When most people think of getting a pet, they think of animal shelters (at least I hope they do). But what happens after you get your new pet? It can be easy to forget or not think of shelters often, but these places are still operating — some struggling to stay open — and could really use your help.
There are many ways to help out your local animal shelter.
Why Do Shelters Need Volunteers?
Animals keep being found or dropped off at shelters. Some of these animals may have been born on the streets or became separated from their owners, and the people at the shelter work to better the lives of these animals.
New arrivals need to be checked, cleaned, evaluated and cared for until a new home can be found. Scanners are needed to search for microchips, a dog may need to be potty trained and so many more tasks are essential to helping our animal companions. Running a shelter takes two very important things: money and people. This is where you come in.
7 Benefits of Volunteering at a Shelter
1. Meet new friends. You will be surrounded by people who love animals as much as you do, and they might even become your lifelong friends. This widens your social circle and incorporates compassionate people who share your interest in helping animals. Guinea pigs, rabbits and even birds end up in shelters, so you’ll also learn about other animals too.
2. Your efforts will help an animal get ready and increase its chances for a new home. Animals coming into the shelter vary according to their needs. A feral cat may need to be socialized, a dog may have mats to remove or a guinea pig may be underweight. Animals that appear happy and healthy have a higher chance of being adopted, and shelters need your help to achieve this.
3. Boost your mood — and your health. Volunteering gives us a sense of satisfaction for helping others, can lower stress, make you feel needed and appreciated, increase happiness and so much more. A study reported on in Natural Health magazine in 2007 showed that 95% of volunteers surveyed said they gained a “helper’s high” — a feeling of euphoria and energy. Volunteering truly is a feel-good activity, and what better way to spend the day than with cuddly and furry friends?
4. Gain experience. Whether you’re working the phones, stuffing mailers, grooming or arranging meet-and-greet sessions with potential owners, you are gaining experience in many areas that can have great benefits in other areas of your life. Young adults can become better acquainted with animals, experience a set schedule of responsibilities, and gain a reference for an employment or college application. Working adults may include it on their resume or incorporate animal shelters into their work-related events and charitable causes. Someone who is unemployed can get a boost of self-esteem and confidence by being part of a vital team while looking for work.
5. Trying something new is fun! A new activity can be exciting and a change of pace for a mundane or repetitive schedule. Why not make that something new be volunteering? You will gain a host of other benefits, and the rush of happiness when a pet you helped gets a new “forever home” is nothing short of amazing.
6. Stay active. Being a volunteer keeps your mind, body and emotions active and healthy. Sitting at home on weekends in front of a television can get boring and leave many of your talents unused. Volunteering that time instead keeps you thinking, moving and feeling, and can help increase physical mobility. Besides, playing with a puppy sounds much more fun than being a couch potato!
7. Become part of a very important team. Animal shelters need money and people to stay open. Some of them face closure constantly, and you could be that one extra hand that helps another pet get adopted, shepherds through another donation or encourages a new person to volunteer. The ASPCA estimates that there are about 5,000 shelters across the country, and these shelters take in an average of five to seven million animals per year. The animals keep coming, and more people are needed every day.
Check out this fun video (set to a cover of the Muppets’ “Mahna Mahna” song, no less) about volunteering:
Qualifications can vary in each state and shelter. The most common qualities a shelter looks for in a volunteer includes being a minimum of 16 to 18 years of age, able to attend training if needed, able to commit to a certain number of hours per month, and able to perform office duties or duties that involve large or heavy animals.
These are common examples, but check with your local shelter for its list. Some shelters may require volunteers under a certain age to be accompanied by a parent or guardian.
Other Ways to Help
I remember that the most recent pet I adopted came from a shelter that sold blankets. A volunteer made them, and they were sold at modest prices. This helps a newly adopted animal have a comfortable ride home, and the shelter gets extra funds. This is still my cat’s favorite blanket, and he will not lay on his bed without it.
If you can’t physically visit the shelter, there are other ways to help. Monetary donations are always appreciated and help cover operating costs. Items are also welcomed too: Blankets, toys and even office supplies are always needed. Send a message to lawmakers urging more integrated projects, such as setting up animal and homeless shelters together. Children can also help by taking a tour of the shelter, organizing a fundraiser or getting their school involved with shelter awareness and assistance.
No matter your age, location or financial situation, there is always something you can do that will benefit an animal shelter.
Need one more reason to volunteer? Just try to watch this without tearing up:
- The Humane Society of the United States: How to find your local animal shelter
- Petfinder: Find animal welfare groups and organizations
- Healthy Women: The health benefits of volunteering