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Dog waiting to be adopted in animal shelter

Giving back: Expectations as an animal shelter volunteer

Pets are awesome! Ever feel like you want to give back to the community or want to hang out with dogs, because you only have a cat? You can get your fix by volunteering at a local animal shelter. Not only will you meet some great people, but you can also make a huge difference in the lives of many animals. 

Volunteering at an animal shelter is a very rewarding experience, but there are expectations you need to meet. Learn the animal shelter volunteer responsibilities are:

  • Be willing to wait a while before being accepted an animal shelter volunteer. Many shelters have a backlog of applicants, and it can take a few months before they can schedule an orientation.
  • Be comfortable with a fairly extensive application process, reference checks and, in some cases, fingerprinting.
  • Be able to commit to a certain number of hours per month (this will vary by shelter).
  • Be willing to follow the rules and procedures as determined by that particular organization. They are there for everyone’s safety, including the animals in your care. 
  • Be willing to work in lower-level programs before being allowed to cross-train in higher-level or different types of programs. (For example, you might have to do basic dog care for a certain number of hours before moving up a level to dog training, or being allowed to cross-train in cat care or the low-cost clinic.)
  • Be willing to purchase a volunteer shirt and adhere to a minimal dress code (for safety purposes)—long pants, volunteer shirt, sensible shoes, etc. 

Why Volunteer at Animal Shelters
Volunteering can have additional benefits beyond helping pets. If you have an employment gap or are looking to make a career switch, a history of increasing involvement and responsibility at a shelter can be as valuable as a real job.

The best thing of all—every time you volunteer you have the chance to change, or even save, an animal’s life. You may not think that your half hour of dog or cat socialization after work matters much in the grand scheme of things, but taken cumulatively with everyone else’s half hours throughout the days and weeks, it can make a huge difference. That’s a great feeling!


Jaime Migdal, CPDT KA, is the founder and CEO of Fetchfind, a talent recruitment and services organization dedicated to the pet industry.

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