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Volunteering—it helps both dogs in need and your soul

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Being a productive volunteer for your local shelter or rescue group doesn’t require donating every waking, non-working moment to the organization. On the contrary, say experts, every little act of kindness and gift of time helps. By following some basic guidelines, you can become an indispensable volunteer for your favorite group, even if you only have a few hours a month or a couple of dollars to give.

“There’s always something everyone can do—they just have to ask,” says Angie Birmingham, director of the Belleville Area Rescue of K-9s (BARK) in Belleville, Ill (www.barkrescue.net). “There isn’t anything that we would look at as too small. Any type of help is appreciated.”

At OC Animal Care in the city of Orange, Calif., hundreds of dedicated volunteers contribute more than 100,000 hours of service to the shelter. They do everything from host donation drives, groom dogs, lead shelter tours and participate in shelter events. The chance to make a difference is just a click away.

Here are more ideas....

• Foster a dog. This is a big request many rescue groups broadcast, because boarding is expensive and doesn’t promote socialization. Opening your home to a strange dog is no slight commitment, but it can be made easier. Understand that the dog will need lots of love, socializing and some basic “manners training” in order to help her acclimate to a family environment. Putting her outside 24/7 is not an option.

“They are responsible for that dog as long as they have it,” says Birmingham.

It helps if you work at home or are able to come home at lunch, enabling you to really make the dog part of your family’s life. This takes love and patience—a LOT of patience—but the rewards are worth it.

“When [the dogs] get it, they turn into the most wonderful dogs,” says Deb Orwig, resources director for Rescue A Golden of Arizona (www.golden-retriever.org).

• Spread the word. Everywhere you go, talk about the shelter or rescue, handing out business cards and flyers. Encourage the group to attend as many events as possible to further enhance name recognition. For example, Rescue A Golden of Arizona makes upwards of 90 appearances in the Phoenix area annually—a fact that has helped its large base of volunteers save nearly 1,300 dogs in six years.

“Getting the word out about the organization is the most important thing a volunteer can do,” says Orwig. “If they know you exists, then they’re going to call you.”

• Become well informed about the group and its mission so you can talk about it in depth.

• Include a link to the group’s website in your email signature.

• Donate hand-made crafts for sale at boutiques, websites or at events the group hosts. They don’t? Offer to coordinate one.

• Work an adoption event, or groom the dogs beforehand.

• Take dogs on a weekend romp in the park to give them a break from boarding.

• Help socialize shelter dogs by walking and playing with them.

• Take photos for the group’s website. “It’s [often] the pictures that adopt out the dogs,” says Birmingham.

• Write letters to help solicit dog food, products or services from companies and veterinarians.

• Offer your own services: grant writing, carpentry, accounting.

• Perform home checks one Saturday a month.

• Transport dogs from the shelter or to the vet’s. This one is very much in demand, say experts.

• Plan a fundraiser. “People don’t even need dog experience to help with a fundraiser,” says Orwig. “They’d be welcome with open arms.”

No time, but plenty of money to give?

• Sponsor a dog. Offer to pay for her boarding fees or vet care until she’s adopted. Many times on a rescue's Facebook page, dogs in need are publicized, making it easy to figure out where the dollars are most needed right now.

• Donate office supplies, like copy paper.

• Give items off the group’s wish list.

• Write a check for $45—enough for 100 first-class stamps.

“All of these things help an organization do what it does best: rescue dogs,” says Orwig.

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