10 ways you and your pet can volunteer together in your community
Spring has sprung – birds are chirping, flowers are blooming and Good Samaritans across the country are channeling positive energy into National Volunteer Month in April. My friends at BISSELL are rallying local volunteers across the U.S., Canada, Mexico and Hong Kong to clean Ronald McDonald houses from top to bottom, and my adopted dog Chilly and I are planning to collect donations from our pet-loving friends and family to give to his alma mater, the SPCA Tampa Bay.
This spring, why not involve the four-legged members of your family in a volunteer effort? From helping an elderly neighbor with his/her pet to educating the public about the importance of spay and neuter programs—here are ten ways you and your pet can make a difference in your community.
- Volunteer for some “petting” time. Studies consistently show that “pet therapy” boosts spirits and calms anxieties for a wide variety of patients including people with AIDS or cancer, the elderly and the mentally ill. While there is usually a screening process required for pets to visit healthcare and nursing facilities, there are programs such as Florida’s Project PUP that help everyday pet owners get involved visiting hospitals and nursing homes once their pet is trained.
PUP stands for "Pets Uplifting People,” and, according to the group’s President Karen Tappan, the primary qualification for pet volunteers is that they must be “user friendly.” That is, they must be friendly and like people. According to Tappan, while all human volunteers and the visitor-pets are screened, with a little effort and coaching, few two- or four-footed volunteers are ever turned away. To get started as a volunteer, Tappan recommends contacting your local shelter or SPCA organization, or Googling “pet therapy” and your city.
- Give to a pet project. Volunteering usually goes hand-in-hand with philanthropy—which is the act of donating money or material possessions. Many pet-related charities offer monthly programs to help make donating to your favorite cause easy. A good way to make philanthropy more active and engaging is by organizing and hosting a fundraiser, or event designed to educate and raise money.
- Volunteer at your local shelter or animal rescue organization. Shelters across the country are in desperate need of volunteers to help with everything from walking dogs and organizing fundraising events to fostering abused or frightened animals. Volunteering at your local shelter is a great way to make a difference in the lives of many animals and, inadvertently, the lives of many people. The easiest place to start your search for your local animal shelter is online at Pets911.com, Petfinder.com or AdoptAPet.com.
- Help your neighbors help their animals. Companion animals play significant roles in the lives of the people who love them—but sometimes the elderly or ill have trouble providing essential pet care. If you see a neighbor in need, offer to assist—walk his dog, help with feeding, clean litter boxes, groom animals, pick up pet food and other supplies, drive him to the veterinarian, etc. You also can recruit a local vet to come out and care for pets of people who can’t get around easily.
- Share the love. There’s no debating that pets have a lot of love to give. Nearly six in 10 (57 percent) pet owners say their four-legged companions are more likely than a significant other to give them a kiss as soon as they walk in the door, according to BISSELL research, and 59% call their pet their snuggle buddy. If your pet has love to spare, consider visiting elderly neighbors who don’t get much company but like animals, or scheduling a play date with neighborhood kids who love animals but don’t have pets of their own.
- Clean up your community. Wild animals need protection, too. Birds, mammals and reptiles are often injured or killed by the trash we throw away. Help implement a clean-up and recycling plan in your community by organizing weekend trash clean-ups in local parks, roadsides and forests. Your efforts will help to protect wild birds, mammals and reptiles that are often injured or killed by the trash we throw away. However, if you decide to take your pet along on litter pick-up, beware of broken glass or metal that might injure your pet.
- Start a neighborhood watch program. Help prevent crime in your community and invite your friends and neighbors to do the same by starting or participating in a neighborhood crime watch. Together, you and Fido can keep an eye out for any suspicious behaviors and vandalism in your community.
- Start a pet food drive. Host pet food drives, similar to canned food drives, in central locations of your community such as shopping centers and schools. The food that is collected can be donated to a local shelter or rescue organization. You also can see if there is a pet food pantry in your area and volunteer your time to help distribute the much-needed pet food. If there isn’t, consider establishing one!
- Promote spaying and neutering. Millions of adoptable cats and dogs are euthanized in shelters every year. By spaying and neutering your animals, you’ll make sure you are not contributing to the problem. You can take this a step further by developing a spay/neuter outreach program in your community. The ASPCA offers a Spay/Neuter Database where you can see who in your community offers low-cost spay/neuter programs. Create flyers promoting the organizations that offer discounts in your area and pass them out (with your pet’s help) at central locations in your community.
- Organize a spring pet party. Grab your friends, family and neighbors and bake homemade dog bones to give to your local shelter or organize a massive pet wash and grooming session with the proceeds benefiting a local pet rescue. Maybe your pet party is held at your local dog park or neighborhood playground. Before or after the party, have everyone chip in to help clean up litter (and you know what else).
Of course, these are just a few ways you and Fido or Fluffy can give back to the community this spring – we’d love for you to share your own ideas and suggestions on our Facebook page. Happy volunteering!