O, Volunteers! How to lend a hand to area animals in need.

Did you know that most non-profit rescue groups and animal shelters in the Twin Cities are run primarily by volunteers? Sure, there are paid staff in some facilities, but the heart of these organizations are the folks that volunteer their time, money, services and ideas to help homeless animals.

Because there is so much that goes into the care and feeding of a rescue group or shelter, there are many ways for volunteers to make a difference. For some, volunteering may mean walking dogs or cuddling cats a few times a month. For others, volunteering can be more intensive. From transporting animals to veterinary appointments to organizing or pitching in at fundraisers, there’s no shortage of work to be done. And volunteers are the go-to people when it comes to running rescue facilities and helping them succeed in finding homes for animals in need.

With so many volunteer opportunities to choose from, how do you know which one is right for you?

Start with your own preferences. Maybe you want to work with a breed-specific rescue, or maybe you just want to lend a hand with a shelter close to home. Once you’ve considered where you might volunteer, think about what you’d like to do. If you love dogs and also want to get your body moving, consider becoming a dog walker. This one-to-two hour weekly commitment gets both you and the dogs you are helping out and in action!

Are cats more your thing? Cat cuddlers often go into onsite acquaintance rooms with a cat or two and spend time petting, brushing, playing with and giving affection to shelter cats.

Super-organized? Love planning activities and events? Join the fundraising committee at a favorite shelter or rescue group. These types of volunteers create the magic and support behind the scenes of fundraising walks, runs, bake sales, and yes, even motorcycle rides.

Even though this site focuses on dogs, it’s no secret that there are many cat people among us. You are in luck, because it’s almost time for kittens! Spring is the time of year that shelters and rescue groups see thousands of homeless baby cats coming through their doors. Many facilities are filled to capacity in the spring and are in need of foster parents. Fostering a kitten (or five!) or a dog not only creates more space in the shelter for other animals, it creates a vital bond of care between animal and human.

Animals that have spent time in a foster home are often more likely to be adopted, as the foster parent has loads of information on the pet, knows the animal’s personality and has often begun nurturing that special connection between human and pet. As many foster parents will tell you, sometimes the only tough part of fostering is not adopting a foster fur-kid yourself.

Now that you know a bit about how you can make a difference with a local shelter or rescue group, the hardest part may be choosing which volunteer gig is right for you. But if you truly want to help out, why wait? If you aren’t sure where to start, you’re actually in the perfect spot. Check Sidewalk Dog’s link to area rescues and nonprofits:



Lindsay Niemi is the Kennel Manager at Northwoods Humane Society. She lives in Forest Lake with her husband, two dogs (Tyson is pictured at left), and one extra-large cat.


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