Animal Shelter Volunteering: How to Get Started and What to Expect

By Mali Anderson in Helping Hands

Animal shelter volunteering is important for providing healthy places for animals in need of forever families. Shelters across the country help to care for approximately 6.5 million animals surrendered each year, according to the ASPCA. With numbers like these, many shelters are strapped for resources and staff. Plus, irregular volunteer availability and turnover can cause even more strain. You and your family can help!

To get involved, contact a shelter in your community and ask about their volunteer program. Here's what you can expect as a newbie animal shelter volunteer.

Love Animals? You're In!

Animal shelter volunteering opportunities typically don't require past experience. If you love animals, the staff and other volunteers will take the time to show you the ropes.

After your initial introduction to the facility and procedures, you will likely be placed in a training program. Your training will depend on the type of volunteering you will be doing. Some shelters have different levels for volunteers, depending on their age or experience.

For example, if you are a level one volunteer, you might start your time at the organization feeding and petting cats or dogs who are already socialized.Then, as you become more comfortable, the shelter may promote you to the next level. By gaining more experience, you can move on to bigger tasks, such as working with animals overcoming abandonment or trauma that are in need of extra socialization. Your skills can grow within the organization, which can be even more rewarding.

In general, you can expect your beginner tasks at the shelter to include:

  • Feeding the animals
  • Walking dogs
  • Socializing animals
  • Cleaning enclosures
  • Doing laundry

Person comforting and sooting cat

Volunteer Time Commitments

Shelters are nonprofit organizations that rely heavily on the gifts of others, and not all donations are financial. They need people who are willing to volunteer their time, too, and appreciate it when animal lovers offer to help.

Because the shelter is also investing time to train you, they will often request a commitment from you when you agree to volunteer. For some organizations, this can be a few months, while others may request annual commitments.

How your volunteer days will look depends on what roles you agree to help with. There are volunteer opportunities at animal shelters throughout the year. Some commitments are short term, such as helping with a fundraising event. Others may require that you to agree to volunteer during specific days or times each week.

Commitments can change over time, as well. For example, when you're a new volunteer, you might train with a senior volunteer and then be put on the schedule once a week to keep animals company or clean enclosures. If you find the experience fulfilling, you can work toward becoming a senior volunteer. Then, you may be on hand more often to help new volunteers and train them on protocols.

Finding the Right Role for You

If you want to help but aren't sure how to get started, reach out to a local shelter. Let them know you want to volunteer but aren't sure which role is the right fit for you. Together, you can explore different volunteer areas and determine what's best for you.

Animal shelters need people to spend quality time with the animals in order to reduce their stress until they find a forever home. If you'll be working directly with the animals, plan to dress casual and leave your best outfit at home. The animals won't mind jeans and an old T-shirt—they will just be happy to see you and have the interaction.

If you like working with people, becoming an adoption counselor might be a rewarding position for you. These volunteers help those looking to adopt a cat or a dog with filling out forms, and they help explain the responsibilities of caring for a pet.

Others use their visual strengths to help out with photographing the adoptable pets and uploading those images to social media.

Cute puppy and red ball

Benefits of Animal Shelter Volunteering

While you may be helping the animals, you'll reap the benefits of volunteering, too. Volunteering can be a great way to discover your personal strengths and skills. And although it can be hard to say goodbye to animals you've come to love once they are adopted, you'll be inspired to have been a part of the process that changed those animals' lives.

So, even during the summer months, when friends and family suggest getting together for some fun in the sun, think about suggesting volunteering as a way to socialize. While some shelters require volunteers to be adults, others have junior volunteer programs in place.

Consider donating your time and giving some love to animals who need it. You can enjoy their affection and help them find their forever homes, all while supporting a nonprofit in your community.

Do you volunteer at a shelter? How did you get involved? Tell us on Twitter!

Image Source: Pixabay | Pixabay | Pixabay

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Why It's Good

Shelters across the country care for millions of animals, all in need of love and attention. Since nonprofits are often low on resources and staff, shelter volunteers are a vital part of finding forever homes for these animals in need. By giving a little bit of your time, you can make a big difference.