Area Advocacy Organizations Bring Animals and Volunteers Together
By Cindy McGovern
“The smallest act of kindness is worth more than the grandest intention.”—Oscar Wilde
It’s estimated that 7 million animals are taken to U.S. shelters every year. No one knows the exact number, because there is no requirement to report it. But suffice to say, there are a lot of animals in shelters across the country. “Seven million” normally refers to our most common companions, cats and dogs. It doesn’t begin to account for the bunnies, guinea pigs, fish, amphibians, reptiles, and birds. Then there are the large-animal rescue centers that are home to goats, sheep, pigs, and horses. All totaled, that’s a huge population of animals who hope to find safe, loving forever homes. Some of course won’t, and in that case, they will live out their lives at these shelters and facilities.
Why Does This Matter?
This homeless animal population could not be cared for without the support and dedication of a large cadre of volunteers nationwide. Some shelters have paid permanent staff, while others are 100 percent volunteer run and funded. All need volunteer support to continue their work and are always looking for help.
Each shelter or rescue facility has its own set of requirements and philosophy about rescuing and caring for animals. Before volunteering, research the facility and learn about their mission and vision for animal care to ensure it’s consistent with your own. The organizations and facilities highlighted here are intended to pique your interest, tug at your heart strings, and encourage you to seek out some of these volunteer opportunities.
What Do Volunteers Do?
Volunteer opportunities depend on the facilities and type of animals, but the list of duties is long, varied, and not glamorous. You may be washing towels and blankets used as bedding, scooping and washing litter boxes, cleaning cages, sweeping and washing floors, or restocking supplies.
Other common duties include working at adoption events, conducting home visits, photographing the animals, writing animal biographies, marketing, advertising, writing articles, designing and updating websites, transporting ill animals to veterinary appointments, and supporting fundraising events. Depending on your interests, there’s most certainly an organization with a volunteer opportunity for you. For instance:
Rikki’s Refuge (rikkisrefuge.org/) is a 450-acre, no-kill, all-species sanctuary in Orange, VA. The refuge is home to almost 1,300 animals of at least 22 different species. Given their population, Rikki’s has unique volunteer opportunities. The Grounds Gang mows the lawn, weeds, puts gravel in pens to keep the mud down, and does general landscaping duties. Another team builds and/or repairs enclosures or other buildings.
Friends of Homeless Animals (foha.org/) focuses on the rescue and placement of homeless dogs and cats in Northern Virginia and Washington, DC. It has been home to many Eagle Scout and Gold Award projects, as well as corporate or group volunteer activities.
The Animal Welfare League of Alexandria (alexandriaanimals.org/) offers students in grades 3 to 12 an opportunity to gain service hours for school through its Book Buddies program. Students are invited to read to cats (and other small animals) in the adoption room. The program helps children improve their reading skills while they offer socialization and human interaction to the animals, who find the rhythmic sound of a soft voice comforting and soothing.
What About Volunteering to Foster?
If you can open your home and heart to a homeless animal, volunteers are also needed to foster. Many animals, particularly older ones or those with medical conditions, find shelters stressful. A foster home offers them the love and stability they need to adjust to their new situation. For abused or neglected animals, fostering gives them time to learn to trust humans again. Puppies and kittens benefit from early human interaction and socialization, making them more likely to be adopted when they’re old enough.
Friends of Rabbits (friendsofrabbits.org/), an all-volunteer organization dedicated to rabbit rescue, has an active foster program. After dogs and cats, rabbits are one of the animals most commonly surrendered to U.S. shelters. FOR’s foster program provides for spay/neuter services and arranges adoptions into loving, indoor, forever homes.
Healing Hearts Rescue Group (hharg.rescuegroups.org/) focuses primarily on senior and special-needs dogs. Healing Hearts doesn’t have a brick-and-mortar shelter, and all of their dogs are with foster families until they find their forever homes. Healing Hearts provides all of their veterinary care.
Fostering does require a certain degree of selflessness, because the ultimate goal of fostering is to find a permanent, loving home for the animal. When that time comes, the fosterers must be prepared to give up their charges to their forever homes, where they will receive the love and attention they deserve. But, in many cases, the best foster may a failed one, where the animal becomes your beloved pet and stays with you and your family forever!
What Are the Requirements for Volunteering?
Just as the duties vary at each facility, so do the requirements. Most groups have training or orientation to acquaint new volunteers with their processes and procedures. Many also require a volunteer agreement and/or application.
For example, King Street Cats (kingstreetcats.org/) requires all prospective volunteers to attend a 1-hour new volunteer orientation. KSC also hosts Family Days to get entire families involved and allow students to earn service hours.
Most organizations also require volunteers to make a minimum time commitment, such as 2 hours per week or 4 hours per month for a minimum of 6 months. These requirements will be spelled out in the volunteer agreement, so before you commit, make sure you understand the expectations. This minimum commitment ensures the shelter or facility has a predictable pipeline of volunteers to staff shifts so they can plan for the care of their animals.
But however you decide to volunteer to help homeless animals, know that you’ll always get back much more than you’ll give.
In addition to the animal advocacy groups mentioned above, here are a few more local animal rescues and/or shelters that rely on volunteer support:
Animal Welfare League of Arlington (awla.org/
Dogs Deserve Better of Northern Virginia (ddbnova.org/)
Fairfax Pets on Wheels, Inc. (fpow.org/)
Homeward Trails Animal Rescue (homewardtrails.org/about/#.WVp52XmWzxg)
Humane Society of Fairfax County (hsfc.org/)
Lost Dog & Cat Rescue Foundation (lostdogrescue.org/)
Lucky Dog Animal Rescue (luckydoganimalrescue.org/)
Cindy McGovern is a volunteer at King Street Cats in Alexandria and lives in Springfield with two spoiled Siberian cats.