Hi. I can totally understand your conflict, & I'm sorry that you feel this way about volunteering at a shelter. I do commend you for wanting to volunteer & maye a public shelter isn't for you. But maybe I can help you in your decision.
You have 2 main types of shelters: Private & public. Private shelters can be selective on the type of animals that they take in based upon the location of where the animal was found, breed of the animal, adoptability, & age. Those private shelters are usually smaller & receive their funding through gifts, grants, etc, & not through tax dollars from the city, county, or state government. Because Private shelters can be selective, they can turn animals away & can keep animals at their shelter longer to give them a better chance of being adopted. These shelters are known as "low kill" or "no kill" shelters. But they will euthanize animals to prevent suffering, or if the animal is terminally ill. There is no such thing as an animal shelter that doesn't humanely euthanize-euthanasia is only done for extreme cases.
Public shelters can't turn any animal away, unless it's from another jurisdiction. So, whereas Private shelters can be selective about the animals they take in (to include animals that were adopted out from their own shelter), public shelters have to take in EVERYTHING, no matter how many animals a person brings in, no matter how abused the animals were, no matter how screwed up their prior owners left them (to the point that they would be too dangerous for another person to adopt out). These are the shelters that humanely euthanize animals. And these shelters outnumber the low/no kill shelters by a substantial amount.
Although Public shelters are usually much larger & have more room for more animals, they fill up very quickly. Since these shelters can't turn animals away & fill up very quickly, pets can be humanely euthanized after as little as 3-10 days business days after the animal was brought in.
Private organizations like Alley Cats, Best Friends, & others are private rescue organizations that do above & beyond to find animals homes. However, they have to turn pets away because there is such an overwhelming problem in the US with animal overpopulation. If every man, woman & child in the US adopted a pet, there would still be millions of unwanted pets euthanized a year. And when the shelters keep those animals for months at a time, the reality is they get sick & start developing behavioral problems (especially the dogs). I can't tell you how many times when I used to go to work I saw a really good dog who was ok with other dogs & people become dog aggressive & unpredictable with people. Dogs are social creatures, & to keep them in a cage with 4 or 5 other dogs with little human contact outside of feeding & cleaning cages because we were overcrowded will drive them nuts.
So, saying all of that, I know that public shelters especially need help, but if you can't handle the high kill rate, try to volunteer with a rescue or low/no kill shelter. You can help with public information to help them know the reasons they should spay/neuter. You can get to know a pet or 2 & recommend that pet to a member of the public wanting to adopt. You can teach a dog command to help with their adoptability.
It is horrible to kill animals just because we can't find a good home for them, but some people are very irresponsible. Don't judge those who work/volunteer at the kill shelters too harshly. They are doing the best they can against very difficult odds.
Former Animal Care Tech @ City of LA shelter for 2yrs
9.5 yrs experience as Army Vet Tech