Why Shelters Have More Female Volunteers Essay

  • Length: 5 pages
  • Sources: 6
  • Subject: Gender and Sexuality
  • Type: Essay
  • Paper: #24380328

Excerpt from Essay :

Bitches: What Animal Shelters Can Do to Reduce the Gender Gap in Volunteerism

Animal shelters depend on volunteers for everything from fundraising to day-to-day operations. There is no federal agency devoted to animal rescue, placing the burden on small independent community organizations. Understanding how to recruit and retain volunteers therefore becomes a critical component in the success of individual shelters and animal shelters in general. Companion animals like dogs remain popular in the United States, with between one third and one half of all households in America owning a dog; between 70 and 80 million dogs are pets (ASPCA, 2016). Given the affection Americans have for their companion animals, it would seem that volunteering at local animal shelters or taking part in foster care services would be relatively commonplace. Yet the "overwhelming presence of women in the recent world of dog rescue" has highlighted a significant gender gap in animal rescue volunteerism (Markovitz & Queen, 2009, p. 327). Animal shelters seem to be missing out on the opportunity to recruit and retain more male volunteer staff. The implications of the gender gap are tremendous, because animal rescue organizations frequently operate in spite of being overburdened, understaffed, and underfunded.

There are few studies that address the overwhelming presence of women in the world of dog rescue. Possible reasons for the gender gap are related to gender differences in attitudes towards animals, towards animal rescue operations, and towards animal rights philosophies. The gender gap in animal shelter volunteerism may be linked to a broader pattern of gender differences in other volunteer sectors. Yet there may be specific issues related to the nature of animal welfare work that attract more women than men. For example, Davis (2013) points out that animal shelters present "emotional situations that are not found in other volunteer capacities," and women may be generally more willing to endure the specific stressors of shelter work like euthanasia (p. 1). Other possible reasons are more linked to human resources theories, such as issues related to recruitment and retention of employees through appropriate incentives. Gender role theories and gender norms may also be related to the significant gender gap in animal volunteerism. For example, women may encourage other women to volunteer in general as a means of socializing, more than men. Alternatively, women have been historically disempowered and disenfranchised politically and financially, and volunteerism may be one of the ways women have systematically reclaimed their power.

This research aims to explain why women tend to volunteer more at shelters and in other animal rescue capacities, compared to men. The reasons are likely to be complex, irreducible to just one or two variables. Regardless of the multifaceted nature of the problem, this research should shed some light on how animal rescue organizations, and dog rescue organizations in particular, can improve their outcomes in terms of reducing the number of intakes and euthanized animals. Moreover, this research highlights some of the factors that motivate women to volunteer at animal shelters, with the ultimate goal of helping shelters improve their appeal to all animal lovers regardless of gender. Ideally, all Americans will be motivated to offer some of their free time to promote the interests of companion animals, promote spay and neutering programs, reduce the number of unnecessary breeders, promote the adoption of strays, and improve animal welfare.

Historically, women have been involved in animal rights activism. In the 19th century, for example, antivivisection societies were almost exclusively female (Markovitz & Queen, 2009). Since animal rights have become a political issue throughout the 20th century, women have remained on the frontlines of volunteerism and also in professional animal welfare. For example, trends in veterinary care reveal a striking gender gap with more than 70% of veterinary school graduates being female in 2002 (Markovitz & Queen, 2009). The presence of women in animal rights and animal welfare reflects an overarching trend towards women in positions of altruism and political activism related to welfare and ethics.

Although it is tempting to link together the related issues of animal rescue with animal rights activism, Greenbaum (2009) points out that rescue volunteers often pointedly and vocally distance themselves from the political activism inherent in the animal rights movements. Represented by radical animal rights groups like PETA, the animal rights movement is political in nature, advocating for the ethical treatment of animals…

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