How to Become a Pet Shelter Volunteer
Introducing the fourth story in The GOOD Guide to Making the World Better for Pets (Even If You Don't Own One). This five part series, brought to you by GOOD in partnership with Purina ONE®, explores how we can all share the benefits of having pets in our lives. Check out more stories at GOOD Pets.
Whether it is a nonprofit relying on donations or a municipal agency trying to stay on budget, many pet shelters are struggling to make ends meet with limited resources and rely heavily on volunteers. Volunteers can be an invaluable resource to help the organization do the daily work required to support animals in need, and you’ll be pleased to know that you can do much more than just scoop poop.
However, every shelter’s needs can be different. Once you’ve found one near you (plug in your zip code in the directory at Petfinder.com), make a call or send an email to see how you can be of the most assistance. “We ask so much of our limited staff, and there are many things that could not be accomplished without the help of our volunteers,” says Ryan McTigue, spokesperson at the Michigan Humane Society. “There are things like doing laundry, washing dishes, walking and training dogs, playing with cats, and more. And the many events we hold each year would be nearly impossible to pull off without our volunteers.”
Steven Kaufman, executive director of the Animal Protective Association of Missouri says he’s always in need of volunteers to help with communication. “We need people to be advocates for shelter pets and change perceptions that all the animals here are behaviorally or medically challenged,” he says.
This kind of outreach can take many forms. Kaufman’s organization has seen success in sending volunteers into retirement homes, schools, and college campuses with animals. “The dogs’ tails are wagging, and they’re healthy, and people come play with them and spread the word via Facebook and Instagram,” he says.
But don’t be shy to suggest ways in which you can help. Think about the things you love to do, then consider how those interests might help a shelter. Perhaps you could redesign the shelter’s website for free, give a fresh coat of paint to the waiting room, make holiday decorations, or help digitize administrative paperwork. Or maybe you just want to organize a fundraising drive at your office or your kids’ school. “There’s an opportunity for any skill set—from event management to banking,” says McTigue.
Kaufman agrees. “Specialties are invaluable,” he says. “If we can get free or discounted graphic design, legal, architectural, or accounting skills, we can send that money directly back to animal care. We don’t just ask prospective volunteers how much time they have to give. We want to know: What do you do for a living? How much pro bono work can you do in that area? Does your company have a gift-matching program? There are very few professions we can’t figure out how to use to our advantage.”
McTigue says that these less direct ways of contributing are particularly great ideas for those who are worried about getting too attached to the dogs and cats. “You’re still helping the animals in our care without working directly with them,” he says. “But I always stress to those who do volunteer in-house that they’re making the animals’ time in the shelter a much more enjoyable experience.”