Volunteers save animals' lives. You can save animals' lives by getting involved with any number of organizations working to make the world a more humane place. You don't have to be a super hero with nerves of steel-you just have to have the time and the willingness to be a part of the solution by working on behalf of the animals who need your help.
There are nearly 20,000 animal-oriented organizations in the United States, each tackling some element of animal protection, from advocacy and outreach to direct care or wildlife rehabilitation to rabbit, horse, dog, bird or cat adoption. The trick to becoming a successful volunteer is to narrow down exactly how you might want to get involved, how much time you have to spare and how to best leverage your skills to help where the need is the greatest.
Whether it's cleaning cages, walking dogs, lobbying lawmakers or any number of other activities, nonprofits offer many ways for volunteers to get involved. Other opportunities include providing foster care to needy animals in your home, providing administrative support, staffing tables at events, helping to provide volunteer leadership or serving on a fundraising committee or board of directors. Not every volunteer job is super time-intensive; many groups are designing volunteer work to attract people with all levels of availability.
You'll want to think and dream about the ideal volunteer opportunity-what would it look like in terms of time commitment, the actual work you might be asked to do, and the impact you might be able to have? Once you've narrowed your focus, you can search out the opportunities that might be a good fit.
The Humane Society of the United States has a national volunteer center that connects people with opportunities to get involved in our programs, including caring for animals at one of our five animal care centers, sanctuary monitoring, responding to disasters and getting involved in grassroots advocacy. Go to humanesociety.org/volunteer to learn more and get involved. If the opportunities at The HSUS aren't the right match, you can also explore volunteermatch.org to connect with those near to you and in your area of interest.
Regardless of what program catches your eye, connect with them to learn more and find out what they're looking for in a volunteer. There are lots of options so don't settle for an opportunity that won't be a good fit.
Instead, keep looking for the one that will bring you the joy and fulfillment that a great volunteer experience can offer. Talk to your friends about where they volunteer and their experiences. People who enjoy their volunteer work usually can't stop talking about how much they enjoy what they're doing.
Volunteering isn't just about warm fuzzies. Working with animals is sure to involve lots of those, but beyond that, it's about being able to take action on your values and ideals. Animals bring so much to our lives and deserve our respect. How better to demonstrate your compassion than working on their behalf? Volunteers help to amplify the work of organizations in ways that allow them to expand their reach and do even more good work. Volunteers have the opportunity to learn new skills, make connections with like-minded people, work with animals they're not familiar with and be educated on issues that make a difference in the lives of animals.
It's easy in this hectic culture of ours to feel "too busy" to volunteer. It's also easy to over-commit. While being realistic is critical, when a volunteer is in a role that's the right fit, many people find it's not too difficult to make time.
A little bit of effort goes a long way, making the difference in the lives of the staff doing the work, and of course in the lives of the animals as well.
Hilary Hager is the Director of the National Volunteer Center at The Humane Society of the United States and a long-time volunteer.
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For more information, please visit www.humanesociety.org/volunteer.