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Tough to get animal-welfare volunteers

They are discouraged by the hard work that smaller animal-welfare groups entails. -myp

Tue, Mar 02, 2010
my paper

By Sia Ling Xin

SMALLER animal-welfare groups here are having difficulty keeping their youth volunteers as they are discouraged by the hard work.

This poses problems for the groups, as they do not have enough people to shoulder the workload, which is getting heavier because more animals are being abandoned or need neutering, at a time when more public-outreach activities are also being held.

Volunteers can be asked to perform a host of tasks, from helping out at events and completing administrative tasks to cleaning the premises.

Unable to tolerate the tough chores, youth volunteers - those aged from 18 to 35 - typically do not help beyond a couple of times, said Mr Ricky Yeo, the president of Action For Singapore Dogs (ASD).

The group, which finds new homes for abandoned dogs, gets about 20 new youth volunteers a month, of whom about 80 per cent leave within a month, he said.

The workload is constantly getting heavier, so the manpower crunch means that an "astronomical number of tasks have to be handled by fewer of us", he said.

But it is better to focus on quality than quantity, so ASD is looking for volunteers who are driven and sincere, he said.

Ms Betty Tan, the president of the House Rabbit Society - which seeks to educate the public on rabbits and reduce the number of unwanted animals - said its volunteers "usually come for one event".

The group regularly receives e-mail from schools and students requesting to help out as a class at its "shelter", she said.

"When we inform them that we don't have a shelter for them to help out, and suggest they organise mini fund-raising events at their schools, most of them don't reply."

She feels that the school-imposed community-involvement programme (CIP) mandates that students volunteer, so they choose to help out at animal shelters as they think it will be fun.

Most of them "do not really understand the basic meaning of providing quality help to those in need", Ms Tan said.

Ms Ang Li Tin, the president of Cat Welfare Society, estimates that 80 per cent of its 200 volunteers are youths.

The group does not have problems getting volunteers for its ad hoc, one-off events, but is unable to get people to help for a year or longer.

It is appealing for more youth volunteers through its website.

Ms Ang said that being a volunteer requires "more than just a love for animals". A volunteer also needs a positive attitude, initiative and perseverance. He or she needs to be reliable.

"These qualities will help them to keep going because volunteering takes time, effort and dedication," she said.

Unlike the other groups, the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA) does not seem to have problems keeping its volunteers.

Its spokesman estimated that 70 per cent of its registered volunteers are youths, and the "vast majority of people in this age group will continue to volunteer with the SPCA for quite some time".

Some have remained active for 10 years and longer, she said.

She added that many students become registered volunteers to chalk up enough hours to fulfil their CIP requirements, but will remain until they leave for further studies or work overseas.

Even then, some return to help.

The spokesman said: "It is the volunteers' love and passion for animals that keep them active."

Mr Nicholas Gabriel Lim, executive director of psychological- services provider iGROW, advised people who wish to volunteer to do their own research to prepare themselves.

Organisations should also make sure their volunteers understand that their services are contributing to the organisations' mission, he said.

Animal Concerns Research and Education Society (Acres) organised a dialogue for youths to voice their concerns over animal welfare to a few politicians a few weeks ago.

Its spokesman said: "It is important to educate the younger generation as they are the ones who will have the power to make a difference in a few years' time."

Acres volunteer Benazir Farvin Raj Mohamed, 18, a student, said the group has touched her life.

She started helping out at its events to promote public awareness of animal welfare as part of a school project and she is still going strong almost a year later.

Her teammates stopped volunteering after completing the project, but Benazir continued because of her love for animals.

She has since "forged close bonds with both the animals and the people" and will be around "for a long, long time", she said.

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