7 Ways To Help Pets During National Volunteer Week
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, get creative with alternatives.
Check out these easy ways to participate in National Volunteer Week, and make doing one a day your goal!
1. Do your spring cleaning.
If you haven’t already, start your spring cleaning marathon by sorting through your possessions. (After all, how can you clean a crowded cabinet?) 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 downtown, 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.
2. Share a shelter’s post!
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 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 groups, like French Bulldog Rescue Network, have no 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.
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 stay in tiptop physical shape, increasing their odds of finding a forever home; an obese dog can be intimidating to potential adopters. Cooped up inside with no exercise, dogs can also become depressed or anxious, exhibiting destructive behaviors or hyperactivity. Depending on the pet’s size, age and health, multiple walks per day may be required.
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! (or excuses) – download the free Walk For a Dog app from WoofTrax, which donates to rescues while you walk your dog. The more people are actively using the app, the higher the donation; with over 6,000 shelters participating in all 50 states, there’s bound to be a beneficiary near you.
4. Build a feral cat shelter in your yard.
Estimates of the U.S. feral cat population vary wildly, 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 these felines, 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 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 kitties can take refuge in. Repurpose a rubber storage tub, cutting an entrance in 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.
5. Donate your photography skills!
If you’re handy with a camera, volunteer at your local shelter as a pet photographer. An adoptable animal’s photo makes all the difference in determining whether they find a forever home. “Black Dog Syndrome” is a offshoot of this all too-real factor, theorizing that dark-furred dogs and cats are adopted less. However, this myth has been busted a number of researchers, including the ASPCA. “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 a blog post.
No matter the pet, everyone could use a little pizzazz to bring out their unique personality! Whether you’re a mom with a fancy DSLR or a full-time 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 and Focus On Rescue, which pairs photographers with needy rescues.
6. Put your tax refund to good use.
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 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.
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. Same goes for flea, tick and heart worm 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 – $1,000 for a canine teeth cleaning?! – 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.