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Animals want you to volunteer

10 ways to help animals in your community and around the world

All Animals magazine, March/April 2017

By Kelly L. Williams

Illustrations by Shaina Lieberman

From fostering kitties to donating your special skills, here are 10 ways you can volunteer your time for animals. Photos by Mharvey/istock.com (dog) and tom_iurchenko/istock.com (hat).

The inspiration to help can strike at a young age. For Jurnee Carr, it hit at 13, when she visited an animal shelter for the first time. Carr wondered what happened to the animals who weren’t adopted, so she started researching the rates of shelter intakes and euthanasia. “And I said something has got to be done about this.”

Motivated by her desire to help, Carr began volunteering with The HSUS as a youth advisor. Now 22, she runs a nonprofit that encourages spay/neuter and animal adoption, and she’s an HSUS district leader and faith outreach volunteer in her Tennessee hometown. Carr has advice for anyone wanting to get involved in animal protection: “Look around, see what needs to be changed, and just do something about it.”

“How can I help?” is one of the most frequent questions The HSUS hears, and it’s a question we’re happy to answer. With the wide range of animal issues we take on, there are many ways for supporters to become more deeply engaged with our work, or with the work of one of the thousands of other groups we consider friends and allies. And if you’re strapped for time, don’t let that deter you: Even a one-time commitment of two or three hours can make a difference.

First, think through the type of involvement you want, suggests HSUS director of volunteer engagement Hilary Hager. Hands-on animal work (helping the HSUS Animal Rescue Team) or behind-the-scenes support (calling supporters during a critical legislative campaign)? With others (attending Humane Lobby Day) or alone (driving dogs to an adoption event)? And how much time can you realistically commit?

Next, visit volunteermatch.org to search for local volunteer opportunities based on the issues you care about. Then, consider how to be an effective volunteer. “What I’m looking for in a volunteer is somebody who’s passionate and committed,” says Lea Ann Gross, volunteer coordinator for Maryland’s Montgomery County Animal Services and Adoption Center. Also important? Flexibility. “Having volunteers who are able to roll with the punches a little bit is really invaluable,” adds Hager. Then get to work. “Magic happens when people’s interests are in alignment with the organization’s needs,” says Hager.

If you’re still not sure how your skills and interests could be of use, read on. We’ve got a few ideas that might just spark some magic of your own.

  • Lead the pack by becoming an HSUS district leader volunteer. Photo by mishkom/istock.com.

Lead the pack

As an HSUS district leader volunteer, you’ll be an ambassador for animal welfare in your congressional district. Under the guidance of your HSUS state director, you’ll develop professional relationships with lawmakers, advocate for animal-friendly legislation and spread the HSUS message in your community. Click here to learn more.

Bring the kids

At the Montgomery County adoption center, Gross manages children’s programs that both help the shelter and let kids “see if this might be a career path that they’re interested in.” Gross encourages the next generation of advocates by letting them make rope toys, help maintain grounds for the dog-walkers, read to the animals and more.

  • Even if you only have an extra bathroom, fostering homeless animals makes a huge difference in their lives. Photos by gurinaleksandr/istock.com (kittens) and SynchR/istock.com and LokFung/istock.com (bathroom items).

Welcome a new (temporary) family member

Even if you can’t commit to weekly volunteer shifts, you can still help by fostering homeless animals for a local shelter or rescue group. Since shelters are often short on space, taking an animal in to your home temporarily can help them save more lives, and help the pooch or kitty in question get ready for a new home. “If you have an extra bathroom where you can stash a mom and a litter of kittens,” says Hager, “it makes absolutely a huge difference in the lives of animals.”

Keep the faith

By organizing a Fill the Bowl project to collect pet supplies at your church, you’ll join your spiritual beliefs with your passion for animals. If you can spare a few hours each week, become a Faith Outreach volunteer and work alongside The HSUS to promote animal protection within your faith community. Learn more at humanesociety.org/faith.

  • Phone-banking is a great way to use your voice to help animals. Photos by GlobalP/istock.com (dog) and puruan/istock.com (phone).

Pick up the phone

Natural chatterbox? Look for HSUS phone-banking opportunities at humanesociety.org/volunteers. It’s a great chance to meet your neighbors as you share reasons why an animal-friendly ballot initiative or local ordinance deserves their support.

Hustle for supplies

Shelters, rescues and sanctuaries nearly always need items such as food, towels and enrichment toys. Ask your favorite group what they need (that’s key—sometimes groups can get overwhelmed with items they won’t use). Then set up a supply drive at work or school. The best part? Dropping off your bounty and getting quality time with the furry recipients. Go to theshelterpetproject.org to find a local organization.

Join the team

You’ve read about the life-changing work of the HSUS Animal Rescue Team—and with some training, you can be part of it. “Volunteers can be based anywhere, and we will deploy them to wherever the case is,” says Hager. Yes, you’ll see cruelty and neglect, but you’ll also help make sure that animals in need get the compassionate care they deserve. Click here to learn more.

  • Watch out for wildlife! Look for volunteering opportunities unique to the wildlife in your area. Photos by Robin Lindsey (seal) and OliaFedorovsky/istock.com (sunglasses).

Watch out for wildlife

Sure, you’ve watched human babies, but did you know you can babysit a seal pup? “When there’s a baby seal on the beach, volunteers stand there and watch guard until Mom gets back,” Hager says of a Seattle seal-watching group. Check with wildlife organizations or HSUS-affiliated care centers in your area for opportunities to protect animals native to your state or region.

Do what you do best

Small nonprofits can rarely afford to hire full-time graphic designers, copywriters, data analysts, photographers, lawyers or social media managers. If you’ve got particular skills—creative, technical or otherwise— think about ways you might use them for animals. Start by offering to work on a special project (like writing a year-end appeal letter or designing an annual report) and see where that takes you.

  • Check out Humane Lobby Day opportunities in your state—and in D.C.—to take your concern for animals to the lawmakers who can enact real change. Photos by Meinzahn/istock.com (Capitol) and handhead/istock.com (flag).

Take it right to the top

Take your concern for animals to your state capitol. Join like-minded advocates for a yearly Humane Lobby Day, where you'll talk with your legislators about laws that protect animals. You don't have to go it alone—HSUS staff will be there to guide you. "I've been advocating myself for many, many years, and I didn't realize that I could be part of a group of lobbyists," says Carr. "It has been incredible."

To volunteer with The HSUS, check out this page to see opportunities by state.

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