Popular Ways to Volunteer with Animals
Lending a hand at the local animal shelter may be the first thing that comes to mind when thinking about volunteering with animals, but there are tons of different settings and roles beyond the shelter for prospective volunteers to explore. Wild and domestic animals alike need help from human volunteers, and even those who want to help animals without handling them directly can find their niche.
Animal Shelter Volunteering
Approximately 6.5 million animals enter shelters annually according to the ASPCA. Caring for and homing shelter animals is a collaborative effort, so volunteers are needed to fill many different types of roles. Hands-on behavior modification, animal handling at off-site adoption events, educational outreach, groundskeeping, veterinary transportation, photography, administrative work and everything in between are crucial to the success of animal shelters and their furry residents.
Real-Life Animal Shelter Volunteer Programs
Volunteer programs will vary from shelter to shelter, but the following examples of real-world programs can give future volunteers an idea of the opportunities that may be available in their area. Volunteers can find a program type that aligns with their interests, skills, and schedules and ask their local shelter if they have similar opportunities available.
Animal Shelter Group Volunteering
Group volunteering opportunities are great for students, office teams, clubs and other small organizations to lend a hand and build comradery. These are typically single sessions that last a few hours. Group volunteering at the Oregon Humane Society is open to small and large groups and can entail socializing animals and maintaining grounds.
Youth Volunteer Program
While many opportunities require volunteers to be at least 18 years old, many shelters have youth programs that allow kids and teens to help out in a variety of capacities. At Lucky Dog Animal Rescue in Virginia, youth volunteers can participate in adoption events and help with administrative work in the shelter office. Fundraising, educational camps and even birthday parties where kids make treats and toys to donate to the shelter make for hands-on volunteer opportunities off-site, too.
Shelter animals often get a quick photo snapped when they enter the shelter to help them get adopted, but these animals are often scared and uncertain when they first enter a shelter. Volunteer photographers play a key role in taking nice photos that make shelter pets look more appealing to prospective adopters. Photographers, like the ones at Peninsula Humane Society and SPCA, may also take photos at special events.
Off-Site Adoption Events & Special Events
Orphans of the Storm shelter in Illinois notes the unique impact off-site and special event volunteers have on getting animals adopted. Volunteers develop relationships with animals outside of a shelter environment, get to know their histories and personalities and hype them up to potential adopters who either can’t or prefer not to visit shelters directly.
Retail or Thrift Store Volunteering
Shelters often have a retail component to help fund shelter operations. Volunteers may help out in these stores, taking in and selling merchandise. The Humane Society for Southwest Washington’s ReTails Store has been consistently voted the best thrift store in Clark County thanks to its volunteers, and proceeds go to help the shelter’s animals in need.
Reading with Rescues
Reading programs are nice ways for kids to spend time with animals who can benefit from the soothing effects of a human voice and company. Kids can also gain confidence in their reading and speaking skills since animals are a non-judgmental audience. Minnesota’s Animal Humane Society Rescue Readers program offers a low-cost season pass for young readers who want to visit regularly.
Teaching Animals Basic Behavior Skills
East Bay SPCA puts a strong emphasis on behavior modification to help animals get adopted faster and thrive in loving homes. After receiving training, volunteers help in training, socialization and enriching animals during their shelter stay.
Animals in shelters don’t usually have the ability to roam freely and get exercise on their own, so they rely on volunteers to help them stay healthy. Pet exercise can include walking dogs, running with high-energy dogs, playing with cats, and helping prospective adoptees burn off excess energy during adoption events. The San Clemente-Dana Point Animal Shelter’s Pet Project Foundation even has volunteers who set up safe exercise pens for their rabbit residents.
Fostering Pets in Your Home
Pet foster parents are essential players in the animal adoption and shelter system. When shelters don’t have room for new animal intakes, or they have animals who could benefit from being in a temporary home rather than a shelter, foster parents step in and open their homes to hundreds of thousands of pets each year. Keeping animals in foster homes rather than shelters gives them a chance to let their true personalities come out, which is key in finding permanent homes. The Fairfax County Animal Shelter in Virginia found that after placing 52 dogs thought to have behavioral problems in foster homes, 90 percent turned out to be normal and were adopted within a month. The shelter environment was simply too stressful. Foster homes are needed for all types of animals, not just stressed dogs, so it may be a great option for people who like the idea of having a significant impact on animals without the long-term commitment.
