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April 5, 2019

Volunteering at Animal Shelters: Benefits and Expectations




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Volunteering at Animal Shelters: Benefits and Expectations

Do you love working with animals? Do you want to volunteer to shelter animals find their forever homes? You might consider volunteering at an animal shelter! There are many benefits to volunteering. But you also need to prepare yourself for the work ahead.

Benefits of Volunteering at Animal Shelters

There are many benefits to volunteer work. You not only improve the lives of animals but your own life as well. Some may not be as obvious as others. You may not have thought of some of these benefits before.

For You

The biggest take-away you can get from this experience. You’ll learn new skills while you work that can benefit you in the long-run. You’ll learn how to adapt to situations. Each day will present you with a new challenge. Oftentimes, you’ll have to think on your feet – a valuable life-skill.

You may discover a career path while working at an animal shelter. Many people gain insight to veterinary work or animal behavior. Most importantly, you’ll have the chance to make connections with people in these fields.

Some rescues have paid positions. If you work hard at your volunteer job, you may be considered for these positions or an opportunity could open-up with a similar organization. You’ll also have plenty of references.

What better place to make new friends? You’ll meet all kinds of people while volunteering at an animal shelter. Best of all, you’ll have plenty in common. These new friends can open up many doors.

Doing something good for others can have great benefits for your mental health as well. Nothing feels better than helping others. We are naturally happier when we are around animals.

For the Animals

The more animals are around people, the more socialized they become. Volunteering at an animal shelter can help dogs and cats break out of their shells. They become far more animated around people and more likely to get adopted.

Volunteers can help dogs with kennel stress. This is a common behavior in animals who have transitioned into a kennel. They aren’t used to being in a confined space all the time. This can result in hiding and a loss of appetite. It can also increase bad behaviors. Some dogs respond by being more aggressive. Others bark a lot or pace. This stress has a detrimental effect on their health as well.

Simply playing with a dog or taking them out for a walk can help with this stress. And volunteers are the perfect people for that.

What to Expect When Volunteering

There’s a common misconception that working at a rescue is easy. The best way to approach this is to think of it like any other job. There will be ups and downs. There will be good days and bad. But your motivation is the chance that an animal will find a family. Let’s break down what to expect from volunteer work at animal shelters.

DO NOT Expect:

1. To Play with Animals All Day: You will have other duties that don’t involve working directly with animals. Playing with animals isn’t the point of the job. The goal is to help animals, whether that’s cleaning kennels or mopping floors.

2. Every Animal to Like You: Many animals in shelters start out scared of people. Don’t let your feelings get hurt the first time a dog or cat shies away from you. Not every animal will want attention. You’ll have to work to earn their trust.

3. Immediate Rewards: It takes time for an animal to build trust. It takes time for an animal to heal. It takes time for animals to find homes. Nothing happens in an instant but don’t be discouraged.

DO Expect:

1. To Work Hard: Volunteering isn’t a walk in the park. Expect to be on your feet all day both indoors and outdoors. You might have to do some heavy lifting. Dog food bags can weigh up to 50 lbs.

2. To Fall in Love: It’s so easy to form a bond with animals. Everyone in shelters has that special animal they fall in love with. You will likely form this bond with one or two pets but keep your eye on the prize – to find them all happy, healthy homes.

3. To Have Fun: Despite the hard work, it is a fun job in the long-run. You get to care for animals who don’t have a home. You get to see wagging tails and hear happy purrs.

4. Something New Each Day: No day is the same, even if you have a routine. One day, you may take in a new litter of puppies. The next, you’ll have an influx of senior dogs. Each day will bring you something new, exciting, and challenging.

Types of Volunteer Work at Animal Shelters

There’s more to volunteering at animal shelters than playing with puppies all day. Rescues have all kinds of positions for volunteers. Some jobs are universal while others are specific to certain shelters.

Cleaning Kennels

Not the most glamorous job, but as they say, “someone’s got to do it.” Keeping kennels clean is essential to the health and wellbeing of shelter animals. Yes, this means cleaning up a mess from time to time.

But the reward of a happy animal is worth it. Cleaning kennels often involves hosing the floors down, laying down clean bedding, and providing clean water and food bowls. Be prepared for lots of barking supervisors!

