Want to Volunteer at an Animal Shelter? Here's How to Get Started

Shelter dog
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Offering to walk pet shelter animals can be a great way to volunteer at a shelter.

I'm in my first semester of college and I miss my pets so much. I would like to start volunteering with an animal shelter or rescue group in order to spend some time with animals — but I don’t know what exactly that would involve. What kind of help do shelters and rescue groups need?

When it comes to the best type of help to offer a rescue or shelter, any talents and time you can provide can make a difference. Sometimes groups have specific needs, such as meal preparation or dog walkers. But often there are open opportunities for you to choose the type of work that you feel brings out your best.

Finding the Right Volunteer Opportunity

There’s no one-size-fits-all way to volunteer; most shelters and rescue groups offer an array of volunteer programs. Some are short term, like helping with an event, while others require you to commit to a certain number of hours or days per week. Some shelters and rescue groups have flexible volunteer schedules while others require volunteers to stick to a specific schedule.

Think, too, about any specific strengths or skills you have that may be useful to the shelter. A familiarity with social media or experience working with kids may not seem connected to helping animals, but both can be a bonus to a shelter that is trying to grow its community programs or launch a Facebook page.

Finally, think about how you want to spend your time. Are you willing to work mostly with other people, or would you prefer to spend your time with the animals? If your goal is to get hands-on time with the cats and dogs, volunteering to help with fundraising may not be the most satisfying option. Instead, ask specifically about volunteer hours that involve being around the animals.

A good first step is to reach out to local shelters and rescues to get a sense of what their requirements are and what kind of help they are currently looking for. Once you know, choose a volunteer opportunity that’s aligned with your specific interests or that fits your current schedule.

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