Shelter dog

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.

How You Can Help

If you aren’t sure exactly how you want to help, give different areas a try. Volunteering can provide an opportunity to explore your own strengths, skills and passions, which can be helpful to you as you think toward a career after college.

Your current major or course of study can potentially offer you ways to help the shelter. Public relations, social work, law, business management, financial planning, event coordinating and human resources are just a few examples of majors in which you learn certain skills that may be useful to a shelter or rescue group.

Think beyond the classroom, too — be open and creative about how your skills and passions might help. If you are handy with tools, you can offer to help maintain and improve rescue facilities. Do you love to plan a party? Offer to help with event and fundraising projects. Strong people skills may make you a good fit for adoption counseling or community outreach. Artistic ability or craftiness could be put toward making special items to spruce up the shelter or creating crafted items and art for fundraising events. Writing, photography and videography skills can be used to showcase adoptable animals, promote rescue events and create positive adoption messaging.

Finally, don’t underestimate the power of your presence. Shelters frequently need volunteers to spend one-on-one time with pets, petting and playing and going for walks. It sounds simple but it is incredibly important work. Your presence can have a huge impact on an animal — and it can help reduce your stress level as well.

Whatever volunteer opportunity you choose, keep in mind that you will be doing a good thing for the pets you help — and for yourself as well.

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