Feeding Time

Just like the title sounds, this job requires feeding the animals. Sometimes you’re in charge of a whole row, other times you’re in charge of a floor. You’ll be everyone’s favorite person at feeding time.

So, expect a lot of happy tail wagging and kisses. Some animals may require a specific diet or medicine at feeding time.

Walking Dogs

Yes, you get to walk dogs at animal shelters! Some shelters do require a bit of work on your part before you get to this point. With this job, you oversee exercising shelter dogs.

This also comes with some basic training. Dogs who learn how to properly walk on a leash have a higher chance of being adopted. You’ll teach dogs how to heel and walk with etiquette.


This task is typically reserved for more experienced volunteers. It is extremely important for shelter animals to be socialized. This involves working with an animal to make them more comfortable around people and other animals.

The more socialized an animal is, the more likely it is they’ll be adopted. But it isn’t as simple as spending time with the animal. They need training and patience. Most rescues will train you how to socialize an animal properly.

Running Adoption Events

Many shelters need extra hands to run adoption events. They often go offsite for these events and need transportation. You can help set up, run, and close these programs.

The biggest reward is watching an animal find their forever home. The rescue will walk you through their specific adoption process.

How to Become an Animal Shelter Volunteer

Treat becoming a volunteer like you would any other job. To become a volunteer, you must go through a selection process.

First and foremost, you should contact your selected shelter to make sure it needs extra hands. Some rescues have plenty of staff but may put you on a waitlist. And keep in mind that every shelter has its own selection process. Some are more rigid with guidelines.

Do your research before you begin. Find out what the requirements are and make sure you meet them. Find out what positions the shelters have open. Keep in mind that some rescues require time commitments on a weekly or monthly basis.

Most shelters require you to:

  • Fill out an application (some require application fees)
  • Be a certain age (usually over 16)
  • Sign liability waivers
  • Participate in orientation
  • Go through training classes

Animal Shelters in Phoenix and Tucson

If volunteering at animal shelters sounds right up your alley, the next step is to find a shelter. When you’re looking for one, choose a shelter with location in mind. Pick one that fits your morals.

Consider if you want to work with a specific type of animal or specific breed. Most importantly, pay a visit to the shelter. Check out the environment and ask questions.

Below, you will find a list of animal shelters in Phoenix and Tucson you can do some volunteering at. We hope this list can help you get started in your search! Simply click on the links to get to the volunteer pages of each shelter.

Phoenix Animal Shelters

Tucson Animal Shelters

Other Ways to Help

If volunteering at animal shelters isn’t an option for you, there are still plenty of ways you can help. It’s okay if you can’t give your physical time.

Shelters need all the help they can get; even without physical aid. Talk to the workers at your local shelter and find out what else they need.


One big thing you can do is donate. This doesn’t necessarily have to be in the form of cash. Animal shelters usually accept donations of wet food and dry food, and many other much-needed items.

You can give them bedding, cleaning supplies, toys, leashes, and anything else a dog or cat may need. Oftentimes, you will see donation lists on websites.

You’ll usually see shelters asking for items during the Holidays. You can even walk into your local shelter and ask what their biggest need is. At Puppies ‘N Love and Animal Kingdom pet stores, we collect donations year-round for homeless pets in the care of Maricopa County Animal Care and Control.


Sometimes, we only have time to give our attention to one or two animals. Fostering is a great option for people who want to help raise and socialize an animal.

It leaves room in shelters for other animals. It’s a great way for a dog or cat to get socialized and used to a human home.

This isn’t to say fostering is any easier than volunteering; however, it can be just as challenging and requires the right person.
Many times, fosters look after puppies and kittens that require a lot of attention and training.


Pets and people were meant to be together, to serve one another. The bond that exists between humans and pets is one of life’s greatest gifts.

Volunteering of your time, or whatever else you can give, is a reward not just for you, but for those animal shelters you are helping. Your kindness is never underappreciated, and though pets cannot tell you they are grateful, they are.

Their body language speaks volumes. You can watch them and learn, just as they will do to and with you. Pay it forward!
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