunteers actually handling dogs to be comfortable with them and to have handling experience in your shelter to ensure evaluations are performed safely. You might start them with videotaping and being the extra helper, and then graduate them through training to actually participating in the Match-Up II evaluation.
If you want to encourage your volunteers to help with evaluations, here are some suggestions for how to start up a Match-Up II volunteer training program.
- Make sure to include the option to help with Match-Up II behavior evaluations at your first general volunteer meeting and on any printed materials.
- Have volunteers go through both general volunteer training and dog volunteer training at your shelter.
- Decide how many hours, days or months of volunteering you want each volunteer to have with dogs in the shelter or rescue before moving them into evaluations.
- Have them start by videotaping and being the extra hand.
- Have them do the Match-Up II training to become proficient in evaluations. This involves observing and assisting with evaluations and then a hands-on test and written test if necessary.
- Volunteers should be matched up with an employee or volunteer that is already proficient in evaluations and they can handle the dog or do the recording on computer or paper.
After performing evaluations, Pat will walk a few dogs, perhaps do some dishes, and then take home a foster cat. If she has a cat carrier, she just might call for a cab instead of making that long commute on public transportation. Her passion and dedication is what makes her not just a good volunteer but also a very important part of our shelter family. We thank Pat and our other Match-Up II volunteers for their dedication and for helping us evaluate the dogs to find better matching homes and adopters for them. With a little time spent up-front, shelters and rescues can utilize their dedicated volunteers to get more dogs evaluated and matched to the most appropriate homes.