Volunteers & Fingerprints: City Guidelines Get Excessive

by Mary Haight on January 28, 2010

Downtown Chicago, Illinois at night. The small...
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City budgets have sliced the life out of dollars allotted to Animal Care and Control (ACC) agencies across the US.  Skeleton crews work the problems of caring for and tending to the needs of dogs and cats. Those needs would not be met by most measures if volunteers did not step in to fill the gaps.

In Chicago, cutbacks forced ACC to reduce adoption hours from 49 per week to 17, closing for adoption on Sundays.  Volunteers revolted, the Sun-Times reported it, and a semblance of sanity was restored to the program’s hours.  Volunteers and the work they do should be respected. They are the lifeblood of many organizations.  I don’t think many would disagree, so this news comes as a surprise.

According to Fran Spielman, City Hall reporter for the Chicago Sun-Times, the city “overlooked” the fact that Animal Care and Control volunteers (more than 250) have not been subject to what is said to have been policy since 2008. All 110 other volunteers for city departments have provided and allowed: social security numbers, background checks, and fingerprints.

That last was not a typo. Fingerprints are required of volunteers just as if they were applying for a civil service or federal job. To do work no one else will do in a noisy, stressful environment and all without a paycheck, you now have to be subjected to jumping through more hoops than if you were actually getting hired by a corporation.

Perhaps there are Federal guidelines suggesting fingerprinting for city volunteers; please share if you have any knowledge in this area or can cite Homeland Security guides that list what I see as a shocking request demand. In federal buildings this makes sense; there, they have security personnel to actually check credentials.  But Animal Care and Control?

How many hurtles are volunteers supposed to clear before they can actually contribute?  How many hurtles will be set up before volunteers just stop jumping?  There are plenty of dogs and cats to care for.  We know volunteers are needed, but are they really wanted?

Do you think this is a reasonable demand to make of a volunteer and I’m just barking up the wrong tree?  Where do you draw the line? What’s the story in your city?

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17 comments
michele
michele

So many shelters and nonprofits need volunteers. Simply put, this is one way to turn them away. I definitely have a problem with it.

Nanci Sullivan
Nanci Sullivan

I absolutely agree that dog fighters or dog abusers should not be in volunteer positions in animal shelters. However, most of them haven't been caught yet, and the ones that want to steal animals are off doing that where they don't hav e to work. The umbrella issue to me is the budget that can be afforded to house and care of these animals. I'm assuming all shelters do some background check already. Since these are volunteers (don't cost money), how do you justify spending more money to allow them to work for free. What would YOU do if you were a volunteer and saw or overheard things that made you suspiscious of someone? Report it! We are our own best police because we love these animals and want them to live to get to a new forever home.

S. Hart
S. Hart

I don't understand why volunteers should be fingerprinted. Has the City provided any plausible reason for this? It would seem inevitable that this would discourage some people from participating in unpaid volunteer activities where their services could be helpful.

Laura Allen
Laura Allen

I suspect, Mary, that we will see increasing use of biometrics as a means of identification or perceived security concerns, but as of now, it seems to me this is a really over the top, pointless requirement for animal shelter volunteers who are so desperately needed. As many of you point out, a criminal background check will screen for fighters, abusers and other criminals, and animal control will have records of anyone against whom there has been a complaint or citation involving animals. I imagine this is part of an effort to get as many people "into the system" as possible, and criminal suspects, military and other government workers are always the low hanging fruit for that. But surely, we can draw some lines and except certain workers and certainly volunteers for the animal shelter? Do we need this much information about volunteers for the animal shelter? How do we expect to increase adoptions, fosters and provide animals with better care, socialization, if we put roadblocks like this to volunteering?

MaryHaight
MaryHaight

So you're saying that volunteers have been reclassified as "hired unpaid government workers" in the eyes of the city and are therefore subject to all the rules and regs? Is this a human resources driven argument/action? I understand that HR and Legal must ensure that all are treated equally, and if that is what this is about, why hasn't someone from the City or Animal Care and Control said so? I think if I am recalling correctly, that you have an ACC background, which would be helpful here. By definition volunteers are not of but are separate from the organizations they offer their unpaid assistance to. They enjoy no benefits of employment. I have heard the phrase "paid volunteer", which just makes my head spin, but if volunteers are now "hired" what legal implications are there to that designation? I know you're not a lawyer, but this is where the nomenclature takes us. See what happens when there's so little to go on:-)

Rod@GoPetFriendly
Rod@GoPetFriendly

DDB - I have read your post and the comments. I get it, and I don't get it. I get it because I see a continual erosion of individual privacy ... and I am not an extremist in this regard, just a normal person (I think). I don't get it because I have never been fingerprinted for anything. And I'll be darned if I will be "put into the system" for a volunteer position. I also don't understand how the fingerprints will be used. I imagine there are so many volunteers, employees, visitors at the shelters - all touching doors, locks, etc. - how would you get a usable print to prove a crime against any one individual? BTW - I would be fine with having my driver's license copied, being photographed, permitting a background check in order to be a volunteer (for any organization).

Elizabeth
Elizabeth

When you read the Sun-Times article, it really does not give the reader enough information to form a complete opinion. What do the other 110 volunteers actually DO as volunteers for the city? And which city employee decided now, after never requiring this at Animal Control, that the city was amiss in this endeavor. I think the fingerprint thing is ridiculous, and even if they did that, do they now have a budget to pay for this ?

donna havlicek
donna havlicek

we volunteers understand the city's position, and we are most willing to participate in the "process". we are dedicated to the shelter and the needs of the animals. we are doing everything in our power to get downtown to go forward with the requirements.

Stephanie Feldstein
Stephanie Feldstein

Having worked in a shelter where we had to cut a volunteer loose after we caught him trying to face off two pit bulls, I have to say that I don't think this is a bad idea. Animals are stolen from shelters (especially overcrowded, understaffed city shelters) all the time, too, and volunteers often have unsupervised access. I agree that there's definitely a risk of volunteers being turned away. But maybe that won't happen. My local shelter recently revamped their volunteer program from a totally open system to one that requires commitment and dedication in order to volunteer. Despite these demands (which, as someone with a busy schedule and no criminal record, are harder on me than giving fingerprints) the program has grown. Hopefully, like airport security, people will recognize the "greater good" of the policy and endure it.

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  1. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Steve Dale, Steve Dale, GoPetFriendly.com, Mary E Haight, Doggy Bytes and others. Doggy Bytes said: Volunteers & Fingerprints: City Guidelines Get Excessive http://bit.ly/akToQC via @dancingdogblog […]

  2. […] before being allowed to volunteer. Not just background checked, folks: fingerprinted. From Dancing Dog Blog: City budgets have sliced the life out of dollars allotted to Animal Care and Control (ACC) […]

  3. […] equipped to care for animals properly without outside assistance. Then, of course, the absurdity of fingerprinting volunteers inserts itself into this mix, followed on the heels of cutbacks to adoption hours that had […]

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