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How to Help Dogs in Shelters & Rescues: 13 Vet-Approved Volunteering Ideas

Written by: Misty Layne

Last Updated on June 14, 2024 by Dogster Team

woman adopting dog at the shelter

How to Help Dogs in Shelters & Rescues: 13 Vet-Approved Volunteering Ideas


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Dr. Lauren Demos

DVM (Veterinarian)

The information is current and up-to-date in accordance with the latest veterinarian research.

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Most towns will have a local pet shelter that provides a safe space for dogs and cats who have been left on their own, run away, or have never had owners. Shelters typically rely on financial assistance from their local government to stay open and maintain the hard work they do, as well as community support.

While fees from pet adoptions help cover some operational costs, donations from the community are also vital. Pet rescues often rely significantly on donations, too.

Maybe you don’t have money to donate at the moment but still want to help out the dogs at your local shelter or rescue organization. How can you do so? We’re here to clue you in on 13 excellent ways you can help the dogs being harbored in your town’s shelter or a nearby rescue!

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The 13 Ways to Help Dogs in Shelters & Rescues

1. Adopt or Foster a Dog

Adopting a dog is obviously one of the best ways to help out the dogs in your local shelter or rescue, but adopting isn’t always possible due to time or financial restraints. If that’s the case, you may want to consider fostering a dog in need. Fostering is only a temporary commitment, and though it may not seem like much, it can help a shelter immensely. Offering your home temporarily can ease overfull shelters by letting them make room for new dogs and cats.

Fostering is also far less of a financial commitment. Often, shelters will handle medical care for the dog you’re fostering and may even loan you crates and toys. Plus, fostering is highly rewarding for you!

family adopting an older puppy
Image Credit: hedgehog94, Shutterstock

2. Donate Needed Items

Money donations are fantastic and sorely needed, but they aren’t the only kind of donation that shelters and rescues need. Dogs in need at these kinds of places use many items each day that can wear out quickly, so why not see what your local organization needs and donate some of these items?

Just a few of the things shelters need plenty of are blankets, toys, towels, brushes, cleaning supplies, and newspapers. You may have some of these things lying around the house; if not, you can probably find some for relatively cheap at a thrift store.

These organizations also need plenty of food and formula because dogs and puppies need food every day, so organizations go through it insanely fast. Before you donate anything, though, especially food, check the shelter or rescue organization’s website to see their donation policies or if there are specific products and/or brands they need.

3. Gather Supplies

Sometimes, shelters and rescues need the help of vehicles, so you could step in there. This is especially true when these places must pick up or drop off various supplies. You could even coordinate with the shelter to find out if they need assistance with any other vehicle needs.

Another way to help gather essential supplies, such as blankets and toys, is by asking other pet parents if they have items they could donate.

person preparing donation box for animal shelter
Image Credit: Veja, Shutterstock

4. Help Create Positive Change

How can you help create positive change, and how will that aid the dogs at your local shelter or rescue? Well, sometimes the work these places do to help dogs and other animals is hindered by a budget that doesn’t quite cover their needs or outdated local ordinances that harm rather than help.

You can help these organizations change these things by reaching out to local officials, rallying support from your community, and working with organizations to make needed changes come about. Change like this will go a long way to improving the lives of dogs staying in shelters or rescues.

5. Interact on Social Media

Maybe your friends and family aren’t aware of the organizations in your town that help dogs or don’t know of all the things they do to keep dogs safe and happy. Becoming a fan of these organizations on social media means you can invite friends and family to also become fans so they can stay up-to-date with what’s happening.

It also means you can share posts, such as pictures of adorable pups waiting to be adopted, to help spread the word. Engagement is key when it comes to social media, so the more engagement your local organizations receive, the better off they’ll be.

woman using her phone in the city
Image Credit: ImYanis, Shutterstock

6. Make DIY Toys

Perhaps you’d love to donate some toys to the dogs in your local shelter, but you don’t have the funds to buy any. Why not DIY toys instead? You can make all sorts of dog toys from items lying around your house, like old socks, water bottles, and yarn.

The dogs certainly won’t care whether the toys are fancy or not; they’ll simply be thrilled to receive them. You’ll absolutely brighten their day!

7. Offer Assistance with Transportation

Remember how we mentioned that shelters and rescue organizations sometimes need vehicles to gather supplies or drop off animals? Well, sometimes they also need dependable rides (and drivers) to transport animals.

A place might need someone to drive a dog to the vet, take them to a different shelter with more room, or take them to an adoption event. Even if you only have a small amount of free time, being available to drive a dog in need can help them immensely!

jack russell terrier dog in the car wearing safety harness
Image Credit: eva_blanco, Shutterstock

8. Organize a Fundraiser

You might not be in a position to donate money to a shelter or rescue at the moment, but other people may be, so why not organize a fundraiser and donate the proceeds? If you’re the sporty type, you could sign up for a marathon of some kind that raises money for dogs and other animals.

Or you might go old school and hold a bake sale to raise funds. And if you work somewhere open to the public, you could convince your work to have a day where a certain percentage of the proceeds coming in is donated to a shelter or rescue.

9. Raise Awareness

We mentioned previously that by interacting with your local shelter or rescue on social media, you could help spread the word about their going-ons, which is an excellent way to raise awareness for the dogs staying there. You can raise awareness in other ways, too, like posting fliers around town about the pets waiting to be adopted that include information about upcoming adoption events.

Or you can raise awareness via word of mouth by telling everyone you know about the work your shelter is doing and the dogs there; then, have them tell more people!

Female volunteer with homeless dogs at animal shelter outdoors
Image Credit: New Africa, Shutterstock

10. Share Usable Skills

Almost everybody has a specialized skill set of some kind, so why not use yours to help the dogs at a nearby shelter or rescue? Maybe you’re a lawyer; you could offer up free legal services. Or perhaps you have a skill like copywriting or social media marketing and can help organizations with that.

And if you’re handy, you may want to check with your shelter to see if they need anything fixed or built. Not only are you ensuring more dogs find fur-ever homes, but doing volunteer work like this can be highly rewarding for you!

11. Take Pictures of Dogs at the Shelter

This one falls under sharing your skill set but deserves its own listing. If you’re a photographer (professional or hobbyist), you can help the dogs at your local organizations immensely by taking adorable photos of them to be posted online and on social media.

The cuter a dog picture is, the more people will like and share it, which increases the chances of that pup being adopted. So, if you’re fantastic at taking adorable dog photos, talk with your local organization to see if they need help with this!

man in volunteer shirt petting a dog in a shelter
Image Credit: Max kegfire, Shutterstock

12. Use an App

Do you already have a dog that you walk often, or do you simply love taking walks by yourself? Did you know you can earn donations for your local animal charities by walking? It’s true! Apps like WoofTrax let you earn money while you’re out walking your pup or taking a stroll on your own. This is one simple way to help dogs in need!

13. Walk Dogs

Speaking of walking dogs—why not volunteer to walk dogs at your local animal rescue organization? Shelters and rescues have tons of dogs that need to be walked often, so this is another easy way you can help them out and make a dog in need super happy.

Not only does this ensure dogs get the exercise they require, but it also helps them to become better socialized. Plus, you get to enjoy getting exercise and lots of puppy love!

Dog walker with dogs
Image Credit: hedgehog94, Shutterstock

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It might seem as if donating money to shelters or rescues is the only way to help dogs in need, but there are several ways you can help these pups. Consider what skills and resources you have, then volunteer to use those to help your local shelter or rescue. They’ll surely appreciate it, and you’ll be helping dogs stay safe and happy!

Featured Image Credit: encierro, Shutterstock

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