If you’re interested in helping dogs, cats, and other animals that are waiting for forever homes at your local animal shelter, there are plenty of things to consider. You need to choose which animal shelter you want to give your time to, what kind of jobs you’re capable of doing, and whether you can meet the shelter’s requirements. Don’t worry, though, as there are plenty of opportunities to help out at shelters, and there’s bound to be a volunteer position that fits your capabilities. Volunteering is a rewarding experience, and shelters are usually thrilled to get some extra help. Here’s what you should know about volunteering at an animal shelter.
Where Should You Volunteer?
There are many different animal shelters out there, and you should do some research before picking the one that you want to volunteer for. Most animal shelters care for dogs and cats, but some shelters also take in rabbits, rats, snakes, birds, and all kinds of other critters. If you have a phobia or allergy to any of the animals that might show up at the shelter, that should affect your decision. Sometimes shelters will work around your needs. For example, if you are afraid of large dogs, a shelter may have a position in the cat area that would be appropriate for you.
Another thing to consider is whether the animal shelter is a no-kill shelter. Some shelters euthanize animals who can’t find homes in order to make space for other animals that have a better chance of being adopted. This can be very traumatic if you’ve made friends with an animal that has been at the shelter for a long time. Make sure to ask questions before you volunteer, as you may want to consider another location that makes you more comfortable.
What Jobs Need To Be Done?
There are so many things that need to be done at animal shelters. Obviously, caring for the animals is very important. Volunteers are needed to clean cages, fill water or food bowls, provide company to the animals, walk the dogs, play with the cats, do training and socialization, and more.
Not all jobs require directly interacting with the animals, though. Shelters also rely on volunteers to help work fundraising events, make calls, post fliers, and make social media posts. Graphic designers, photographers, newsletter writers, event planners, and many other skilled positions can be a big help to shelters that need to raise money and ask for donations.
There are also day-to-day operations that can be handled by volunteers and really help animal shelters in need. Accountants and bookkeepers are needed to make sure records are in order. Legal advisers are necessary for handling contracts and legal matters. Computer programmers can help design apps and programs to help pair adopters with their perfect pets. Some shelters have educational programs to teach children about animals and help them get involved in animal care, so educators are needed, too.
If you’re fresh out of college and looking to get some real-world experience that looks great on a resume, put your education and your skills to use by volunteering at a shelter. If they don’t have a specific opportunity for you, suggest one. Explain what you can do. If you have photography or design skills, explain how you can make their pictures on social media more appealing and encourage adoption. Be creative. You won’t be paid for your effort, but you will be helping animals in need and gaining valuable experience. It also doesn’t hurt to network with other volunteers or adopters.
What Are The Requirements For Volunteering?
Every shelter has different requirements when it comes to volunteering, so you should call ahead before you just show up expecting to be put to work. Many shelters require a certain time commitment. Animal Humane Society, for example, requires a minimum commitment of one two-to-four-hour visit every other week for a full year. Volunteering is usually kept on a schedule, and you’re expected to show up on time and have good communication skills with people, not just animals.
There are often physical requirements if you’re going to work in the shelter, especially if you plan to interact with the animals. You will need to be capable of spending time with animals, meaning allergies, inability to tolerate loud noises, or fear of bites and scratches will probably make things difficult. You will be required to lift a certain amount of weight, and you may need to operate machinery such as power washers. While the shelter may be indoors, you might need to work outdoors, too, so you should be able to handle the elements.
Many shelters will ask you to fill out an application, and some require you to be at least 16 years of age to work there–though if you are younger, there are still things you may be able to do. Some shelters will need you to fill out a waiver so you don’t hold them liable in the event of an accident. If you aren’t comfortable with that, you may want to consider what you can do outside of the shelter.
Animal shelters will often need volunteers to complete some kind of training or take classes before interacting with the animals. You should ask your shelter about the training program. Most are fairly simple, and some are operated individually for each new volunteer while others are held in group sessions on a specific schedule.
What Can You Do If You Don’t Meet The Requirements?
If you don’t or can’t meet any of the requirements, don’t be discouraged. There are several ways to help your shelter that you may still be able to do. Fostering a pet in need, for example, is one way to help alleviate some stress on an animal shelter and free up some resources. This can be a good idea for those under 16 years of age because, while the primary foster parent usually needs to be over 18, the whole family can get involved in training and caring for an animal and make a positive difference. If you’re under 16, encourage your parents to look into fostering.
You can always host a fundraiser or supply drive. Talk to your school, workplace, church, team, youth group, club, or any other organization about getting involved. Car washes, bake sales, raffles, auctions, and more can raise money for shelters. You can also ask your local shelter if they have a wish list of items that they need so you can ask for donations of supplies from your community.
Keep in mind that many of the positions that can help shelters don’t have the same requirements, so you can still volunteer to post on social media, work with the community, help at events, and offer your skills. Your shelter will probably appreciate any help they can get, even if it’s not directly working with the animals, so just ask what they need.
Have you ever volunteered at an animal shelter? Who would you recommend it to? Let us know in the comments below!