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Person Walking Dog in the Winter


All rescues and shelters depend on volunteers for many things.  Some are 100% volunteer run, so they need everything from kennel cleaners to home visit specialists.  Others have paid staff for cleaning and running the shelter, and need help with outside activities as well as socializing the animals for adoption.

As a side benefit, you can work with cats and dogs in the shelter while finding your perfect match.  I adopted my first “official” rescue, Wilma, after walking her as a volunteer.  (I’d always taken in strays, but never adopted through a shelter before.)  My second girl, Dixie, also found her way into my heart and home this way.


Below is a list (certainly not complete) of ways in which you can help.  I’ll explore each of these in more depth in later blog posts.

  1. Socializing animals to ready them for adoption
  2. Taking animals to adoption events in local pet stores and other venues
  3. Stuffing envelopes for fundraisers
  4. Helping out at various fundraising events – auctions, photo shoots, alumni days, 5 and 10K races, annual summer events
  5. Fostering
  6. Writing Facebook posts
  7. Helping with a newsletter
  8. Maintaining an email list
  9. Serving as a volunteer coordinator
  10. Taking photographs and videos
  11. Performing home visits and evaluating potential adopters

There are as many ways to help as there are personalities and talents.

Can you write?  Then offer to help with #6 or #7.   Great at taking photos? – #4, #7 and #10 are open to you.  Just want to cuddle animals? – try #1 and #2.  Good with people and organizing?  – offer to become #9.  Outgoing and diplomatic? – try #11.  Computer savvy? – volunteer for #6 or #8.  Just want to donate a few hours of your time to help animals? – try #3.  Have a little extra room in your home for a temporary furry friend? – #5 is for you.

In my time as a volunteer and as an adoption counselor, I have helped with all but #8 – maintaining an email list.


First, go into your local shelter and take a tour.  You’ll be able to judge the atmosphere and the interactions with the staff – are you comfortable in the environment?  If so, fill out a Volunteer application.

Most shelters have a Volunteer Orientation after that, usually held on a weekend.  Depending on the Volunteer Coordinator, these will either be pretty short, covering just what you need to know regarding volunteer policies and opportunities, or somewhat longer, involving the history of the shelter, etc.  Pay particular attention to rules for handling the animals, and rules for deportment while in the shelter.  Everything else you can find out while you’re volunteering.

Volunteer Walking a Small Dog
Help Socialize Shelter Dogs by Going for a Walk

Pay attention to the shelter staff and their needs.  They are more than pleased to help you with a particular animal, particularly if you’ve taken the time to say “hi” and introduce yourself.  Take a few minutes in between walking dogs or playing with cats to start a batch of laundry, or wash a few dishes.  The staff would like nothing more than to have time to work with the animals – anything you can take off their plates as far as random chores will give them the time to do so.

Different organizations have different rules – some will require you to wear a volunteer badge or T-shirt while in the shelter, many will require that a staff member take the animals in and out of the kennel.  Don’t try to get around these rules – work within them.  In time, you’ll be seen as a competent volunteer, and someone the staff can depend on.  Then, and most importantly, HAVE FUN!  The best results are always obtained when you’re enjoying what you do.

And, thank you for your help!

Volunteer Photo by rawpixel on Unsplash

Puppy Photo by Chris Becker on Unsplash

Photo of man walking dog by Tom und Nicki Löschner from Pixabay

dog on harness looking up at a person

Man petting a cat