Perhaps you are a dedicated dog lover but for one or many reasons, cannot currently have a dog of your own. You may live in a dormitory or apartment complex which is not dog-friendly. Your parents may say, “no way!” when you beg and plead with them to let you have a dog. Perhaps you are financially unable to assume full-time dog ownership responsibilities. Maybe you travel a lot for work, or your young child has severe allergies to canines.
Whatever the reason, there are plenty of ways to “get your doggy fix” while helping homeless dogs in need.
Your first step will be determining what shelter or rescue organization you would like to work with. Petfinder will be a helpful resource here. If you visit the site, you will notice that below the “pet search” is widget for “finding animal welfare groups.” You can use this search to pull up a listing of shelter and rescue organizations which are in your geographic area or region. If you have an affinity for a particular breed, you can search for that breed among the listing returns to see if there are any breed-specific rescue organizations in your area. Many national breed clubs also provide links to breed specific rescues on their pages.
Keep in mind while you are searching that there is a difference between shelters and rescues. Shelters are government funded organizations which temporarily house a municipality’s stray dogs. Shelters often are severely overcrowded and have policies in place where animals are only kept for a certain number of days (usually between three and seven) before they are euthanized. Shelters cannot and do not generally invest in rehabilitating animals which are physically or behaviorally unwell. A shelter is the proverbial “pound.” Dogs are housed on-site in kennels.
Rescue organizations are private or non-profit entities which place homeless pets in foster homes with approved volunteers until permanent forever homes can be located. Rescues may specialize in a particular breed, a particular species (dogs), or may place a number of species (farm animals, reptiles, etc.). Rescue organizations are not government sponsored but rely on donations, adoption fees, and the generosity and hard work of volunteers to best care for their charges. Frequently, rescue organizations will accept a dog which would have been quickly euthanized for medical (and sometimes behavioral) reasons at a shelter.
Both shelter and rescue organizations need help. Finding the right one for you may take some time and is worthy of another blog entry of its own. Do: a) visit the facility b) talk with some of the volunteers and c) ask what type of volunteer services they are seeking before you make your decision. Here are a few of the many, many ways you may be able to help your local shelter or rescue organization:
Maintenance– are you a handy man? Due to lack of funding many facilities are in relative disrepair. I know of many shelters that would love someone who is able to help with a fresh coat of paint or mend a broken fence when needed. In addition to basic “fix its,” shelters do often require someone to help out with routine sanitation – cleaning litterboxes, mopping floors, cleaning out dog runs, washing the food and water bowls, etc.
Administrative assistance! – rescues and shelters may have office duties which rival those of a business; including filing, data entry, writing up adoptable animal bios for petfinder profiles, returning phone calls, processing applications for potential adopters, following up on references, arranging pet transport schedules, and scheduling home visits, etc.
Home visits – Many rescue organizations will not adopt an animal into a home without first sending a volunteer to evaluate the home environment. Is this a safe home for a dog and, more specifically, a good match for this particular dog? What type of fencing is in place, if the rescue has fencing requirements? Is the property pet-friendly? Do other resident pets appear happy and healthy?
Transports – do you love road trips? If so, you may be a great pet transporter! Often, pets are brought from areas where the euthanasia rate for homeless animals is high to areas where the euthanasia rate is much lower, hopefully optimizing the number of dogs which are able to someday enjoy a forever home. This may involve travel across many counties or states, for one or more dogs. If you choose to do pet transport, you may work with one or multiple organizations. Drivers are usually expected to drive a “leg,” not lasting more than a few hours generally in what is like a “doggy rescue relay race,” meeting at prearranged points on the route to transfer the dog from transporter to transporter.
Training – When a dog learns a few basic life skills, s/he automatically becomes infinitely more adoptable. It is relatively easy to teach any dog to sit, lie down, pay attention when asked, walk politely on a loose leash, and, perhaps as a bonus, do one cute trick like “shake” or “high 5.” A dog that can do this is virtually guaranteed a good home!
Educational Material Development – Do you like writing? Perhaps you might want to submit an article that you think would be of value to newly adoptive pet parents. (Hint – potty training, finding a good trainer or vet, choosing the right dog for you, introducing new pets to resident pets, choosing the right crate for your dog, etc., are all popular topics!)
Fundraising – I’ve never heard a rescue or shelter organization claim to be “overfunded.” Many struggle desperately to make ends meet while providing optimal care for their charges and would be thrilled to receive help from volunteer fund raisers. In addition to fundraising, you may also be able to help coordinate “supply drives,” collecting donations of food, toys, towels, etc.
Dog walking – Many shelters in particular appreciate volunteer dog walkers. The shelter environment can be highly stressful for dogs and getting out of that environment for some fresh air and physical activity can be a huge stress reliever for many dogs and in fact, will likely be the highlight of his or her day (not to mention yours!).
Fostering – Foster parents are volunteers who bring a dog into their home temporarily (and sometimes, admittedly, permanently!) until the dog is able to be placed in a forever home. During this time, the foster parent will often provide the dog with basic training, inform the rescue of any behavior or medical problems which develop throughout the fostering period, assess the animal’s reaction to other pets and people, etc.
This list is by no means intended to be exhaustive! Can you think of other ways to help homeless pets? If so, please list your suggestions in the comments!