The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals estimates that 5-7 million animals enter shelters each year often leaving shelter staff overwhelmed and underfunded. Luckily, most shelters have volunteers available to help with everyday tasks such as cleaning and walking dogs to development work like planning major fundraising events.
Regardless of the scale of work, animal shelter staff will tell you that every little bit helps.
Now, you might be worried that being around all these homeless dogs and cats will be too heartbreaking, but rest assured, there are likely volunteer roles that can accommodate your needs regardless of this concern.
Still feeling a little intimidated or not quite motivated to start? Here’s what you can expect when you first sign up to volunteer.
Find an animal shelter near you: often a simple Google search will bring up your results, or search Petfinder.com for shelters. Navigate to the shelter’s website and search for a “volunteer” or “get involved” page. Oftentimes, this page will list the requirements for volunteering, which can sometimes be a set orientation, on-the-job training or a meeting with the volunteer coordinator. If the shelter doesn’t have this information available online, call them directly to inquire about volunteering.
Orientation or Initial Meeting
At the volunteer orientation or meeting with shelter staff, you’ll learn about the various roles volunteers have at the shelter, how the shelter operates, policies and what tasks the shelter needs volunteer assistance with. Volunteer opportunities often include helping at fundraising events, cleaning animal areas, socializing animals, walking dogs, photographing animals for adoption promotions, assisting staff at the front desk, performing administrative tasks or even serving on planning committees for fundraising events. Give thought to what your skills are as well as your physical limitations when identifying volunteer areas that interest you.
Following the orientation, you might be asked to shadow a staff member for your first time volunteering or hop right into the work. Whatever the requirement, for the safety of the animals, it’s important that you know about the shelter’s specific cleaning and animal care protocols. For example, many shelters have “dog walker boards” to track how often and for how long each animal has been outside, or, the shelter may require that latex gloves be worn (and sometimes changed) between the cleaning of each cat cage to stop any spread of disease.
Caring for shelter animals in your own home until the animal is either adopted or healthy enough to return to the shelter is another option often available through a shelter’s foster care program. Sometimes the animals put in foster care are kittens who are too young to be adopted, dogs recovering from an illness who need some extra TLC or small animals such as rats, gerbils, hamsters and rabbits that the shelter prefers stay in a home environment. Fostering provides a wonderful opportunity to directly see an animal become rehabilitated and go to a permanent home because of your action. This position is not always for the faint of heart.
If you’re creative, savvy and feel comfortable asking local businesses for donations, organizing special events and fundraisers may be a good volunteer niche for you! Most animal shelters rely on fundraising events for a large part of their income, and the success of these events can often fall on volunteer help.
Lastly, perhaps the most desired volunteer positions are those that involve directly caring for the shelter animals. There are always dogs who want to play fetch or go out for walks and cats who would love a good afternoon scratch. Will you be the volunteer who makes an animal’s day a little brighter?
Image Source: Orin Zebest/Flickr