Our TLC volunteers are a critical piece of our organization. Cleaning, organizing, grooming, walking, socializing, training…you guys do it ALL! With close to 4,000 animals coming through our doors each year, our small staff can’t provide quality care to them all without your help. Our number one priority is safety. That includes the safety of the staff, volunteers, visitors and, of course, the animals. For this reason, we want to ensure every member of our volunteer team is properly trained and feels confident in the duties they are asked to perform.

You will receive all the basic information in your first volunteer training session. However, here are a few things that are important enough to repeat:

Volunteer Hours:
Sunday-Monday: 7:00 am – 5:00 pm
Tuesday & Holidays: 8:30 am – 5:00 pm
Wednesday – Saturday: 6:00 am – 6:00 pm

Please note that these hours vary from our business hours. If you volunteer when we are not open to the public you can either enter through the back door (suggested on holidays) or you can wait for staff to let you in up front. Please do NOT ring the doorbell until you verify no one is in the lobby or customer service. Often a quick knock on the door or waiting just a moment is all it takes!

Click HERE to access the online scheduling tool.

Dress Code:
You must always wear your purple volunteer t-shirt and your lanyard name tag. Long pants & close-toed shoes are required for all volunteers regardless of the weather. Shorts and open-toed shoes (sandals, flip flops, etc.) are not permitted and are grounds for staff to send you home. Dog volunteers will want to wear sturdy shoes and dress in layers appropriate for the weather. Your volunteer shirt & lanyard can be under a jacket but should be at least partially visible when you are in the building.

Emergency Procedures:
If the building is evacuated for an emergency, such as a fire, we will gather everyone in front of the building in the gravel parking lot (by the fenced dog runs). Do NOT attempt to rescue any animals! Staff has a plan for emergencies and deterring/interfering with this plan may put both human and animals in danger. Staff may ask you to help manage animals outside the shelter in case of a full evacuation. Please listen carefully & only step in to help if asked specifically to do so.


This page is a resource for all volunteers participating in Dog TLC.  You can read through all the information or choose the specific topics you are interested in learning more about.  If you have any questions, please contact the Volunteer Manager at volunteer@whatcomhumane.org.

Dog TLC Basics:
As Dog TLC volunteers, it is critical to be aware of your limitations and always stay within your comfort zone.  If you have questions or feel you would benefit from additional training, please contact the Volunteer Manager.  We want you (and the dogs) to be safe!

Dog TLC – What You Need to Know! 

Tips & Tricks ~ for volunteers by volunteers!

Dogs:  Positive Reinforcement Training (HSUS)

Dog Harness Guide

Dog Color Designations:
Green: The easiest dogs to handle. Any volunteer who has completed their initial two training sessions and received clearance from the Volunteer Manager may work with Green dogs.

Purple: Dogs with some behavior issues. Experienced volunteers who have completed 16 hours of Dog TLC and passed the TLC Skills Class may work with Purple dogs. Must have approval from the Volunteer Manager.

Red: Dogs with more challenging issues such as jumping, mounting, biting or extreme fear. Very experienced volunteers who have completed 45 hours of Dog TLC and completed the Pack Leader training may work with Red dogs. Must have approval from the Volunteer Manager. As you volunteer, you can track your total hours on the volunteer website. The Volunteer Manager will invite you to classes as you complete your hours, but feel free to monitor your own progress and ask about additional training as you get close!

Volunteer Visit Forms & Behavior Checklists:
You will find a green Volunteer Visit Form for each available dog. These are located in binders in the TLC volunteer area.  Please be sure to make accurate, objective notes for other volunteers and members of the staff.  You can find some good information on this topic here:  Objective Behavioral Observations.

Green Dogs: Volunteer Visit Forms for the green dogs are being kept in the green binder, along with a dog body language handout & the TLC class notes for reference. You will notice that the dog’s name is written in green on the whiteboard. There is also a green paw print sticker on the dog’s paperwork located on his/her kennel. If you see any discrepancies, please check with staff before entering the kennel.

Purple & Red Dogs: Volunteer Visit Forms for the purple & red dogs are being kept in the red binder, along with a dog body language handout, glossary of training terms & Pack Leader class notes for reference. All red dogs (and some purple) will have a training plan in the binder as well. These are long, simple check lists completed by our volunteer dog trainers. You will learn all you need to know about these plans in the advanced training, but please note that it is critical that volunteers follow all training plans provided. It is the best way to ensure the dogs behavior continues to improve during their stay with us! On the wall opposite the available kennels you will find posters defining our color code system. These are in place to help potential adopters understand what to expect from any dog they may be interested in. If members of the public approach you with questions, you can refer the to this information. If they have further questions or are interested in meeting an animal, please send the to the front desk. A staff member will be happy to help them!

