Volunteering at a shelter is a wonderful way to gain experience, help your local community, and take care of animals in need. All you have to do is call your shelter or stop in to pick up an application. Most are run on donations and depend heavily on volunteers.
Ask What You Can Do to Help
You should willing to do dirty work like cleaning litter boxes, picking up dog poop, washing food bowls, and sanitizing kennels. However, shelter staff will take care of most of these duties, and may or may not need help with them.
The skills you learned in college, at your job or in your spare time can be extremely useful to your shelter. If you’re already adept at getting engagement on social media, you can help run your shelter’s social media pages. You can also reach out to local news outlets to help get more exposure on adoptable animals and the shelter’s latest events and fundraisers, which you can also help plan and manage.
If you’re a photographer, you can take photos of adoptable animals to help them find homes on social media. Poorly lit photos make it especially difficult for dark-colored animals to look their best. Animals often look nervous and unfriendly in photos that don’t capture their personality. Use lighting, accessories, and props to take creative, adorable pictures that will make adopters fall in love with the adoptable pets.
Grooming, training, walking, office work, and answering phone calls are all volunteer services that you can offer your shelter. You may need or want to take a class on pet handling or training before you begin volunteering.
Avoid Spreading Illnesses
Unfortunately, even the cleanest animal shelters may occasionally have outbreaks of kennel cough, parvovirus, and influenza. Wash your hands when you finish volunteering, and consider getting a smock or a jacket over your clothes that you can take off before you go home to your own pets. You may want to reserve an old pair of sneakers for shelter work. Wipe the exterior and sole with bleach wipes and remove them as soon as you walk into your home.
Take extra care if you have very young or old pets at home. Respiratory infections can develop in pneumonia, which can be deadly to animals with a weak or underdeveloped immune system. Ask your veterinarian which vaccines your pet should have to keep them safe from shelter-borne illnesses. If your young kitten or puppy has not yet completed their core vaccine schedule, you may want to hold off on volunteering until at least a few weeks after their final vaccine.
Hold on to Your Heart
Even at no-kill shelters, your favorite animals will eventually get adopted. Pets will come and go, and some people suffer compassion fatigue as a result. People will come in and abandon their pets for nonsensical reasons. You’ll see pets that have suffered from abuse and neglect. You will get angry and sad, and you may even feel hopeless at times. It’s important that you try to use shelter work as an opportunity to strengthen your heart and concentrate on the positives. Be kind to yourself if you find that you’re not able to handle it.
Consider Other Ways to Help Your Local Shelter
Volunteering at your shelter can be a time commitment that your schedule may not allow. Instead, you can share your shelter’s Facebook posts featuring adoptable animals, make donations of money and new, unopened pet products, and tell your friends and family to check out the shelter if they are considering adding a new member to their family. You can also start a pet food drive at your school, church, or organization.
Foster a Shelter Pet
As an alternative to, or in addition to volunteering, you may decide to foster a pet, taking care of them in your home until they can find a family. Many pets are better off in a cozy home than in a noisy, stressful shelter. Don’t be surprised if you end up with a “foster failure” – when you can’t resist falling in love with your foster animal and adopting them instead of finding them a new home!
Ready Pet Go provides professional pet sitting and dog walking to pet parents in Takoma Park and Silver Spring, MD and Washington, DC. Get in touch if you’d like to learn more about shelters and rescues in our area, or if you’ll need help caring for your pets at home.