Volunteering at an animal shelter is a great way for children to learn responsibility and prepare for adopting a family pet. However, it can be tough to find organizations and activities that are child-friendly, particularly if the child in question is younger than about 10. Some rescue groups and shelters don’t permit anyone under 18 to volunteer, for reasons of liability. However, with persistence and creativity, it’s possible to get children involved in volunteering.
Locating a Kid-Friendly Shelter or Rescue
The first step, in general, is to call around to local shelters and ask if your child can volunteer with you. You could also quiz pet-loving parents whose children are of approximately the same age as your own. Even school bulletin boards or an ad in the volunteer opportunities section of Craigslist might yield contact information for a rescue that allows young volunteers.
Of course, you should never expect a child to be able to volunteer unsupervised! Shelters aren’t in the business of providing free babysitting, so you’ll need to plan to supervise your child as he or she volunteers. If you work together to accomplish tasks, you’ll likely find that it’s a great bonding experience.
Once you locate a shelter that will allow your child to volunteer with you, find out what you need to do to make that happen. Most organizations have scheduled volunteer hours or ask volunteers to sign up for shifts in advance. Expect also to fill out a liability release form for yourself and any minor children volunteering with you. You may also need to fill out additional paperwork or pay for a membership. Often, shelters can get a lower insurance rate if they require volunteers to be members of the organization.
If You Can’t Volunteer at the Shelter
In some areas, it might be impossible to find a shelter that will allow children to do volunteer work at their facility. it might also be impractical for scheduling reasons or due to physical impairment for you to travel to a shelter’s location to volunteer with your child. If volunteering from home is the best or only option, consider opening your home to a foster pet. Fostering saves lives and makes pets more adoptable. It also helps children learn about day-to-day pet care. Letting a foster pet return to the shelter or go to an adoptive home is difficult for kids, but it’s also a great learning experience.
If you can’t foster, consider what you can do from home to help your favorite animal rescue group. You could work with your child to hold a bake sale fundraiser, or purchase fleece and make homemade braided fleece tug toys for a rescue to sell. Older children might be web-savvy enough to help update a shelter’s website and list adoptable pets on Craigslist. Even very small children can make no-sew fleece blankets to keep shelter dogs and cats comfortable.
Every family can help shelter pets in some way. Find your niche, and make sure to congratulate your children often on their volunteerism. Generosity, kindness to animals, and responsibility are values that stick with kids for life.