Stress & Canine Body Language:
We have placed a poster above the volunteer area that outlines severe stress signs to watch for in the dogs. This includes any repetitive behavior such as spinning, tail chasing, hopping, licking the glass on the front of the kennel, etc. If you see any of these repetitive behaviors, report them to the animal care staff or to Kerry/Angi. Dogs who have been in the shelter for three weeks or longer or who have been exhibiting severe stress signs will be placed on a “Special Needs Plan” and have a red star placed beside their name on the TLC white board. There is a description of this plan in the front of both binders and under the poster that outlines severe stress signs in the volunteer area. This plan includes things like extra walks, designated “do-nothing-time”, socialization time in the Get Acquainted room after walks, office time with staff who can manage it, and time at Tails or in the Multipurpose room with Kerry or Angi.

Body Language of Fear in Dogs (Dr. Sophia Yin)

Canine Body Posture (ASPCA)

It is essential that puppies be socialized to humans and other dogs by the time they are 12-16 weeks of age. Exposure during this period is critical for them. If they don’t get the social skills they need, they may have behavior issues to some degree for the rest of their lives. By interacting with puppies each time you visit the shelter, even for just a few minutes, you can greatly increase their chances of becoming well socialized dogs and having a normal life. Below are the videos from our last Puppies 101 class.  Angi Lenz & Kerry Mitchell discuss the importance of proper socialization and demonstrate important skills to use when working with puppies.

Puppies 101 Part 1

Puppies 101 Part 2

Puppies 101 Part 3

Puppies 101 Part 4

Puppy Training Handout (from Puppies 101 Class)

Class Handouts:
Dog TLC Skills Class

Pack Leader Training

Puppy Training Handout

Video Links:

We have some great videos demonstrating a lot of the basic commands you will use, as well as tips for harnessing. Please view them as often as you need – and don’t be afraid to ask for help!
Harnessing Demo (home)
Harnessing Demo (shelter)
Sit – Down – Release
Loose Leash Walking
Watch Me
Take It – Leave It
Choose to Heel **
Sit-Stay Down-Stay **
Find It

*With the “Choose to Heel” exercise, once the dog is staying with you consistently while on leash in the play yard (not pulling AT ALL), you can take the dog out of the play yard WITH another volunteer and continue the exercise. You would continue to mark/treat heel position (the dog being beside you) with “yes” or the clicker every couple of seconds. It may be helpful to have the second volunteer mark/treat the dog’s position, or, if the dog pulls and you can’t get him back under control, to attach a second leash. If this is the case, you’d want to return to the play yard and continue the exercise in the video.

**With sit-stay and down stay, increase distance from the dog GRADUALLY. If the dog gets up, you’ve asked for too much too quickly. Calmly take the dog back to the spot where he was in the stay and ask him to sit (or down). You would back up in your training to a point where he was being successful. Be sure to frequently reward the stay and to release him when he is allowed to get up.

More Resources:
Calming Signals (Turid Rugaas)

Dogs Don’t Bite “Out of the Blue”  (Madeline Gabriel )

Petting Dogs:  Why Consent is Important (Paws Abilities)

DogGone Safe Dr. Sophia Yin: The Art & Science of Animal Behavior

Positively (Victoria Stilwell)

Dog Parks? Why Not? (Kerry Mitchell)

Say “YES” instead of “NO”:  Thoughts on Positive Reinforcement Dog Training (Kerry Mitchell)

Kerry Claire and Dogs ~ Dog stories, training tips and reflections(Kerry Mitchell)


This page is a resource for all volunteers participating in Cat TLC.  You can read through all the information or choose the specific topics you are interested in learning more about.  If you have any questions, please contact the Volunteer Manager at volunteer@whatcomhumane.org.

Cat TLC Basics:
As Cat TLC volunteers, it is very important that you always stay within your comfort zone. Be sure to practice and be confident with your handling skills before attempting to take cats out of their kennels.  If you have questions or feel you would benefit from additional training, please contact the Volunteer Manager. We want you (and the cats) to be safe!

Cat TLC – What You Need to Know!
Tips & Tricks ~ for volunteers by volunteers!
Red Dot Protocol

Stress & Feline Body Language:
Body language is the main form of communication between cats. They use their ears, tail and body posturing, and even facial expressions.  Be sure to pay attention to what the shelter cats are telling you before and during your TLC session.

