Volunteering In Animal Shelters At Home And AbroadDecember 11, 2012
The greatness of a nation can be judged by the way its animals are treated. ---Mahatma Gandhi
Can you honestly say that you don’t love animals? Neither can most people, which is why volunteering in animal shelters is one of the most popular forms of service both domestically and abroad. No matter what area of the world, shelters rely on volunteer assistance to improve the living conditions of the animals they house. Whether sifting through files or developing an exercise regimen, volunteers improve the lives of the animals they work with in unimaginable ways.
After selecting an animal shelter to volunteer with, don’t be surprised if you are asked a myriad of questions prior to starting your service. Most shelters will ask questions about your age and primary interest in volunteering, and may require a series of orientations and trainings or paperwork, depending on the level of contact you’ll have with the animals. This helps the shelters ensure their volunteers are not only prepared for their work, but are emotionally stable and will provide the animals the greatest level of comfort.
You should always request a site visit to ensure our own level of comfort before making a commitment to a shelter. You should also remember that if you are seeking an experience that allows hands-on work with the animals, long-term volunteer service is the way to go, as you will need to build trust with the animals and other staff.
While most animal shelters do not allow volunteers under the age of 18 to assist in handling their animals, young volunteers are able to take on a number of tasks, including cleaning cages and common areas, promoting the shelter through advocacy or administrative tasks, assisting in advertising for the shelter through social media, and more. For those 18 and up, be prepared for additional tasks such as walking dogs, assisting with medical treatments, and playing with the animals to keep them stimulated and active.
Finding a Shelter
The best way to find a local animal shelter to volunteer with is to do an online search for shelters or humane societies—including those that care for homeless or abandoned pets. You can also go old school by flipping through a local phone book and looking in the yellow pages. Also be sure to check out Petfinder—just type in your zip code and receive information about shelters and humane societies nearby!
For those wishing to volunteer in an animal shelter but looking for a change of scenery, volunteer opportunities abound worldwide for animal shelters—and prospective volunteers do not necessarily need to research individual shelters themselves, unless of course they want to!
Many nonprofits and volunteer recruitment agencies (including Volunteer Global!) offer volunteer projects with animals abroad. If you prefer to go at it on your own, performing an online search for shelters in your destination should provide contact information that would allow you to set up a volunteer project. Always remember that laws and cultural norms concerning animals vary by country—so it’s best to keep an open mind!
While volunteering in an animal shelter will provide a great deal of benefits for the animals and the volunteer, there is one serious downside: loss.
After working consistently with animals, volunteers can become attached. When an animal is adopted or passes away, it can be a great loss to the volunteers. Volunteers must remember that while they forge friendships with the animals, they are not the owner and are always vulnerable to losing the animals.
In the end though, volunteering with an animal shelter can be an amazing experience, and you’ll do a world of good for those you’re helping. So, let’s get started!
Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.