Lots of people want pets but can’t have them for a variety of reasons – building restrictions, finances, career, allergies – but the good news is that you can get your puppy-kitten-bird-rabbit-reptile fix by volunteering at a local animal shelter or rescue. Not only will you meet some great people, but you can also make a huge difference in the lives of dozens of animals. (Did we mention that you can cuddle sleepy puppies on your shoulder? That’s an activity with no downside, as far as we’re concerned.)
When you sign up to be a volunteer at an animal shelter or rescue, be prepared for the following:
- Be willing to wait a while before being accepted as a volunteer. Many shelters have a backlog of applicants, and it can take a few months before you can schedule an orientation.
- Be comfortable with a fairly extensive application process, reference checks, and – in some cases – fingerprinting.
- Be able to commit to a certain number of hours per month (this will vary by organization).
- Be willing to follow the rules and procedures as determined by that particular organization. Those rules are there for everyone’s safety, including the animals in your care.
- Be willing to work in lower-level programs before moving into higher-level or different types of programs. (For example, you might have to do basic dog care for a certain number of hours before moving up a level to dog training, or being allowed to cross-train in cat care or the low-cost clinic.)
- Be willing to purchase a volunteer shirt and adhere to a minimal dress code (for safety purposes) – long pants, volunteer shirt, sensible shoes, etc.
Volunteering can have additional benefits beyond helping pets. If you have an employment gap or are looking to make a career switch, a history of increasing involvement and responsibility at a non-for-profit organization can be as valuable as paid employment on your resume.
The bottom line: every time you volunteer you have the chance to change, or even save, an animal’s life. You may not think that your half hour of dog or cat socialization after work matters much in the grand scheme of things, but taken together with everyone else’s half hours throughout the days and weeks, it can make a huge difference in the well-being of any given pet, as well as in the overall quality of care the shelter provides. Everybody wins!