The Humane Society of Northwestern Pennsylvania relies on an extensive network of more than 200 volunteers who help every day to keep the nonprofit's operations running smoothly.
"But we can always use another hand," said Nicole Bawol, the Erie, Pennsylvania, shelter executive director. "And I know all shelters are in need of similar help."
While the shelter welcomes any animal volunteer who simply wants to play with animals (For instance a group of "cat cuddlers" gives daily attention to the shelter kitties.), that type of work is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to shelter volunteer needs.
Here are five job volunteers can do that'll be a great help to shelter staff and the furry residents:
Volunteer walkers make it possible for all the shelter dogs to get fresh air and exercise every day. That's important so dogs don't get depressed. The chance to socialize with humans is key too. "The shelter is a stressful environment for animals," Bawol explained. "People showing them compassion and love and giving them that attention they deserve is hugely important to their well-being."
Food, toys, cat litter and treats are among the donations the Pennsylvania shelter regularly needs, Bawol said. But so are things many people might not think of, such as office supplies, hand sanitizer and garbage bags. Ask your local shelter what supplies it needs most. Many shelters post an updated "wish list" right on their website.
Volunteer photographers spend time with the shelter pets to take photos that truly show their personalities. Those photos are used on the shelter website and shared on social media to encourage adoptions. This is very important to shelters because showing the true lively nature of these pets helps them get adopted more easily. There is often a negative connotation toward shelter pets that they are sickly or abused and won't make good pets. However, the exact opposite is true. They just need someone to love them, and great photos and videos of them showing their personalities is a great way to help potential adopters see how wonderful they are.
Volunteers can spend their time tackling the mounds of laundry shelters produce, which includes bedding, sheets and towels.
Bawol said she's been especially inspired by the creative ways she's seen children contribute donations. Some kids celebrate their birthdays by asking for shelter-friendly gifts from their friends and family. The Erie shelter was also a recent beneficiary of a $400 donation from a group of children who raised the funds at a neighborhood festival.
Shelters may require kids to be a certain age to volunteer, and a guardian may have to accompany them. One favorite animal volunteer activity for younger kids is to distribute treats to the pets to brighten their day.
"It's good for the kids to learn to give back, for the families to do together and for the shelter pets," Bawol noted.
If you cannot hold your own fundraiser, many shelters will hold their own for you to volunteer. They also host various adoption days that can always use support to hand out fliers, man booths or setup and teardown for the events. Be sure to ask about these types of opportunities when you reach out to your local shelters.
Each shelter has its own set of needs and volunteer opportunities. To find out what your shelter needs, visit its website or Facebook page. If you can't find what you're looking for, don't hesitate to call and ask how you can help. You can find a list of shelters in your area on the Shelter Pet Project website.
Anything you can do that helps make the animals' stay more comfortable and helps them find a forever home makes volunteering at an animal shelter a rewarding experience.
"Every shelter is in need of volunteers who care," Bawol said. "You won't be turned away."
A Plus One
If you don't have the finances to help or the time to devote to volunteering regularly at your local shelter, but are still very passionate about contributing to their efforts, you can help support them online. Becoming an advocate for these shelters is as easy as sharing their Facebook posts or talking to friends and family members about the shelter. Whether you know someone that might be looking for a new dog or cat, or you can help convince others to join your cause to volunteer, you are making a huge difference in helping out these shelters that desperately need all the help that they can get.
Kara Murphy is a freelance writer in Erie, Pa.