Lending a Paw

How to get involved with helping shelter animals

Every domestic animal deserves a good home with a loving family where they can thrive. Unfortunately, as everyone knows, there are many homeless, neglected animals everywhere. Animal shelters and rescue organizations are crucial in caring for as many of these animals as they can, and they also rely heavily on various forms of support from animal lovers in the community. While adopting a pet is not always possible for everyone who wants to help, there are a myriad of other support opportunities available that can make a huge difference in the lives of homeless animals.  

After the passing of her beloved cat, a family friend of mine decided to become a member of her local animal shelter’s foster system, hoping to provide a temporary home for a local dog while simultaneously enjoying its company. The dog arrived, she took care of it, and then…the dog stayed. My friend had so enjoyed her time with the animal that she decided to adopt it herself instead of returning her canine companion to the shelter. Still wanting to participate in the foster system, she agreed to foster another dog, and subsequently adopted him as well. This whimsical cycle ended with my friend serving as the proud parent of two rescued pooches, at which point she retired from the foster system, becoming what is known as a “foster failure.”

While fostering a dog or cat is a wonderful thing to do, it’s not right for everyone. Many people do not have the experience, suitable environment, or enough time in their daily lives to properly care for a foster pet. However, for those who love animals and want to help them, there are many other avenues of supporting our community’s rescue organizations who care for a staggering number of pets in need. While funds are always needed and welcome, attention, affection, and social interaction are also paramount to these animals to prepare them for adoption. Donating your time and loving presence can go a long way. 

Local shelters are always looking for volunteers to provide day-to-day care for the animals. “We have a very large volunteer program, which includes both adults and juniors, in which members assist in dog-walking and grooming, as well as socialization and play,” says Caroline Folker, Community Relations Manager at the Fauquier SPCA. “We greatly appreciate our volunteers.” 

Not all volunteer work involves interacting with the animals; if you have other areas of expertise, contributing your time and talent is also a very viable option that can result in far-reaching benefits for the animals. Administrative help is always needed, as is “marketing,” or getting the word out about needed assistance, events, and the adoptable pets themselves. Managing a rescue’s social media presence, which can be time-consuming, can make a huge difference. “Social media has increased our visibility, and greatly increased the number of adoptions in the past few years,” says Brenda Scamordella of Paws For Seniors. 

Are you a pretty good photographer, even if you’re not a professional? Taking well-composed, quality photos of adoptable pets to put on social media can go a long way to presenting the pet in its best light and attracting potential families.   

Donations of supplies are also always welcomed by rescue organizations, but they don’t have to be expensive. There are likely things lying around your house that can be of use: old towels, blankets, or used furniture such as those ratty sofas or armchairs that you’ve been meaning to get rid of. Perhaps you’ve bought a trendy new leash or collar for your dog — the shelters can use the old ones. Looking for a tax write off? Donate your old vehicle through the organization’s vehicle donation program. Most rescue organizations have a website with a “wish list” which informs visitors of needed supplies, as well as opportunities for working with the animals themselves. 

Volunteering to help shelter animals in any capacity is a rewarding act of compassion, and can be an unforgettable experience for both the volunteers and the animals. Contact your local shelter or rescue organization to see how you can get involved in caring for and helping the homeless pets of our community.

Animal Care Volunteer Opportunities:

  • Dog walking
  • Dog grooming
  • Cat socialization and play
  • Transport of animals to vet appointments
  • Home-safety inspection for fosters and adoption

Administrative Volunteer Opportunities:

  • Manage social media presence
  • Organize donations
  • Participate in adoption and fundraising events
  • Write and distribute press releases

 Encouraged Donations:

  • Cleaning supplies
  • Leashes, collars, and harnesses
  • Unopened food and treats
  • Dog and cat toys
  • Towels and blankets
  • Office supplies
  • Old armchairs
Nathan Ray
About Nathan Ray 4 Articles
Nathan Ray is from Haymarket, Virginia and is currently in his second year at the University of Virginia. He is interested in Media Studies and Communications, and would like to pursue a career in journalism. At Virginia, he is involved in the University’s creative writing program, podcasting organization, Filmmakers Society, and Jazz Ensemble.

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