It’s that time of year… Resolution time! Time when we reflect upon the past year, think about the future, and start to Paw in Handmake commitments about the upcoming year. Since you’re reading this article, I’ll assume you’re interested in animals and helping to improve their lives. Volunteering for animals can be one of the most rewarding experiences, and it’s easy to get started!

Step 1: Pick your cause or area of need. It can be difficult to pick just one, but find the cause you’re passionate about and start there. Some of the more urgent issues facing animals include:

  • Companion Animal Homelessness and Euthanasia
  • Animals in Labs and Testing
  • Animal Cruelty and Entertainment Practices
  • Animal Extinction and Endangered Species
  • Factory Farming and Farm Animal Practices

The Humane Society of the United States has campaigns throughout the year to help in many of these areas.

Step 2: Think about what you like to do. Are you a person who likes to organize and spend time working on a computer, or do you prefer to interact directly with animals and/or people? Do you like taking pictures? Writing articles? Whatever your talent, there will be an opportunity to use these skills to help animals. Determining the type of work you want to do will help you find the right match.

Step 3: Determine how much time you can devote to your cause. Merri Collins wrote a great article in which time is suggested as a gift to provide to your current pet. Time is the most precious gift you can offer. Unfortunately, as you start to get engaged in helping animals there will be more work than time, and you’ll need to draw the appropriate boundaries to ensure a good balance in your life.

Step 4: Get started! There are thousands of organizations that survive solely upon the time and skills of their volunteers, and the opportunities for volunteering are limitless. One of the most common ways to help is to adopt an animal, but that’s not always possible. Other ideas include:

  • Foster an animal. Thousands of companion animals across Ohio need homes, and you can help house and behavior train an animal to prepare her for happily ever after! Just giving an animal a safe, caring environment goes a long way in their health, and it creates additional space in shelters for other animals.
  • Transport an animal to their foster, vet, or forever home. Maybe you can’t bring an animal into your home, but you can spend a couple of hours on the weekend making sure an animal gets to where she needs to go.
  • Visit your local shelter and walk a dog or two, or spend time socializing the cats. One of the things that I do is spend an hour or two a week at the Franklin County Dog Shelter walking dogs and helping them get their pictures taken for the website. They love getting outside and interacting with people. There’s nothing like a little sunshine to make us feel better.
  • Take pictures or write an article. Talented with a camera or the pen? A great picture goes a long way in helping an animal find a home, as does good copy.
  • Help organize and table events. Do you like interacting with people face-to-face? Helping to setup, run, and participate in events is a critical function for many organizations.
  • Donate money or supplies. Is time in short supply, but do you have a little extra money or some old newspapers, towels and blankets laying around? Many organizations need these supplies. You might also consider donating to local rescues, and groups like Friends of the Shelter, as gifts for the animal loving family member or friend.
  • Advocate on behalf of animals by writing letters to leaders or the local paper. By keeping the issues in front of people, and letting our elected officials know the issues facing animals are important to their constituents, you’ll keep the animals top of mind.
  • Consider eliminating or reducing animal consumption in your diet and purchasing habits. Being a vegetarian saves over 30 animals each year, and it’s great for the environment too!

These are just a few of the opportunities. Wayne Pacelle, President and CEO of the Humane Society of the United States, outlines 50 ways to help animals at the end of his book, The Bond: Our Kinship with Animals, Our Call to Defend Them, and the HSUS website outlines 55 ways to help animals, and the We Animals website has a great list of ways to help animals. Each organization will have a different need, but I haven’t met one yet that didn’t appreciate whatever assistance you can offer. Don’t wait – jump in and lend a hand!

Step 5: Once you’re helping animals live happier, healthier lives, you’ll want to be sure to rest and reflect to avoid burnout. Some of the challenges that face many who spend time helping animals are stress, schedule overload, and compassion fatigue. It’s important to take time for yourself and celebrate the small victories and individual lives you’ve impacted. Taking care of yourself will help you help animals for many years to come.

A new year brings new energy and focus to our lives. If you’re thinking about helping animals in 2015, I encourage you to do whatever you can. And I’d love it if you shared your experiences with us in the comments below, or if you want, shoot me an email with any questions or feedback. Let’s make 2015 great for the animals. – Chris Niehoff

Chris is a Central Ohio animal lover who wants to see the lives of non-human animals, and human animals, improve individually and collectively. He believes this will happen only when human animals recognize the interconnection of all life and begin to act accordingly. He knows he has a lot to learn and hopes to connect with others on a similar journey.

photo credit: jev55 via photopin cc