Body Language of Feline Anxiety (Dr. Sophia Yin)
Cat Chat:  Understanding Feline Body Language (HSUS)
How to Handle a Socialized Cat (Petfinder)
Aggression Between Cats (HSUS)
Overstimulation in Cats (Dumb Friends League)

Cat Color Designations:
Red:  Cats who have shown petting aggression, easily overstimulated or have bite history.
** Volunteers should have 35+ hours of TLC experience at WHS, plus completion of a Red Cat Training class.

Yellow:  Cats who are simply shy or scared and don’t like being picked up.
** Volunteers should go slow and be comfortable handling scared/shy cats.  Most of these cats will do best with in-kennel TLC.

Blue:  Cats who are “purrrfect”!  They have a high tolerance for petting, holding and carrying.  They enjoy trips to the GA Room and would be a good fit in most homes.
** All volunteers can handle these cats!

Many of our kittens are raised in wonderful foster homes where they are handled often and already have good social skills.  However, some of our kittens arrive at the shelter timid, shy and fearful with little exposure to humans. It is our job to socialize them and teach them appropriate behavior.  Playing with kittens is a tough job, but someone’s got to do it!

Teach Your Kitten How to Play Nice (HSUS)
Must Know Tips for Raising Kittens

Other Resources:
Declawing Cats:  Far Worse than a Manicure (HSUS)
Dr. Sophia Yin: The Art & Science of Animal Behavior
10 Tips to Keep Your Cat Happy Indoors (HSUS)
Common Cat Behavior Issues (ASPCA)
Jackson Galaxy – Cat Behaviorist

Small Animal TLC

This page is a resource for all volunteers participating in Small Animal TLC.  You can read through all the information or choose the specific topics you are interested in learning more about.  If you have any questions, please contact the Volunteer Manager at volunteer@whatcomhumane.org.

Small Animal TLC Basics:
The most challenging part about Small Animal TLC is learning about the large variety of animals you will be working with. We do our best to thoroughly train our volunteers, but we never know what animals we will have when you start volunteering. Please be sure to stay within your comfort zone at all times -and don’t be afraid to ask for help!

Small Animal TLC – What You Need to Know!

Rabbit Care
House Rabbit Society
How to Care for Domestic Rabbits (Petfinder)

Guinea Pigs:
Guinea Pig Care
Guinea Pig Care & Behavior Tips (HSUS)

Rats & Mice:
Rat Care
Understanding Rat Behavior
Rat Care & Behavior Tips (HSUS)
Mouse Care
Mouse Care & Behavior Tips (HSUS)

Hamsters & Gerbils:
Hamster Care
Hamster Care & Behavior Tips (HSUS)
Gerbil Care
Gerbil Care & Behavior Tips (HSUS)

Ferret Feeding
Ferret Housing
Is a Ferret Right for You?
Tips & Advice for Ferret Lovers

Other Resources:
Facts About Small Mammals as Pets (Petfinder)

Compassion Fatigue

Compassion fatigue, also known as “secondary-traumatic stress disorder”, is a state experienced by those helping people or animals in distress.  It is an extreme state of tension and preoccupation with the suffering of those being helped to the degree that it can create a secondary traumatic stress for the helper.

Animal welfare is hard.  Even on the good days, whether you’re a staff member or a volunteer.  We all experience the highs & lows, and it takes a toll if you’re not careful!  Many of our volunteers spend so much time in our world of rescue, it is important for us to provide you with the tools you need to recognize the symptoms and manage the stress of our environment.  We all (2 & 4 legged) need you to be healthy & happy!


https://www.animalsheltering.org/topics/compassion-fatigue ~ Hilary Hager, Humane Society of the United States

https://www.petfinder.com/pro/for-shelters/compassion-fatigue/ ~ PetFinder

https://sheltermedicine.vetmed.ufl.edu/2015/10/26/online-course-helps-veterinarians-shelter-workers-prevent-compassion-fatigue/ ~ University of Florida Shelter Medicine Program

https://www.animalsandsociety.org/helping-animals-and-people/compassion-fatigue/ ~ Animals & Society Institute

https://barkpost.com/good/signs-of-compassion-fatigue/ ~ BarkPost

Book Recommendations:

Trauma Stewardship, Laura van Dernoot Lipsky

The Gift of Fear, by Gavin De Becker

To Save a Starfish, by Jennifer Blough