Q&A: Els Peeters on a new training course for animal shelter volunteers


The government of Flanders wants to make animal shelters more professional with a new crash course for volunteers and staff

“Not the same as having pets”

Earlier this month, some 40 animal shelter staff and volunteers completed a five-day course in animal shelter training at the Flemish university colleges of Odisee, Vives, HoGent and Thomas More – the first time such a course was organised in Flanders. Els Peeters (pictured) is a lecturer at the Agro- and Biotechnology department Odisee and helped teach the new course.

Why was this kind of programme needed?
Animal shelters are run by people who love animals, but they don’t always have the necessary knowledge. Working in a shelter is not the same as keeping pets. Even veterinarians, who have a medical background, benefit from the training because we explain how to best organise a shelter and give marketing tips. The main themes of the training are animal health, hygiene, accommodation, business management and marketing. We gave practical advice but also covered legislative aspects.

What kind of animal welfare tips do you offer?
We explained, for example, how to recognise and reduce stress among cats. Cats are clearly anxious when their pupils are enlarged, their ears and whiskers point backwards and they’re cowering. A simple trick to help them is to give them a cardboard box because they like to hide.

It might sound ironic, but you also shouldn’t clean the cages of cats and dogs too often or too thoroughly because that stresses them out, which makes them more vulnerable to diseases. Having their own smell around them gives them the safe feeling of being in their own territory, so it’s better to regularly clean just certain spots that are very dirty.

What kind of marketing advice do you provide?
It helps to involve the local community. Staff can, for example, ask schools to make toys for the animals and invite the children over to bring their creations. This way, children become aware of the good work that shelters are doing and are more likely to adopt an animal from there later on.

Will the training programme be organised again next year?
Yes, and perhaps we will expand the scope a little. We focused on cats and dogs this year, but should maybe include more specific information for people working with other animals – like rodents and birds.

Photo courtesy XaMa Fotografie