Last updated Mar. 28, 2022.
Today kicks off National Volunteer Week, the first full week of April! The White House even sent out a Presidential Proclamation to mark the occasion, specifically mentioning animal shelters as a prime service opportunity for volunteers.
With 3,500 “brick-and-mortar” rescues – plus over 10,000 groups and sanctuaries – in the United States, there are millions of homeless pets in need of a little TLC. If you don’t have the time (or ability) to scoop poop, walk pups or spay pets, you can get creative with alternative ways to help.
Check out these easy ways to participate in National Volunteer Week, and try to make a goal of completing one per day!
Day 1: Do your spring cleaning
Your local animal shelter may be able to benefit from a donation of excess supplies (in good condition) that you no longer need.
If you haven’t already, start your spring cleaning marathon by sorting through your possessions. You may be surprised by what animal shelters actually need – it’s not just kibble and collars! Go room by room, keeping an eye out for the following:
- Kitchen – Bowls, dishes, containers, appliances, cleaning supplies
- Bathroom – Towels, baby shampoo, soap and detergent
- Miscellaneous – Office supplies, cameras, storage tubs, blankets
Before you bring your hand-me-downs to a shelter for a donation, check the shelter’s website for a wishlist; some places don’t have the space or resources to store and wash donations. Also, consider the condition your items are in: would you regift these supplies to a friend? Frayed or holey towels and chipped plates should head to your local thrift store.
Day 2: Share a shelter’s post on social media
The power of social media is positively impacting pet adoption more than ever. With just a click, an adoptable dog or cat’s photo can be shared to millions of potential pet parents, making it easier than ever – in theory – for pets to find forever homes. Despite the promising possibilities technology holds for animal shelters, they can’t do it alone: it takes a village to make a pet viral.
During National Volunteer Week, share one Facebook post, Tweet or reshare an Instagram photo from your favorite rescue group. Be sure to provide a link back to the shelter, in the form of a website or social media username. Many rescue groups don’t have a physical location, just foster homes criss-crossing the country. These non-profits rely on social media to spread the word about their adoptable pets as well as to solicit donations.
Day 3: Pound the pavement with a pup
One of the most time-consuming tasks animal shelter volunteers perform is walking the dogs. It’s extremely important for adoptable pets to get regular physical and mental stimulation to keep them healthy, increasing their odds of finding a forever home. Cooped up inside with no exercise, dogs can become depressed or anxious, exhibiting destructive behaviors or hyperactivity. Depending on the pet’s size, age and health, they may need multiple walks per day.
Make it a goal to volunteer at an animal shelter as a dog walker for an hour on day three of National Volunteer Week. If that’s not doable, no worries! Download the free Walk For a Dog app from WoofTrax, which donates to rescues while you walk your dog. The more people who actively use the app, the higher the donation. With over 8,500 shelters participating in all 50 states, there’s bound to be a beneficiary near you.
Day 4: Build a feral cat shelter in your yard
Estimates of the U.S. feral cat population range from 30 to 70 million, but no one disputes the issue is widespread. Many consider the animals a nuisance; they leave droppings in gardens and are vectors for fleas and intestinal parasites, which are passed along to outdoor cats. Feral cats are distinctly different from outdoor feline pets, who are well-fed and return home at night. You can often tell a feral from a family pet by its personality – these cats are literally wild animals and typically are not friendly. Injuries or matted fur may also be apparent, evidence of the feline’s outdoor lifestyle.
Since it’s “Whiskers Wednesday,” take the time to make a simple feral cat shelter. There are dozens of DIY tutorials online, but the basic principle is an insulated, waterproof container that kitties can take refuge in. Repurpose a plastic storage tub, cutting an entrance into one side. Add a styrofoam cooler, then pack straw in the space between to provide insulation. Round out the kitty condo with a cozy blanket and provide fresh water outside.
Day 5: Donate your photography skills
If you’re handy with a camera, volunteer at your local shelter as a pet photographer. A good photo can make all the difference in how quickly an adoptable animal finds a forever home. “Black Dog/Cat Syndrome” is an offshoot of this all-too-real factor, theorizing that dark-furred dogs and cats are adopted less frequently. However, this myth has been busted by a number of researchers. “Black Dog Syndrome may in fact be due to the base rate fallacy – there are simply more big black dogs in the population,” said Dr. Emily Weiss in an ASPCA blog post.
No matter the pet, everyone could use a little pizzazz to bring out their unique personality. Whether you’re a novice with a fancy DSLR or a full-time photography professional, your local shelter would be more than happy to receive a helping hand. A number of non-profits are also tackling the issue of shelter pet photography, such as Shelter Me Photography, which pairs photographers with needy rescues.
Day 6: Put your tax refund to good use
We all know it’s tax season; consider donating a portion of your refund to a local shelter during National Volunteer Week. And while you’re doing your taxes, don’t forget to deduct any donations to nonprofit rescues.
The most typical way for time-strapped pet parents to help out shelters is to donate money. Every little bit helps animal shelters – $10 can microchip a pet, while $50 provides full vaccinations. If you’re concerned about your donations going to overhead costs or other non-animal areas, don’t worry. “Approximately eighty-five cents of every dollar goes directly to caring for the dogs,” says French Bulldog Rescue Network’s president, Joan Cleveland.
Day 7: Keep your own pet healthy
While it may seem obvious, maintaining your own dog or cat’s health has benefits extending beyond your household. Vaccines operate on the theory of “herd immunity;” if the majority of pets are vaccinated against a disease, there is little opportunity for an outbreak within the community. The same goes for flea, tick, and heartworm preventatives. All of these diseases are highly contagious and can spread easily within the confines of a kennel, dog park, or doggie daycare. Don’t allow your pet to drink from communal water bowls, which can harbor parasites or viruses.
Wellness care is primarily preventative, and while it can seem pricey, the payoff is a healthy, happy pet with a longer lifespan. The average pet insurance policy doesn’t include wellness coverage, which can deter some pet parents from visiting the vet. However, don’t be shocked when your senior dog develops periodontal disease from a decade without a dental cleaning! The long-term benefits of vaccinations, spay/neutering, and dental care far outweigh the short-term costs.