Volunteering at an animal shelter can be a rewarding and fulfilling experience for both yourself and the animals in care. There are many positions available at various facilities, allowing volunteers from all walks of life to offer a helping hand in one way or another.
Volunteer Opportunities Vary
The fact that you are considering volunteering at an animal shelter doesn’t necessarily mean that you have to work directly with the creatures in care, although this is the driving force for many.
If you have allergies or other medical issues that preclude you interacting directly with animals, but still want to help, consider assisting in other positions. Humane societies and shelters are always happy to have help with administrative, education and fund-raising functions. You might be able to lend a hand with advocacy or special events, or work with coordinating other volunteers. Most animal shelters are non-profit, and a helping hand is always welcome with their various non-animal related activities.
How Do I Volunteer?
Most communities have some sort of humane organization or animal shelter. You should be able to find them on-line, or you can ask friends. Asking on social media about societies near to you can also yield up a treasure trove of possibilities.
Once you have found an organization that you would like to help, you may have a couple of options for applying for a volunteer position – either on-line or in person. It’s a good idea to check the shelter out in person first if you can, to ensure that you will be useful there.
What to Expect
Once you have filled out a volunteer application form you may have a few more hoops to jump through, many of which will depend on the volunteer position you are applying for.
Some animal welfare organizations perform a background check, and some even go so far as to do criminal record checks. These procedures are especially important in the case of those who have applied to help with administrative and/or fund-raising duties. You may also be required to sign a release form.
Generally, you will need to attend an interview or intake session prior to beginning your volunteer assignment followed by training workshops or on-line courses. Some animals welfare programs offer in-depth orientation and ongoing training sessions, which you may be expected to attend.
About Time Commitments
The amount of time you commit to an animal welfare program can vary greatly depending on your volunteer assignment. But generally speaking you will be expected to commit to a set number of hours per week, for a set period of time. You may be asked to sign in and out whenever you work at the shelter, and there may be a probationary period for new volunteers. Some shelters assign staff members or other volunteers to job-shadow new helpers, and there may be periodic performance assessments.
While many animal care facilities are very casual about dress code, you may be asked at some to conform by wearing a name tag or a special item of clothing (t-shirt, for example) that signifies your role as a volunteer. This requirement can be especially valuable in large shelters where people are coming and going all the time, sometimes to restricted areas with vulnerable or sick animals. There may be a small fee for you to obtain the required identification items.
Are There Any Health Risks?
If you are going to work directly with the animals, it’s a good idea to ensure that your tetanus vaccination schedule is up to date. Tetanus shots are effective for 10 years and can prevent dire medical consequences if you get bitten or scratched by a shelter animal.
Zoonotic diseases are infections or diseases that can be transmitted from an animal to a human being. The risk of contracting a zoonotic disease from a shelter animal is extremely low, but those with compromised immune systems of any type might want to consider volunteering in a capacity that does not include direct contact with the shelter animals.
Volunteering at an animal shelter, whether as a dog walker, small animal caregiver, foster home or office worker, offers so much to the animals and to yourself. You can expect to make new friends and enjoy a sense of fulfillment from helping animals in distress. It’s a win-win in every way.
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