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Indulge your Wild Side by Volunteering at an Animal Shelter

By Alice Baines Hamblin
In Volunteering Advice
Jun 18th, 2014


If you’re a fan of our four legged friends,or in fact any furry, feathery, cuddly companions out there then there are animal welfare volunteering opportunities in your area and beyond that would suit you down to the ground.

Perhaps you’re seeking a career in animal welfare or interested in full time work with an animal shelter, alternatively you may just be a big-hearted animal lover with time on your hands. Whatever your motivations there are local projects that need your help that in return will give you a huge sense of well being and perhaps even open a door to future working with animals.

Why Volunteer Now?

Across the country there are homeless and mistreated animals of all species and breeds. This is even more true in economically hard times. The accumulative costs of paying for a pet’s food and veterinary bills combined with increased costs of living across the board have seen a rise in the number of animals being abandoned or put up for adoption. When a family looses it’s home then a pet looses it’s home and animals are generally one of the first ‘luxuries’  to be dispensed with when families incomes are reduced. Some animal shelters have reported up to a 400% increase on the number of animals taken now compared to before the recession. The pressure on animal  shelters is enormous and their need for volunteers and funding is greater than ever.

Read one dog-owners story here.

How can I help in my local area?

Every region has animal shelters aiming to provide a safe home to unwanted or mistreated pets whilst a suitable adoptive home is found. Here’s how to locate needy projects and sign up to volunteer:

Step One:
Find a shelter near you. Google animal shelters in your area or look for homeless pets near you, many adverts to rehome dogs and cats will give a shelter’s phone number or contact details which will in turn help to lead you to your nearest center.  Make a note of the phone numbers and names of contacts at the center and…

Step Two:
Get in Touch. He (or she) who dares wins! Call the shelter or even better swing by in person, ask to speak with the manager or person responsible for coordinating volunteers. Introduce yourself – give your name, age, and say that you live in the area (but don’t give your full address). Find out what unpaid opportunities they have for people your age and experience level.

Step Three:
Don’t take NO for an answer. Often animal shelters have age restrictions for volunteering, since it is difficult to insure volunteers under the age of 18 for the handling of animals. Don’t let this put you off. Think creatively about ways in which you might be able to contribute to the running of the centre and make your own suggestions, it will show your  commitment and passion for helping out – and very often lead to a volunteering position!
Here’s few ideas to get you started:

– Clean cages, the backyard, or even the office
– Make phone calls or do other general office work
– Make holiday decorations for the shelter office and waiting room
– Good with web sites? Create a Facebook or other site page for the shelter and help advertise it
– Take pictures of new pets and learn how to put them up for adoption on Petfinder, Pets911, or even advertise them around your neighborhood or school
– Become a foster home for animals the shelter doesn’t have room for (Warning: this one definitely requires getting your parents on side)

Volunteer Match is a website which lists nearly 5000 opportunities for volunteering with animals around the United states. Search their database for animal shelters in your area.

Think Outside the Kennel

Working with abandoned dogs and cats in animal shelters is a great introduction to volunteering but there are a world of opportunities out there to make a difference to creatures of all size and species. You could also think about indulging your wild side by working at a community farm, helping to survey local wildlife or even helping at the zoo. Thinking even further outside of the box (or kennel) you could even opt volunteer for roles which don’t involve working with animals at all. For example, many wildlife and animal charities need help organising events or with photography and fund-raising.

Why not spread your wings a bit and combine your love for animal welfare with a bit of international travel, exploring an exciting new country and culture whilst volunteering? There are animal volunteering projects around the world, which need energetic and passionate people, just like you!  It might take a little more fundraising (flights don’t always come cheap!) but will look great on your CV, keep you stocked up good karma and perhaps even give you a sun tan to boot!

Here’s  a flavour of what’s out there…

Volunteer in an Animal Shelter in the Greek islands

Head to the Greek Island of Kefelonia (the setting for Captain Corelli’s Mandolin no less!) and help to run an animal shelter which houses over 300 dogs and up to 40 cats at any one time. Stray animals are a massive issue in Greece and the problem has become even more acute since the country narrowly avoided complete economic melt down.

Ark needs  volunteers year round to assist with feeding, cleaning, walking, grooming, socialising and giving lots of love and attention to the animals.

Care for Rescued Elephants in Cambodia

The elephant valley project is Cambodia’s only sanctuary dedicated to the care and conservation of elephants in their natural habitat, in partnership with local people. An influx of logging is seriously affecting the elephant population and the livelihoods of the indigenous Pnong people for whom elephants hold great cultural and emotional significance.

Donations from volunteers help fund legal, technical and free medical support to nearby villagers, ELIE aim to employ 1 adult in 50% of the families, in addition the project pays for vetinerian work and Mahouts (carers) for the elephants, which otherwise would not exist. Funding also helps pay for education and for the staff to care for the elephants. Even better the project has a need for volunteers willing to get their hands dirty; head here and you will spend each week day out with the elephants and Mahouts watching them interact with each other, perhaps washing them and giving them as much TLC as you can.

You can either go direct to the Elephant Valley project or combine your animal volunteering with community projects at the beach and in Siem Reap, in the shadow of ancient Buddhist temples by taking part in a longer program with The Leap.

There are a world of animal volunteering opportunities out there in exciting, exotic and enviable (the three E’s!) destinations. Find inspiring projects here.


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