Volunteering During COVID
By Steph Selice
Over the last 2 1/2 years, animal service organizations around the world have stepped up to meet the unique challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic with help from millions of devoted professional staff and dedicated volunteers. Though many U.S. shelters and rescues cut back on their public hours to meet CDC guidelines, they continued to adopt animals out to pet lovers. And they still offer ongoing care for all their animals, day in day out.
Just as animal rescue groups face even greater strains on their staffing, finances, logistics, and supplies, many folks who love pets still want to help. If you volunteer during this pandemic, what options do you have, and what should you be aware of?
Animal Rescues Are Thinking Outside the Box
The unprecedented use of virtual meetings and events and online training since March 2020 has helped many animal rescues manage tasks from training staff and volunteers to fundraising and marketing. Rescues have adapted their volunteer offerings, from asking pet lovers to come in and comfort their animals during Fourth of July celebrations, to running fundraisers (even galas) online using virtual resources, to finding new ways to pair dog walkers with potential pets who need exercise.
Check on your local rescue websites for their current volunteer opportunities, which may keep evolving along with the pandemic. Most organizations will ask you to fill out an application form online and interview or attend an orientation and training sessions, virtually and/or in person. Some kinds of volunteer work that involve contact with children or special-needs groups might require further training and a background check. Much of the latter can be done online, except for in-person interviewing and fingerprinting.
Fostering and Ongoing Pet Care Are Always in Demand
One of the most promising improvements in animal rescue since 2020 has been the boom in fostering of potential pets nationwide. Hundreds of thousands of Americans have stepped up to foster animals when shelters were short of staffing and financial resources. This demand and its many rewards won’t end after the pandemic. Consider talking with your local animal rescue about how you and your household could become a foster family on their roster of reliable humans. They will train you and put you in touch with current fosters who’ll tell you about the best gig they’ve ever had.
The day-to-day care of shelter animals (above all, routine and emergency veterinary care) remains the biggest strain on a rescue’s finances and resources. Many rescues offer programs that allow volunteer adults (and sometimes, supervised children) to help with daily care for some animals, including feeding and site cleaning. Other needs might include helping with animal adoptions, staffing booths at public events or pet supply stores, driving pets to and from vet appointments, picking up adoptable animals from airports or distant shelters, helping with routine grooming or medicating, making shopping trips for supplies, and coordinating exercise or playtime. Ask your rescue’s volunteer coordinator about their current needs.
Rescue Groups Need Your Business and Life Skills
Animal rescue groups welcome volunteers who have skills and connections in finance, tech, fundraising, advertising, marketing, public relations, education, social media, training, construction and maintenance, logistics, and transportation, among many others. Because every nonprofit rescue has had to become even more savvy about running a successful organization in challenging times, your knowledge and work experience are in high demand.
No matter what your interests or professional background, you and your family have expertise that your local rescue would love to call on you for. Just ask them.
It’s Important to Keep Yourself and Your Rescue Friends Healthy
Most rescues will require you to be vaccinated for COVID-19 and to be free of COVID symptoms and other infectious illnesses if you visit or volunteer. They may also require you to follow mask and other safety guidelines. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says in its most recent pandemic update: “The virus that causes COVID-19 can spread from people to animals during close contact. Pets worldwide, including cats and dogs, have been infected with the virus that causes COVID-19, mostly after close contact with people with COVID-19. . . . The risk of pets spreading COVID-19 to people is low.”
Keep up to date on COVID-19 by checking the websites for the CDC and the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA; see Resources).
Even in challenging times like these, volunteering at an animal rescue is doable, fulfilling, and fun. And it could be just what some deserving and lovable creatures near you want and need.
About the Author – Selice volunteered as an adoption counselor at King Street Cats in Alexandria for seven years.
COVID-19 Information About Pets
“What You Should Know about COVID-19 and Pets,” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, June 16, 2022
What You Should Know about COVID-19 and Pets | Healthy Pets, Healthy People | CDC
“Current Information About COVID-19 and Pets: Caring for Your Pets with SARS-CoV-2,” American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA)
“COVID-19: Protect Animals by Planning for Their Care,” AVMA
Selected Alexandria and Metro DC Animal Shelters/Rescues
Animal Welfare League of Alexandria
4101 Eisenhower Avenue
Alexandria, VA 22304
Animal Welfare League of Arlington
2650 S. Arlington Mill Drive
Arlington, VA 22206
Fairfax County Animal Shelter
4500 West Ox Road
Fairfax, VA 22030
Friends of Rabbits and House Rabbit Sanctuary
P.O. Box 1112
Alexandria, VA 22313
King Street Cats
25 S. Dove Street
Alexandria, VA 22314
Operation Paws for Homes, Inc.
(Dog rescue for VA, MD, DC, and south central PA)
P.O. Box 90813
Alexandria, VA 22309
(Nationwide network of therapy-animal programs, including Germantown, MD)
Bellevue, WA 98005
Rikki’s Refuge Animal Sanctuary
(1300 animals and 22 species on 450 acres)
Kerry Hilliard, Director
P.O. Box 1357
Orange, VA 22960
Visits by appointment