It seems as if animal lovers are always looking for new ways to show their love and devotion for animals. Some people choose to donate to their favorite animal charity, shelter or rescue. However, in uncertain economic times it is difficult for many to continue charitable giving. One great way many people are now considering to give back to the animals they love is, volunteering at a shelter or rescue. If you have been thinking about doing volunteer work, why not consider volunteering at your local animal shelter or pet rescue group. These groups depend almost entirely on the work of volunteers and they are always in need of animal lovers like you. There are several ways you can volunteer your time. Following are some examples of areas where your time and talents could be put to good use.

Administrative duties. Every shelter and rescue has a continuing need for people to answer phones, greet clients, assist potential adopters in filling out adoption forms, and keeping records of all of the pets. If you have customer service, phone and computer skills, this might be a good area for you.

Exercising and socializing the animals. Pets that are at shelters need to get out for exercise and socialization as much as possible. If dogs and cats spend too much time in cages or kennels, in time they begin to get what rescuers call “kennel crazy”, which may make them less social and harder to adopt out. Shelters always need people to walk the dogs or spend time playing with the cats.

General pet care. Every shelter and rescue needs all the pet areas cleaned and sanitized daily. This can be a very physical job and you should be comfortable handling all types of dogs before volunteering for this type of work. Feeding the pets once or twice a day and making sure they have clean water at all times is also part of this job. Some shelters may divide this into two separate jobs and have different people feed and clean.

Training and grooming. These skills are very desirable at all shelters and rescues in preparing pets for adoption. A well-trained, well-groomed pet is much more adoptable than one that is not. If you have knowledge or experience in either of these areas, please consider volunteering at a shelter or rescue near you today.

Special programs. Some shelters may have special programs in place that they need volunteers. One example is a reading program. Some shelters are implementing these types of programs where people come in and spend time in the kennels of very shy dogs, reading to them in a soft, soothing tone to help them get used to people and become less timid. So, if you love animals and love to read, you would be an excellent match for this program. Check with your local shelter to find out what other special programs they may have.

Education and adoption advisors. Educating potential new pet owners on responsible pet care has proven valuable in reducing the number of returned pets due to pet owner expectations. Shelters and rescues need volunteers to educate and advise potential adopters on picking the right pet for them and their family, as well as proper pet care after they adopt. Some shelters also have programs where they go to schools and teach young children how to care for a pet properly.

Special events. Adoption events and fundraisers are key for shelters and rescue groups. They always need people to assist with these events, from the planning stage to setting up the event, working the event and tearing down. These events are a lot of work and require many people working together. In addition to a love of animals, you should have good people skills, in order to work closely with other people and deal with the public.

Fostering a pet. If you have room in your home, why not consider fostering a dog or cat until they are adopted? If you already have pets, they should be comfortable with other animals coming into your home. The responsibility of foster parents include daily basic care of the pet, socializing the pet, recognizing when there may be a medical problem and getting the medical help needed. Shelters and rescue groups have veterinarians that they work with and the group, not you, usually covers the cost of any medical attention needed. In addition, generally, the shelter or rescue group provides food. Pet fostering often requires minimal expense, other than time. You are providing them a loving home to live in until they find their forever home. This is an extremely important job and shelters and rescue groups are ALWAYS in extreme need of foster homes. The more pets they can get into foster homes, the fewer pets are euthanized. By fostering, you could quite literally be saving a pet’s life.

If you don’t have much time but still would like to help your local shelter or rescue group, consider making a cash donation or donate supplies. Some shelters and rescue groups get a small amount of money from government funding, but most rely on donations from the public. No amount is too small; even a five or ten dollar donation is appreciated. You can also contact your shelter or rescue group for a list of items needed. You may have some items that you no longer use such as old towels, blankets, cleaning rags, laundry soap, bleach, dog and cat toys, litter, newspapers, collars and leashes. This is something you could get your children involved with, too. Consider having a change jar in your home labeled “shelter fund” or something, into which everyone pours all his or her change daily. When it is full, you and your kids can take it to the shelter. Or, go on a “scavenger hunt” around your home with your kids to find items to donate.

If you are ready to get started in making the difference in the lives of animals, contact your local shelter or rescue group. You can find information for volunteers on the ASPCA’s website http://www.aspca.org/adoption/shelters/. Once you contact a shelter or rescue group of interest, you will usually be required to attend an orientation class. This way they can match your skills and interests with the right job. Ready to get to work? The pets will love you for it!

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