Sources & Further Reading
Volunteering with Animals in Agricultural Settings
There are many opportunities for people to volunteer in agricultural settings, particularly at farm sanctuaries. These sanctuaries provide care and enrichment for animals who have escaped or been rescued from factory farms or other inhumane animal agriculture facilities. There are farm sanctuaries around the country, but since they strive to let animals live out their lives in the most natural way possible, more opportunities exist in rural areas, where animals have space to roam freely. Volunteers typically help with animal care, grounds maintenance and guided tours and education for the public.
Sources & Further Reading
Volunteering with a Therapy Pet
Unlike the other volunteer opportunities addressed here, where volunteers help with animals that live in sanctuaries or don’t have permanent homes, volunteering with a therapy pet typically involves pet owners working with their own pet to help people in their community. Therapy pets can play many helpful roles, like helping young students learn to read, relieving college student stress, calming nervous fliers at airports or enriching patients at hospitals and residents of elder care facilities.
Volunteering in Wildlife Conservation
Volunteers can play important roles in animal care and wildlife conservation, both directly and indirectly. There’s a huge range of volunteering opportunities where you can help protect wildlife. Some volunteers may work in enclosed wildlife sanctuaries, caring for animals that can’t survive in the wild, while others may work in fish hatcheries or nature refuges ensuring animals can continue thriving in the wild.
Volunteering with Animals Abroad
Volunteering with animals can be a global adventure. Wildlife and domestic animal populations around the world can benefit from volunteer efforts in a range of capacities, from caring for street dogs to making sure that newly hatched sea turtles survive the dangerous journey from beach to ocean. Because of the incredible breadth of ecosystems, animals, organizations, and needs around the world, international volunteers can offer specialized aid that they may not be able to provide in the U.S. Upon returning home, volunteers can continue spreading awareness of global ecological and animal welfare issues and apply their skills in local settings, too.
4 Rewarding Ways to Volunteer with Animals Abroad
Because there are so many ways to volunteer with animals abroad, you may find it helpful to narrow your focus to one of the following areas of interest before seeking volunteer positions.
Wildlife Sanctuary Volunteering
Wildlife sanctuary volunteers help care for sick, injured and orphaned wild animals. Volunteers can work with a wide range of indigenous wildlife in a single area, which makes sanctuary volunteering unique and exciting. Some sanctuaries focus on rehabilitation and release into the wild while others care for animals through the remainder of their lives. Australia, South Africa, Zimbabwe and Costa Rica are popular wildlife conservation destinations.
Volunteering with Street Animals
Many areas around the world do not have the resources to care for and house homeless animals. International animal care volunteers typically provide care to street dogs, but opportunities to work with other animals may be available as well. Volunteers generally feed, wash and play with street animals and may help shelter staff with cleaning facilities and providing medical care to animals. Opportunities are common throughout Asia and South America.
Volunteering with Marine Life
Coastal regions around the world need volunteers to help preserve and study turtle populations and collect data on reefs, fish and other aquatic life. Volunteers may go on deep dives, comb beaches or help in rehabilitation and care facilities. Marine life volunteer opportunities are common in Costa Rica, Seychelles, Thailand, Fiji, Sri Lanka and Mexico, but opportunities are available in many other island and coastal areas.
Farm and Livestock Care
Those who volunteer on farms abroad often do a combination of animal care and farming work. Volunteers may learn about sustainable farming practices and help ensure animals are fed and tended. Volunteers may herd goats, milk cows and gather eggs as well as build and repair farm buildings and infrastructure. Farm and livestock opportunities are available in Thailand, Kenya and Nepal.
Examples of Animal Volunteering Abroad Programs
How and Where to Find Animal Volunteer Opportunities
Once you’ve decided how you want to volunteer with animals, it can sometimes be difficult finding organizations and programs that are located nearby and/or offer the exact type of volunteer work you’re looking for. Here are some tips and resources for tracking down the perfect animal volunteering opportunity.
Look online for animal volunteering opportunities
Whether going directly to an organization’s website to check their volunteer positions or searching through a volunteer database, looking online can be a great way to find a wide range of animal volunteer options. These websites can get you started in your search:
Inquire in-person about volunteer needs near you
Stopping by an organization in person can often be the most direct way to get information about different volunteer positions. Staff or volunteer coordinators may even be able to give prospective volunteers more detailed information in person. Consider asking about opportunities by visiting a variety of places within your community, including:
- Animal shelters
- Wildlife sanctuaries and refuges
- Veterinary offices
- Conservation organizations
- Farm sanctuaries
- Animal rehabilitation centers
- Local fish and wildlife department or parks and recreation department
Animal Volunteering Checklist
Volunteering with animals can be exciting and you may be eager to get started, but volunteers typically have to do some prep work before they can lend a hand. Specific procedures vary by organization, but these steps can help potential volunteers get ready to work with animals in need.