By Kristine Lacoste, Pets Adviser for Pet News and Views
Animal shelters rely on volunteers as much as donations. Many operate on tiny budgets and can’t hire many staff members, so seeing a volunteer come in to help is a welcome sight.
Did you know that children can volunteer too? Here are a number of ways kids or students can help their local shelter:
1. Foster an Animal
Fostering helps raise young animals or care for those that may have to be quarantined from other animals. Other reasons for fostering might include the shelter simply being too full. Fostering helps an animal in need and can also teach children about proper animal care. If they have never been around animals as pets, this is also a good way to introduce them to the joy of animals.
Always supervise kids with the animals to ensure their safety and the safety of the animal.
2. Do-It-Yourself Fundraiser
Fundraising is an excellent way to raise money for the shelter. While some programs may offer products to be sold and a portion of the proceeds go to a recipient, you can always create your own fundraiser. The do-it-yourself fundraiser gets the kids to harness their creative side and come up with fun ideas. From lemonade stands and bake sales to car washes and book sales, the possibilities are endless.
Kids get a chance to learn about running a business and help out a worthy cause. Take pictures of their efforts and their donation of profits at the shelter and share them.
3. Get Crafty
Arts and crafts can be a way for kids to explore their creativity while making items for the animal shelter. Scraps of blankets and towels can be sewn together to make a new blanket for an animal. Items like old blankets and towels that normally get thrown away can also become great donation items.
Homemade treats can be a fun project, and of course the animals will love the results. Check the lists of toxic items for cats or dogs, depending on the type of treat you are making, to ensure they are safe.
Another idea I see often at my own local shelter is adoption signs. Kids create and decorate signs that are hung on the cages. A quick walk down the doggie aisle reveals crafty and glittered “Adopt me!” and “Take me home today!” signs.
4. Get the School Involved
Faculty and students may not be aware of the local shelter, and getting the word out at school reaches a lot of people very quickly. Talk to your child’s teachers or the faculty about ideas your child may have to raise awareness and donations for your animal shelter. The school may agree to ideas such as donation drives, art contests, raffles or other fundraisers to help the shelter. Your child can also use assignments like book reviews or show-and-tell to feature a story about an animal. You can also ask about your child being an animal shelter representative to share information, or ask about bringing in an animal to discuss proper care, emergencies and what to do if a child witnesses animal abuse.
5. Share Your Birthday
One thing I love about my local shelter is the birthday parties. Kids can have a birthday party at the shelter complete with food, cake, toys — and animals, of course! There are fun craft projects and goodie bags, and it all helps the shelter. Total win/win. Check to see if your local shelter offers birthday parties (and if not, ask them to start).
If you can’t afford a shelter party but plan to have a small gathering at home, your child might like the idea of asking people to bring items to be donated to the animal shelter in lieu of gifts.
6. Volunteering at the Shelter
There are countless ways kids can help at the shelter itself. Walking dogs, filling water bowls, feeding cats, helping clean up or even organizing supplies can be a great help. Sometimes even just being hugged or having a cuddle can make all the difference to a lonely animal.
Most shelters do have an age requirement, so be prepared to accompany your child for his or her volunteering visits. The minimum age to volunteer alone varies from 13 to 18 years old and can be different at every shelter. Check your shelter’s website or give them a call to explore your options.
7. Donate to the Pet Food Bank
Many cities have food banks for pets, where people can drop off canned or boxed food, cat litter, treats and other supplies. Check with your local shelter to find out where yours is located. Some programs that deliver food to seniors also include food for their pets if needed. If there isn’t one of these programs in your area, start one!
8. Community Cleanup
Dog parks abound, and more are being created every day. Spending a day picking up trash and waste can help keep the dog park clean for the animals and their human companions to enjoy.
9. Set an Example
Be a responsible pet owner and have your pet spayed or neutered. Explain to your child why this is necessary, and encourage others to do the same.
10. Get Social
Create flyers to be distributed to neighbors and friends to raise awareness about your local animal shelter (parents should accompany children on these outings). Invite relatives and friends to events held by the shelter. If you have a computer that your child uses, bookmark websites that donate food to animals in need through clicks on their pages.
Support sites that support shelters. Petfinder is one name I recommend. They help animals all over, and their donated supplies are constantly seen in my local shelter, further showing that they do deliver what their programs promise. Dog and cat food companies also hold contests and provide donations to shelters regularly.
Find your local shelter’s website, Facebook, Twitter and other social media accounts and share their content. Let everyone in your online social circle know that this shelter is important to you, and ask them to help out too. Check out shelter contests and challenges; sometimes just a vote can help a shelter win money and supplies.
The benefits of volunteering at an animal shelter are endless, and you can help set an example for your child to understand why animals need our help. Check out the requirements for any programs your children are interested in, always accompany them for outings, and monitor their computer usage to make sure the websites they are supporting are safe and trusted sources. Through your efforts and your family’s support, everyone can get involved and encourage others to spend some of their time helping the animal welfare community.
Do you have a great idea not listed here? Have you volunteered in a creative way and want to share it? Tell us in the comments below.
Kristine Lacoste is the managing editor of Pets Adviser, a pet advice site. She tries to find new ways to help out shelters and animals in need. Her love of pets started at a young age with cats, dogs and many frogs. For more great articles like this, check out Pets Adviser.