How many volunteers does it take to run an animal shelter? The answer, it turns out, is more than 400. The force of volunteers don’t just help run an animal shelter; alongside their furry friends, they help improve reading skills, visit patients in the hospital, raise money at events, and make the adoption of over 600 animals possible each year. 

I talked to Erin Ellis, volunteer and director of the Humane Education programs for the Humane Society of Truckee-Tahoe (HSTT). “We are always looking for more volunteers to help us grow and promote our programs and services,” Ellis said. “We are one of the only shelters in the United States to allow volunteers as young as 8 to work with the animals.”

QUIET TIME: Volunteers will often sit quietly and read a book while spending time with shelter dogs. This helps promote a sense of calmness, in turn boosting the rate of adoption. Courtesy photo

Prospective volunteers must attend an orientation before putting in any time. Ellis put on enough orientations in 2019 to add 378 volunteers to the organization. These numbers don’t take into account recent growth, as HSTT has now expanded into South Lake Tahoe. Five orientations have already been held in South Lake with 54 new volunteers looking to donate their time. These volunteers do more than just walk dogs and pet cats, and there are opportunities for everyone. I got my paws on some numbers. Let’s dig in. 


Dogs are teaching kids how to read. The Read Up For Fun or RUFF program is designed to improve children’s reading skills. Volunteers bring trained dogs to schools and libraries and kids read to them. Students’ confidence improves along with their reading.

Volunteers also support the Pet Pals program in which HSTT visits local schools and educates kids on important pet topics like spaying and neutering, safety around pets, and pet care. In 2019, HSTT conducted 46 classroom visits, up 27% from last year. Pet Pals will soon be expanding to South Lake Tahoe. Reading programs already exist in South Lake at the El Dorado County Library. Overall, around 25 students are reading to animals in HSTT programs each week. 

Fundraising is another way volunteers make an impact. Over $150,000 was raised in 2019 at Humane Society events. Whether it’s their signature annual event, Black Tie and Tails, a barn party, date nights at the shelter, concerts, or a race like the Ididarun, volunteers make the HSTT world go around. These events help fund the great programs and shelter operations.

With all the programs and events going on, we almost forgot about the shelter itself. According to HSTT, volunteers spent over 6,000 hours at the shelter in 2019. With all that volunteer support, HSTT is able to do things most shelters can’t. Dogs get training, exercise, and quiet time. Quiet time helps promote calm in the shelter and leads to higher rates of adoptability.

HSTT has recently been accepted into a new cat training program called the Jackson Galaxy Project. This program is designed to increase cat adoptions, enrich their day to day life, and reduce the number of days they spend in the shelter. When they finish at the shelter, can they come to my house? My cat is out of control.  

If you are interested in volunteering for the Humane Society of Truckee-Tahoe, contact 



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