Pet Columns, Office of Public Engagement, College of Veterinary Medicine at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

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Help Pets in Need During National Volunteer Month

Pet Column for the week of March 31, 2008

Related information:

Services - Human-Animal Bond

Office of Public Engagement
2001 S. Lincoln Ave.
Urbana, Illinois 61802
Phone: 217/333-2907
Sarah Dowling
Information Specialist

Humane societies, animal shelters, and private pet rescue organizations around the nation rely on members of their communities to donate whatever time, money, and supplies they can spare in order to keep their doors open to animals in need. Since April 1 marks the beginning of National Volunteer Month, now is the perfect time to begin or continue being involved with your local animal shelter.

It may seem hard to believe, but not everyone thinks of taking a trip to the shelter when it comes time to add a new family member to their household. Take the time to spread the word about the pets that are up for adoption and the services that your local shelter offers.

Helping out your local shelter can be as easy as suggesting that friends check out the many adoptable dogs, cats, and non-traditional animals waiting for companionship at the shelter instead of purchasing a pet from a breeder or pet store. Once your friends experience the feeling of pride and gratification that comes with adopting a shelter animal they will be hooked!

The dedicated individuals that work at these shelters do everything they can to ensure that the animals within their walls are healthy, comfortable, and well loved, but they still need our help. Another great way to lend a hand to the humane society is by volunteering some of your free time to socialize animals waiting to be adopted, clean cages, or complete other tasks around the shelter.

According to the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals there are approximately 8 to 12 million companion animals entering animal shelters across the United States each year. Just think about the amount of time your dog or cat at home expects from you each day, whether it is time spent sitting in your lap, walking around the neighborhood, or playing with their favorite toys. Now multiply this by 8 to 12 million pets.

Unfortunately, there is just no way that every pet in every shelter will receive the attention and socialization it needs without your help. Whether you have two hours or just 20 minutes to spend each week volunteering at your local shelter it is important to know that every little bit can make a difference in the lives of these animals.

If you think allergies to animals will stand in your way of becoming an animal shelter volunteer, think again. Shelters are always looking for individuals to stuff envelopes for mailings, help publicize adoption events, or teach humane education at local schools.

Of course, monetary donations are always appreciated. Since every penny counts when caring for so many animals, even if all you can do is donate your pocket change at the end of the week you will end up making a difference. Volunteering at fundraisers is another great way to contribute if you are unable to donate money yourself.

You can even start your own fundraising event such as a pet-friendly bake sale, walk-a-thon, or dog wash and donate the money you raise to a shelter or rescue group. The smiling faces, wagging tails, and happy purrs that greet your donation will definitely make your hard work worthwhile.

Millions of households every year open their home to pets in need either through adoption or fostering. One of the most rewarding decisions you can make is the one to help a pet in need by giving them a home for life, adopted animals will reward your kindness with as many licks, purrs, and cuddles that their little bodies can muster.

Foster homes also provide a much needed outlet for the already overflowing shelters around the country. These devoted individuals and families are especially important for shy or timid animals that may not be as outgoing in a shelter environment. Foster homes allow these animals to relax and show their true lovable personalities, which can drastically increase their chances of adoption.

Another easy way to help shelters is by donating food, toys, treats, old blankets, towels, and other items. Caring for so many animals is extremely expensive, and many shelters struggle to find the money to provide their animals with food and basic health care, let alone luxury items like treats and toys. The toys, treats, and other things you donate will go a long way towards providing these animals the enrichment they need to help keep boredom at bay while they are waiting for their forever homes.

Make National Volunteer Month an important event in your family by volunteering and learning how to help your community together. To learn about more ways to lend a hand or to sign up to volunteer, please contact your local animal shelter and pet rescue organizations.