Lend a Paw on National Volunteer Day

Petting shelter cat

December 5, 2013 is National Volunteer Day, and to celebrate we’re encouraging everyone to get out and do their part to help animals in need and the organizations that help them.

Here are just a few of the ways you can volunteer around the country and in your own communities.

Shelters Always Need a Hand

What animals are more in need than those without a family or a permanent home? Chances are your local shelter needs volunteers to clean cages, stuff envelopes, answer phones, plan events and more. Most shelters even offer training for their volunteers, so no prior experience is needed.

To find a shelter near you, visit petfinder.com, volunteermatch.org or adoptapet.com and type in your zip code — then reach out to the shelter nearest you and tell them what you're willing and able to do. Shelters need help with everything from walking the animals to raising money. Consider offering to assist with an upcoming adoption or fund-raising event, for example — and don't forget to highlight any out-of-the-ordinary skills you may have, like making holiday decorations for the waiting room, taking photos of pets awaiting a forever home, or helping manage social media outreach.

Keep in mind that many shelters have age requirements for volunteers; if you have a child who wants to help out, be sure to tell the volunteer coordinator and be prepared to go to the shelter with your child. This is a nice opportunity to help animals and teach your kids about giving back.

Support Conservation Societies

If you'd like to work with more than cats and dogs, there are opportunities to do that too. In the NYC area, the Wildlife Conservation Society is looking for volunteers to help with a variety of departments including animal care, guest services, conservation programs, education, development and more. All jobs are based in New York City at one of four zoos and aquariums, and you must apply for specific jobs online. Not in NYC? Your community probably has something similar — contact your zoo or search for conservation societies online.

Want to spread your volunteer love a little further from home? Then check out the World Wildlife Foundation. With volunteer opportunities in over 30 countries including Paraguay, India, the South Pacific and West Africa, this is a chance to make a global difference. You will have to jump through some pretty substantial hoops to get one of the coveted volunteer positions, but the rewards are worth it: Imagine volunteering in Madagascar, where you can work on projects including Conservation of Toliara Reef, Fandriana-Marolambo Forest Landscape Restoration and the Holistic Conservation Programme for Forests. If you're able to commit, this is the volunteer opportunity of a lifetime.

Want something exotic but a little more short-term? Consider traveling to Africa for a short stay to help wildlife in the great desert. The Enkosini Eco Experience is looking for volunteers to help with conservation projects and wildlife preserves in Southern Africa.  Opportunities range from One- to 12-week endeavors and are self-funded. By signing up, you can get involved in programs including anti-poaching, research, animal rehabilitation and reintroduction, hands on animal care, game tracking and capture, bush rehabilitation and everyday reserve maintenance. This is more than just a vacation in Africa — it's the ultimate volunteer experience, with amazing rewards.


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