During the holiday season when we look back at everything we have to be thankful for, many times our thoughts turn to how we can share our good fortune and help others. For those of us with four-legged family members, it can be especially gratifying to help your local animal shelter or rescue. However, even if you have the best of intentions, sometimes it can be difficult to figure out just how to best provide a helping hand. Here are some simple steps you can take to get started:
- Because most people prefer to help dogs and cats in their own community, the first step is to locate a local shelter. PetFinder has a database of animal welfare organizations that you can search by zip code, or you can try VolunteerMatch which allows you to enter your zip code along with keywords to find volunteer opportunities in your area.
- Before you contact a shelter or rescue, decide how you want to help, and how much time you can commit. Ways you can help most groups include assisting with fundraising efforts, adoption events, fostering a dog or cat, spending time with the shelter animals grooming, cleaning, socializing, etc. See if you can use any of your special skills or hobbies to help out; for example, if you’re an ace photographer, perhaps you can help take great photos of adoptable pets.
- If you aren’t able to give of your time and energy, you can always help with a monetary donation, or a donation of needed office, cleaning or pet supplies. Check with the shelter to see if your donation will be tax deductible, and to see what items are most needed. The website for most animal welfare groups usually includes a “wish list” of items that will be most useful.
- Your next step is to take a deep breath and call or send an email to the volunteer coordinator at your local shelter or rescue group. Keep in mind that many groups are staffed by volunteers and they can be extremely busy, so if you don’t receive an immediate response, don’t despair. Once you’re in touch, ask them about ways you can help, as well as the times of the day when they can use volunteers.
- Now all you have to do is work out how you and the shelter can best work together. When I volunteered at my local cat rescue shelter, I first spent an afternoon checking out the facility and interacting with the staff and the cats to make sure this would be a good fit.
So just get started…while you are helping the pets in your community, you are likely to find out that the one that benefits most is you!