It is estimated by the ASPCA that 3.9 million dogs and 3.4 million cats are placed into an animal shelter each year. The reasons vary widely, whether from the “parents” not being able to afford the cost associated with a pet, the animal running away, dogs being abandoned or any other countless reason. About 1.5 million are killed, or as the ASPCA says “euthanized”. Regardless of why there are so many animals in pet shelters, the fact is that there is an immense need for volunteers to care for them.
On a personal note, I am a registered volunteer at the Charleston Animal Society no kill animal shelter, but I am not currently as active there as I should be. I am also the “parent” of a 13-15 year old beagle rescue mix. She is my buddy and we have traveled together quite a bit (we just returned from Knoxville, drank wine with pigs in NC, and visited Georgia) and we love to walk together among many other activities. While she is a rescue dog, the truth is that she “saved” me with so much joy and happiness, as much as I may have “rescued” her.
The Charleston shelter, which depends on the work of countless volunteers, is committed to finding a home for every single pet they have. They will rehabilitate aggressive dogs or cats, treat them for medical conditions, and place every one they can into a loving home. They have even cared for abused pets and animals, the most famous being Caitlyn, who was viciously beaten by her former owner and who the shelter took on to rehabilitate.
How to volunteer at an animal shelter
Pet shelters always need more volunteers. Each center will usually have a number of different roles that can be filled. Volunteers can drop in at a shelter to walk a dog, help clean up a kennel, run some of the back end office promotions or fund raisers, or perform any number of tasks. Many pet shelters also have free pet food pantries, in which they give low income families support in the way of free dog or cat food, donated toys for their dog or cat, and other needed supplies. Volunteers veterinarians are also needed to help treat any medical conditions, as it can be expensive to pay the bills associated with caring for a dog or cat. As many low and even moderate income families need help with paying vet bills.
Studies show that volunteering or spending time with animals is good for your health as well. It reduces stress, can give a sense of purpose, lowers blood pressure, and has other health benefits. It helps improve the emotional health of the volunteer, and of course benefits the pet as well. Giving back benefits the volunteer, and it brings the dog or cat hope as well. It can also help acclimate the pet to being around people, so it makes the dog or cat more adoptable.
There are other ways to volunteer to help pets as well. You do not need to work at a pet shelter. My dog, Maxie, was adopted from a “foster parent”. This lady was caring for several different dogs at the time, and Maxie was just one of them. The foster parent was either given, found, or worked with shelters in her community to find these dogs, many of whom were formerly homeless. She took the dogs in and cared for them in her own home as she actively sought a permanent owner for the dog.
Being a foster parent is another great way to give back. But you may say it can be costly and how can anyone afford to do that, and that is definitely true. However some of the shelters pay the bills to take care of the medical and national needs of the dogs. So the shelter will pay all of the needed vet bills, provided free food to the foster parent, and offer other forms of support. If there was not this form of assistance given to a foster parent this volunteer role may not exist, as it can be very cost prohibitive for a volunteer to take on that expense.
Therefore people can always volunteer to care for a cat or dog by caring for them in their home as a foster parent as they seek a long term home through services such as Petfinder. I am very fortunate for this foster parent who did this for Maxie. As without her volunteering to help out these pets, I may have never had met Maxie and benefited from all the joy she brought me.
If you volunteer, you may also “find” that special dog or cat to adopt. While she did not come from an animal shelter, Maxie has brought me a tremendous amount of happiness, hope, and joy. I love waking to see her in the morning, feeding her, walking her and seeing her tail wag when I get home from running errands. I love giving her belly rubs, going for short car rides with her, having her lay in my office when I work, and wrapping her in a blanket at night. We rescued each other! Volunteers can also get many of these feelings being in a shelter, and who knows you may find that pet for you and your family!
While she may now be old, cranky, and has had several recent medical issues (I just brought her to the vet last week as she had a tape worm…yuck!), it has all been worth it. Even being old, she still gets tons of compliments, and just the other day 3 people in Knoxville called her out to say how well behaved she was. She also received a few compliments in Tennessee on her good looks. Luckily for Maxie she did not inherit her looks from her volunteer “daddy” (me) and she must have come from some good genes. As I know good looks/attractiveness is not one of my strengths, which I am aware of and have been reminded of…so she is one lucky Beagle mix!
But even though she is cute, well behaved, and hanging in there considering she is anywhere from 91 to 105 years old, I am slowly trying to prepare myself for the inevitable, when she is no longer in my life. Like almost anything in life, our pets are never in them for long enough. I think Maxie had a good life, no matter what soon happens especially when considering her ongoing kidney and other health issues. Maybe you can find your own special “Maxie” by volunteering at your local shelter…you just never know until you try.
The fact is, there is an ongoing need for volunteers in almost any field. If you do not want to work at a soup kitchen or food pantry, or do not want to volunteer at say the Salvation Army, there are other ways to give back to society. Working at a pet shelter, or caring for dogs or cats in some other capacity, is always a great alternative. Volunteers are always needed.