By Liz Stone
There are a range of ways that volunteers can really make a difference by giving their time and expertise to Dogs for Good. We have an invaluable team of fundraisers, drivers, and speakers plus around 300 dog lovers who open their homes to care for our new recruits in the puppy phase, and our young dogs whilst undergoing specialist training for one of our services.
At Dogs for Good, we breed, train and place assistance dogs with adults and children with physical disabilities, and children with autism. Our Community Dogs and their specialist handlers help people to improve their independence, wellbeing and skills, and our Family and Demo dogs help us with educational workshops for parents with autistic children and at displays and events around the country raising the profile of our work.
When you have a job with dogs, many people instantly think that you must have the best job in the world. The puppy team staff and volunteers at Dogs for Good have the job with both the highest cute-factor ratings as well as the need for a great deal of patience and adaptability. The most essential skill for the job is to be able to support and train people and dogs in equal measure.
Volunteer Puppy Socialisers care for our puppies full time from the age of 8 weeks until they are 16 months old and share their homes, lives and families full time with our dogs, and our staff get to know every inch of the volunteer’s house and garden. Caring for a Dogs for Good puppy involves toileting training, feeding, exercising, basic training and looking after their health and welfare. Our staff and volunteers are out in all weathers, traipsing through muddy fields and visiting towns and cities teaching a puppy all the basic skills they need to become an assistance dog. They spend hours cleaning up after our puppies (who each fill approximately 750 poo bags each year!) and introducing the charity’s puppies to environments they may encounter as working assistance dogs including supermarkets, lifts, and travelling on buses and trains.
Our Dog Supply Co-Ordinator works alongside our breeding team volunteers and has a wealth of knowledge and experience in dog breeding as well as the ability to think on her feet and remain calm under pressure. Together, our Dog Supply Co-Ordinator and volunteers give our broods the best care all year round, through pregnancy and recovery post-delivery. They deal with the unpredictability of the birth of a litter of puppies (which can reach into double figures) and our Dog Supply Co-Ordinator needs to be able to keep calm and provide training and support to the volunteers as they look after our puppies in their first few weeks of life. She can be called out in the middle of the night to the home of an anxious first time volunteer when a dog goes in to labour, to be greeted by family members in their pyjamas with children who are meant to be in bed, excitedly awaiting the new arrivals.
As well as having extensive knowledge of puppy development and training, our Puppy Co-Ordinators recruit, train and support volunteers, often over a period of many years so get to know each other extremely well. Our puppy volunteers rarely get a day off although the charity arranges boarding for puppies when volunteers need a break or are sick. Caring for a Dogs for Good puppy, or one of the girls on our breeding scheme, is very definitely a way of life and a real commitment.
Volunteers experience a huge amount of joy in their role as Puppy Socialisers and Breeding Stock Holders and therefore, develop very strong bonds with our dogs. This means that parting with them when they move on to the next stage of their journey is often an emotional time. Our staff and volunteer team understand and empathise with this type of loss and are there to support all the way through, often until the arrival of the next bouncy puppy which always replaces the sadness with smiles. Volunteers are proud of their achievements and find it hugely rewarding to see the puppies go on to become life changing assistance dogs and of course we love to update them on the puppy’s progress and celebrate their success together.
Bit about me
My role at Dogs for Good is a recently introduced three year funded role, with the aim of developing our volunteer strategy. This involves consolidating consistent policies and procedures across the whole charity. We strive to ensure our volunteers have a meaningful experience and understand the vital role they play in delivering high quality services to our clients. The charity’s ambition is to support more people, and volunteers are critical to achieving that.
Developing our strategy is an exciting challenge and some of the key areas I am exploring with staff and volunteers are:
- raising the profile of volunteering within our organisation
- increasing volunteer numbers
- enhancing meaningful volunteer recognition, and measuring and sharing volunteer impact
- Developing effective communication and a structured volunteer education programme that is accessible which provides appropriate learning opportunities ensuring volunteers feel confident in their role
- Exploring and opening up new volunteering opportunities
- Putting processes in place to enable us to continually review, strengthen and expand our volunteering programme
Liz has worked at Dogs for Good for 9 years, but only in the last year as Volunteer Co-Ordinator. She has worked closely with volunteers for many years both in her current role and previously as participant and volunteer with the Riding for the Disabled Association. Liz has personally benefitted enormously from the help of a huge number of volunteers, mostly in her riding career and particularly on her journey to the 1996 Paralympic Games.