If you love animals but can’t have a pet of your own, you might consider volunteering at an animal shelter. Cute dogs and cats awaiting their forever homes can be found in shelters across the country. In fact, the ASPCA reports that more than 6 million animals enter shelters every year. It’s a staggering number, especially when you consider that many U.S. shelters are under-resourced and have been struggling since the pandemic. Volunteering at a local shelter, then, is a way to make a real difference — and what better time than the new year to pick up a hobby that makes those around us (and in turn, ourselves) feel good! Read on to learn how to get involved and see how volunteering at a shelter can improve your well-being.
How do I find an animal shelter to volunteer at?
Maybe you already know of a local animal shelter you’d like to volunteer at. If that’s the case, great! If not, check out Petfinder.com. This website offers information about available pets at over 11,500 shelters in the U.S., and has a convenient shelter finder page that lets you search for animal welfare groups by state.
Once you’ve pinpointed a shelter in your area, simply click on its name for contact information like phone number and email address. Additionally, most shelter websites have a section about volunteering that can tell you what they’re looking for and the best way to get in touch.
What does volunteering at an animal shelter entail?
Your activities at the shelter will depend on how many workers and volunteers there are, and the specifics of the animals and their needs. Here are some of the basic tasks that you might take on if you volunteer, adapted from Petful.com.
- Walking dogs. Yes, this means you’ll have to pick up poop. But don’t be squeamish — some bathroom-related tasks are to be expected when you’re working with animals. Thankfully, they make up for it with cuteness! And walking a dog is a great way to get outdoors and move.
- Socializing cats. Playing with tiny kittens to get them used to human interaction is actually part of the work — how fun is that? It’s important that cats know how to act around human companions from a young age, so the future adopter of the kitties you volunteer with will thank you for your pets and treats.
- Showing pets to potential parents. Help the pets find their homes by showing them off to those who come to the shelter. The pandemic changed the way many shelters operate, so some might only be accepting potential adopters who’ve already submitted an application while others might allow walk-ins. As a volunteer, you can help shelter staff explain what makes these cats and dogs so special.
- Feeding. The animals need to eat, so you may help give them wet and dry food.
- Cleaning. Messes are just a fact of animal shelter life. From stinky wet food to throw up to poop and pee, there are constant messes, and shelter workers will be very grateful to have volunteers who are willing to clean them up.
- Photographing. Cute photos of shelter animals are essential to catching the eyes of potential adopters, and you can help get those glamour shots ready to go.
- Administrative work. Shelters could often use a helping hand with paperwork. While it may not be as fun as petting puppies and kitties, doing tasks like making copies, printing documents, and any other administrative odds and ends will make a big difference in keeping the shelter organized.
Keep in mind that every shelter (and every animal) is different. This list includes the activities you’re most likely to encounter when volunteering. Your shelter, however, may have different needs. You’ll also want to think about how much time you’re able to commit. If you’re retired, a few hours a week might be an option; if you work, it could be more of a monthly activity. When you talk to the shelter staff, let them know your availability and which tasks you’re willing to take on.
What are the benefits of volunteering at a shelter?
Spending time with dogs and cats has proven to increase happiness and decrease stress, and volunteering is known for its feel-good effects. According to a 2020 study cited by the National Alliance on Mental Illness, “those who volunteered reported being more satisfied with their lives and rated their overall health as better” than those who did not. Combine the benefits of being with animals with the benefits of volunteer work, and you have a formula for joy. Volunteering at an animal shelter can give you an increased sense of community, bringing valuable interactions to your day. If you don’t have a pet, spending time helping out at an animal shelter is a great way to reap the emotional benefits of pet ownership without the commitment.
How can I help animals without volunteering in-person?
Don’t have the time to volunteer at a shelter in person? Don’t worry, there are still ways to help. Remote support includes donating money and/or buying branded clothing or other merchandise sold by the shelter; donating goods like canned food and blankets (some shelters will list specific things they’re hoping to have donated); and amplifying a shelter’s posts on social media with comments, likes, and shares. Some shelters even have pages dedicated to remote volunteers, with lists of specific tasks volunteers can engage in from home.
Whether you volunteer in person or contribute from afar, animal shelters are sure to appreciate your willingness to help out all those animals who are waiting for a home.