You don’t have to be an animal expert to help out at your community’s shelter. You just need to have the time and desire to lend a helping hand. And it doesn’t have to be a lot of time, either. In fact, whatever you do for a living, you’re bound to have skills and talents that your local shelter can use.
1. Go To School!
Dog school, that is. Grab a handful of tasty treats, find a suitable canine and get to class. Helping teach shelter dogs to sit, stay, walk calmly on a leash or shake paws will make them infinitely more adoptable. The Humane Society and SPCA of Austin, TX, for example, boasts a team of volunteers who spend their time playing with puppies and taking adolescent dogs to obedience classes. Other helpers pursue more advanced training and learn how to evaluate temperaments and match adopters with suitable dogs.
2. Get Your Shelter Online
Can you give your community’s homeless animals the “cybershelter” advantage? This is a wonderful way for teens who aren’t yet old enough to become volunteers to get involved. They can take photos and write descriptions of the animals with staff assistance, and help keep current the shelter’s online list of available animals. Animals’ photos and descriptions can also be posted in public areas at work, school and around town.
3. Adopt ASPCA’s Meet Your Match®
Ask your shelter to adopt ASPCA’s Meet Your Match® , a program expertly designed to help adopters select the right pet for them. The program's Adopter Survey and Canine-ality™, Puppy-ality™, or Feline-ality™ Assessment and fun color-coding system fit together like the pieces of a puzzle, creating picture-perfect adoptions for shelter animals and their new owners.
4. Let’s Make It Legal!
Shelters always seem to be in need of volunteers with professional legal skills. Dixie Dixon, a corporate lawyer who joined the board of the Pennsylvania SPCA, got started by reviewing copyright notices of a video about euthanasia, and she’s since joined the Animal Legal Defense Fund.
5. Work It, Baby!
Designate a day for co-workers to donate spare change or pool their tips for the benefit of the shelter. Make it an event! Publicize it with flyers and signs, and remind everyone about the important work that the shelter does. A restaurant might ask local celebs to volunteer as wait staff for the evening—with regular staff assisting. A hair salon might time their event to coordinate with the shelter’s “dog wash” benefit to promote well-coifed pets and owners. Or your company, for example, might sponsor a Saturday car wash.
6. Cats Up Close and Purrsonal
You may want to satisfy your need for feline contact by spending time socializing shelter cats. “Our volunteers are dedicated to making the cats purr,” explains Connie Barker, a volunteer with Friends of San Clemente Animals in California. “They spend time each day playing with the cats, getting to know them, grooming them and generally keeping them as happy as they can be, given the inherent stress of being in a shelter.” And based on input from “feline socializers,” adoptions counselors can make better placements.
7. Do You Have the Write Stuff?
Then write or start a newsletter! It’s a great way to keep members, supporters, adopters and the public informed about what the shelter does and what it needs. Many shelters rely on volunteers to write articles, and some newsletters are produced entirely by volunteers. If you’re not so verbally inclined, you might prefer the designing and publishing end of it, or work on creating or updating the mailing list. Be sure to include heartwarming stories and a donation envelope!
8. Throw a Party!
Organize an event for all your friends, and donate the proceeds to the shelter. Any kind of social event—a clam bake, a Super Bowl party, a jazz brunch or a dog walk—is a great way to make new friends and raise money. Each year, as the word gets out, more people are bound to attend, and before you know it, your group will have a major fund-raising event.
9. If You Had a Hammer…
If you’re handy, you’re hired! The Sea Bees, a naval reserve group in Frankfort, NY, volunteered their manpower to the Herkimer County Humane Society in Mohawk, NY. They took down walls and expanded the shelter, built an isolation ward and constructed a much-needed storage area. More modest projects might include a jungle-gym-style cattery, complete with tree branches or carpeted columns for climbing.
10. The Numbers Game
Shelters on a shoestring can reap enormous benefits from the guidance of a caring accountant. To operate smoothly, any non-profit must keep good records, but if you add animal control contracts and the reports for state and local departments, it can all seem overwhelming—except to an accountant!
Don’t know where your local shelter is? Check out our directory  for a list.
This information was adapted from an article written by Lisa Saavedra that appeared in the Summer 2000 issue of ASPCA Animal Watch.