Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Whistle While You Work. Or Not! Whatever.

If you’re on the Clean Run list, you already know where this is going.

If not, I’m sure you’ve been feeling the heat anyways, as volatile as the discussion has been recently. The topic? No, not jump height cut-offs, teeter calls or any other controversial rules or regulations. Believe it or not, the subject getting everyone so worked up is the seemingly innocuous theme of volunteering

That’s right- volunteering.  Surprising, I know. After all, how many of you lay awake at night thinking about volunteering at shows? Probably none of you living in the ‘normal’ ranges of sanity.  Yet the firestorm that followed one editorial weeks ago continues to burn on all sides.  Apparently the fact that some people volunteer while others don’t is a touchy one.   This has been true since the dawn of agility, nothing has changed in the past few weeks, but it looks like now is the time to hash it all out in one big vent of opinion.  The dispute has left many of us wondering- why? Why volunteer? Why not? Why does it matter?

Why it matters is the easy one to answer- no volunteers typically means no show. Most host clubs can’t afford to hire workers- most clubs barely turn a profit.  Sure, they can up the entries, but some clubs are unwilling to hoist the cost increase on to their exhibitors (i.e. themselves).   So they instead rely on the fact that hey, we all want to play on the weekends, so we can all pitch in to make it work. 

Which would be great, except that socialism is a failed construct. Not everyone does an equal share.  You have to account for the fact that some people operate under their own agenda. Some people are physically incapable.  Some people have 10 dogs entered or are running back and forth in multiple rings all day.  Do I begrudge any of them for this? No.  Really. I don’t.  Until the recent controversy, I never even registered the fact that some people chose not to work on a conscious level.  And now that I have, I still feel that it’s their weekend.  I choose to pitch in, that’s my choice.  They choose not. 

Truly, the only time I come into conflict with a ‘sideliner’ is when they start becoming opinionated.  You don’t like the way I bagged that tunnel or where I put the leash? Too bad- unless you want to come help.  Then I’ll listen.  Until that day, my friend, you are not allowed to complain.  Yes, you spent your money, but you didn’t buy me, or any other pro bono helper for that matter!   It’s like people who don’t vote and then spend the next four year complaining about who got elected.  Really? You had a chance to impact the course of events, but you didn’t take it.  Not a word from you please; let’s hope you learned for next time.

But aside from that minor exception, what other people do or don’t do in regards to volunteering doesn’t bother or thrill me in the least.  I only have the ability to account for myself. 

In that vein: Yes- I volunteer.  I love this sport, I take ownership and responsibility and I feel like I must give back.  I know I paid to enter already but my money goes to the “organization.”  My support via volunteering goes to the clubs, and to the general betterment and continuation of the sport.  That alone is typically enough to get me out of my chair and into the ring.  However, there are other factors to consider as well that heavily influence the type and amount of volunteering I’ll choose to do on any given weekend:
Vouchers. Yup, I’ll say it; money makes the world go round. Even if it’s two dollars per class, even if it’s one dollar, if I can get vouchers I will work to the point of abuse.  But before you cry selfish behavior, keep in mind that the (maybe) $50 I may save on my next entry absolutely guarantees that I will be entering, further supporting the club, and spending anywhere from $100 to $200 out of pocket on that next entry… plus I’ll be back volunteering. 
Clubs and Committees.  If you are a club hosting a show, please put your best face(s) forward.  Friendly and well-organized goes further for me than anything else (yes, even further than vouchers!).  Your show committee should not have the person who would lose their butt if not attached as the volunteer coordinator, nor should that person be the witch who most recently fell from their broom.  You’ll get me to volunteer for these trials under those conditions exactly once.   There are two clubs that come to mind that have made this mistake that have lost me for the time being as a volunteer.  One club, while filled with kind people, has lost all sense of organization.  I doubt anyone would be sad if they missed hosting a trial or two and instead took a step back to get things together again, but unless that happens, there is little I or anyone else could do to ease their burden.  The other club is run by equally disorganized but also slightly evil people.  I’ll show because I love to- if there are no other options- but believe me, it’s in and out, and all the while keeping my head down, lest I lose it. Yeah, it’s that bad.
Facility. Maybe it’s just me, but the site plays a huge part in the size of the part I’ll play for volunteering.  Of course it’s easier to volunteer in climate controlled environments, but also ring accessibility matters too.  If the ring is completely fenced, it’s great for the flight risk dogs, but not so good for the ‘pop in and help’ volunteering style. Also, though trending downward, one-ring shows compel people to volunteer.  It’s not always possible, but something to consider.
FREEEEDOOOOMMMMM. You know you can count on me, but please don’t take advantage. I prefer to sign up for things like course building; I can help a lot throughout the day, but still have lots of downtime.  I like to be able to sign up ‘day of’ for other things- the chart on the wall is my favorite.  Don’t try to tie me down for all classes every day- I need time to rest, relax, tend to my dogs, etc, just like anyone else.  There comes a point of feeling forced occasionally and if I don’t feel the Freedom, I may go a little Braveheart and rebel.

