While numerous organizations offer volunteering experiences, choosing to do so at an animal shelter is a fun and rewarding path.
What do volunteers do?
I volunteer at the Williamson County Regional Animal Shelter (WCRAS). WCRAS and other similar shelters are no-kill and open admission shelters, and must take in every animal surrendered by owners and animal control, as well as any strays. The shelter strives to save 90% of its animals, which is harder than it sounds, as they are restricted by lack of adequate space, government funding, and staff members. Thus WCRAS relies on donations and volunteers to function properly.
Volunteers walk and play with animals while giving lots of love to the animals to help them cope with the sometimes stressful experience at the shelter. Care should be taken around the animals, as they can be ill, scared, or act difficult in the presence of other animals. Volunteers can also foster animals, taking care of them for a short time period at their own home to relieve stress for the animal and the busy animal shelter or help animals find new homes with potential adopters.
Other duties at the animal shelter involve working at fundraising events, cleaning kennels, doing laundry, transporting animals, taking photos, and working on the shelter's website. It is even possible to train to become a surgical assistant to the veterinarians and technicians who perform spays and neuters. Volunteering is not restricted to one job at an animal shelter, and volunteers can choose to work strictly with dogs and cats.
Williamson County Regional Animal Shelter accepts applications online or in person. The application form and more information about their shelter is on their website, pets.wilco.org. The application is easy to fill out and typically takes a week to approve, as the application requires a background check and a signed liability form. To officially become a volunteer, one must attend one of the two monthly one-and-a-half hour long orientation sessions held each month and read the manual on the WCRAS website detailing the rules of the shelter and animal handling. Volunteers must work 6 hours a month and log their hours on the website.
If WCRAS is too far for you, consider applying to another great animal shelter, Austin Pets Alive, at austinpetsalive.org. They also have online applications, similar volunteer options, and a mandatory orientation session that requires a fee. If you don't want to work at a shelter, consider donating money, food, blankets, or toys as another way to help out. You can also help the shelters by adopting a pet and offering a happy home, or spaying or neutering your current pets to reduce the number of animals who end up in shelters.
Even if you're not pre-vet, volunteering at an animal shelter is still a wonderful experience. It's a great way to learn how to interact with animals, see what goes into running a shelter, observe surgeries, and improve your social skills. Shelters are in need of long-term, dedicated volunteers. Who doesn't want to spend their weekends playing with cute dogs and cats?