Do you smile ridiculously every time you walk past a fluffy pooch? When you hear, “Diamonds are a girl’s best friend”, do you say, “Wrong. Dogs are a girl’s best friend” ? Then you’re in the right place. Welcome to Volunteer Work: Doggy 101. As a personal owner of three Tibetan Spaniels and long-time volunteer in the animal field, I’m hoping to share some tips for how to get involved and give back to the animals that have surely given you endless joy.
In 2006, I reached out to The Good Dog Foundation, who describe themselves on their site as a “nonprofit organization dedicated to all aspects of animal-assisted therapy.” Basically, I wanted my dogs to visit the sick and/ or elderly in a nursing home or hospital environment so they could have quality visits with patients and residents. I mean, my dogs bring me so much happiness — why not share it, right?
Pet therapy has many benefits for the sick and elderly that receive it; during my six years volunteering at Notre Dame Convalescent Home in Norwalk, CT, I’ve found that the routine of monthly visits from my dogs help residents with memory skills, as they are not only able to recognize my dog each month– and often recall their name– but they also remember their own pets from younger years.
Laura Shevlin, Recreational Director at Notre Dame Convalescent Home, has overseen the pet therapy service I’ve done since 2006. She has emphasized the wonderful benefits animal-assisted therapy has on memory connections for a given patient, saying, “No matter how confused a resident may be, he or she is able to respond appropriately to the dogs. For example, I have seen residents who cannot put a sentence together appropriately, but can respond verbally to a dog.”
Memory skills aren’t the only benefit of animal-assisted therapy. By petting my dogs, for example, residents can improve physically. Whoever has one of my babies on his or her lap is notably more relaxed and just… happy. I can honestly say that taking an hour-and-a-half out of each month to watch my dogs give joy to someone who needs it is an unbeatable feeling. If you live in New York, Connecticut, or Massachusetts, check out The Good Dog Foundation for how to get your pooch certified. Training is a small commitment over a few months and yearly re-certification is a piece-of-cake. If you live elsewhere, a simple Google search will show you what organization to go through in your area (like here for Michigan or here for Wyoming, etc).
Wanna do more? Try volunteering at a local animal shelter. I spent a semester at my sophomore year at college (while I was lucky enough to have a car on campus!) spending my Friday afternoons with two friends at WARL, Worcester Animal Rescue League, in Worcester, MA. Animal shelters make their websites very accessible for those who want to volunteer because they really need the help. Some places you have to be over 18, others over 21. If you make the age cut-off, the process is super easy from there. You fill out a few forms, go to one or two orientation and training sessions, and you’re ready. Shelters need help with everything– from cleaning cages, bathing poochies, playing with kittens, taking dogs for a walk, and more.
Giving up an hour of your afternoon to take a few dogs for a walk, will not only you give you some quality time with an enthusiastic pup, but will make you feel better knowing you’ve given him or her a special treat. Plus, you can make a girls trip with a few friends who stand for the cause too. Another tip: I asked my relatives to donate to WARL in my name as a Christmas present. Being a full-time student makes it hard to earn some cash on the side, and, therefore, hard to donate to organizations and foundations that support animals. But having Santa take care of it (instead of getting me another pair of shoes) felt pretty great too!
Here are a few more things that’ll support dogs and animals alike:
- Don’t buy from pet stores. I know those little furballs in the window pining for your attention are near-impossible to turn away. But buying a dog from a pet store endorses puppy mills and systematic abuse (think over-nursed female dogs, newborns kept in cramped cages, etc). So not worth it. Check out Pet Finder to rescue a pooch instead.
- If you don’t have time to volunteer at a local animal shelter, consider dropping off the occasional bag of dog food or kitty litter to help out their supply closet. Surprisingly enough, animal shelters are always in need of towels. Who knew?!
- Try not to buy makeup or hair products that test on animals. It’s difficult but a little restraint now and then could go a long way. And some great companies stand for animal rights like Benefit San Francisco or Salma Hayek’s new line, “Nuance”.
Any more ideas to help our favorite animals out? How do you Lovelies stand up for a girl’s best friend?