But even if all those things don’t exactly align, you can usually see me helping anyways.  To an extent, what they say is true: volunteering is its own reward.  More often than not even, it’s a blast.  I like getting a good seat to watch people run, getting extra exercise and I’ve learned a lot.  What I’ve gotten from course building is especially valuable.  But the real value has been meeting new people, making some friends, and enjoying a great weekend out with them. And if someone hasn’t yet experienced that part because they’ve never volunteered, well, more’s the pity.
I won’t end with a big, ‘RA RA RA, Get out there and volunteer!’ or any other enticing argument for my view.   I’ll continue happily on my path, and leave you to yours… but maybe they’ll cross over a nice volunteer lunch someday.

I mean, MN Agility Club serves Panera- how awesome is that???


  1. Nice post! Let's serve a virtual lunch! Love that border collie!

  2. Spot on Shenna, you took the words right out of my mouth.

  3. When I only had one dog, I volunteered pretty much any time I wasn't running. It made the day go by quickly, I got free food & drinks and often earned vouchers towards future entries (yay! vouchers!). I learned SO MUCH during that time. The course building skills I picked up ended up being invaluable for when I got my own equipment at home. I can't believe how many people have absolutely no idea how to set lines/spacing/etc.

    I had to step back a bit when dog #2 came along because there tended to be a lot of conflicts. Once Kaiser & Luke were running the same classes I fell back into my old ways.

    Unfortunately, dog #3 made things a LOT harder. Now there are more potty trips outside, more conflicts and more classes/levels to run. I often feel lucky to find time to go to the bathroom much less pop in to volunteer. I feel bad, but do what I can.

    I definitely experienced "burnout" at my home club, too. When I first started trialing there I was amazed at the awesome worker raffle done each day as well as the stash of free food & beverages for workers. That was a large part of what got me hooked on volunteering (the raffle had some pretty good stuff in it, like $50 gift certificates). As time has gone on, the volunteers at that facility are starting to get treated like crap and receive nothing for their efforts. No lunch, no water, no raffle, no nothing. I pretty much stopped working my ass off when they took lunch away. At that point, screw it, they can find someone else.

    This is not to say that I haven't happily jumped in to work at other trials where I've received nothing but a thank you in return -- it's the overall atmosphere that makes a difference for me. When you feel appreciated, you enjoy the work. When you feel taken advantage of, you feel resentful. I don't go to trials to be filled with feelings of ill will, so it's better that I step away and tend to my dogs.

    I am one of those crazy people who has gone to trials that I'm not running to volunteer. It's a way to be around agility without it costing me anything. :o)

  4. That's a great point- some clubs get maybe a bit 'spoiled' with good volunteers and take them for granted. If you are having so many issues you can't even provide water (sad!!!) then maybe there is a clue to evaluate your ability to hold a nice trial- nice for everyone. After all, it's supposed to be a fun sporting event for everyone, NOT like work for those making it tick. (And I have to say, even my work can host a pot-luck now and again. What's cheaper for the club than that, and what's more fun for the exhibitors?)

    Definitely though- appreciation is worth its weight in water. :) No one wants to have their weekend spoiled so let's remember what you're saying here- thank you's cost nothing but can buy you a lot!

  5. Shenna,

    Wonderful post! I forgot all about the "sideliners" "helping". Love your "Until that day, my friend, you are not allowed to complain." !!

    Like you I help when I can. Most of the time I'm well treated and then I'll keep on helping. But you are right, you need some downtime too.

    Thanks so much for blogging!