By Tami Kamin-Meyer
Have you ever seen a story on your local news about the discovery of abused dogs and wondered how you could help? Or come across an article reporting how the local animal shelter is overflowing with unwanted kittens? For many animal lovers, these heart-tugging situations provoke them to act, whether it’s to foster a dog, fundraise for a shelter, or even work with animals on a volunteer basis.
It’s not surprising a woman whose last name is “Lamb” has dedicated her career to saving animals. As spokeswoman for the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals of Wake County in Raleigh, North Carolina, Mondy Lamb’s workdays consist of discussing the benefits of pet guardianship and helping prospective parents adopt animals from the SPCA.
When Lamb discusses the nonprofit’s various programs and services aimed at finding decent, loving families for the nearly 200 dogs and cats available for adoption at her facility at any given time, she believes volunteers make it all possible. “We couldn’t function without them,” she says, noting that of the approximately 600 people who volunteer at the SPCA annually, 200 are considered “very active.” That means that the core group oversees specific tasks month in, month out, thereby freeing the paid staff to devote more time to other matters, like assessing people who wish to adopt new pets.
According to Jan Hill, director of volunteer services at the SPCA of Wake County, volunteers walk dogs, give them baths, and yes, clean up their poop. To liven the atmosphere at the shelter, certain volunteer positions feature witty monikers. For example, Dog Butlers are responsible for transferring the pups from their cages to outside play yards, while Dog Referees handle canine training and exercise. Not surprisingly, Bunny Buddies pet and care for any rabbits making the SPCA their temporary home.
To learn more about how you can help pets in your area, contact your local animal
shelter and inquire about its volunteering programs. While some facilities require people to be a minimum age to volunteer, others encourage families to give their time
and generosity together.
The SPCA of Wake County also runs a “robust fostering program,” Hill says. For example, shelter volunteers temporarily foster kittens needing to be bottle-fed until the kitty is capable of eating on her own. Fostering is also appropriate for older or injured animals so they can be given more personalized devotion and attention.
Jennifer Bell knows all about fostering dogs, a task she finds rewarding. The vice president of the all-volunteer Clear Creek County Animal Rescue League (CCCARL), located 20 minutes west of Denver, is currently fostering two dogs and a cat in addition to two dogs and a kitty of her own. “Fostering makes me feel I am making a difference in the world,” Bell says. According to the full-time saleswoman, nothing compares to the joy that overtakes her when she saves a dog from being euthanized at a local shelter. In any given year, her organization typically rescues 100 cats and more than 250 dogs.
About 50 people volunteer with CCCARL, although not all foster an animal. “Some people like to help by transporting animals to and from vet’s offices or supervising dogs at adoption and fundraising events,” Bell explains. Money is almost always tight for the nonprofit organization, she says. The CCCARL’s annual budget fluctuates depending on a variety of factors, such as the costs to pay for animals’ surgeries as well as the cost of their medicine. If CCCARL can’t find a volunteer to foster a dog, the organization pays for the animal to be boarded in a kennel until other, less costly arrangements can be made.
In addition to various government grants sustaining CCCARL, fundraising is intrinsic to the health of the organization, Bell says. “One hundred percent of what we raise goes to the animals. We provide food and vet care but many foster families will also pay for things and call it ‘their donation.’”
To help decide if fostering is right for you, first consider how much time, energy, and money you can devote to caring for the pets you’ll bring into your home. Also, it’s a good idea to take an inventory of your living area. It’s important to know if you have enough space for more animals in your home because even dog bowls take up room. Also, keep in mind how easy it is to get attached to pets. While many animal agencies would love to have foster parents keep the animals they’ve taken in, some strongly discourage foster parents from adopting the pets. A woman representing an animal-rescue group in Columbus, Ohio, who asked to remain anonymous, says, “It’s too hard to find families to foster dogs, so we value each foster family a lot. We don’t want them to adopt the dogs and then quit fostering,” she says. Make sure you understand the rules and limitations associated with fostering before you take on the responsibility and the pet.
Another all-volunteer group committed to saving animals despite the cost is the Harnessed to Hope Northern Breed Rescue (HTHNBR) in Philadelphia. Karen Belfi, a registered nurse, is president of the HTHNBR; husband Eric is treasurer. The year-old organization is dedicated to rescuing dogs considered northern breeds, such as Siberian Huskies, Samoyeds, Alaskan Malamutes, and Norwegian Elkhounds.
To ensure a nonprofit to whom you have donated money puts your donation to good use, the Internal Revenue Service requires the businesses to make their financial records available to the public, upon request. It’s also a good idea to check the organization’s website to see how much of a donated dollar goes toward the group’s mission statement and what percentage of a donation pays other costs, such as rent for the organization’s offices. Information about a group’s mission statement and members of its board should be posted there, too. There are also a number of websites that research nonprofits to discover what percentage of a donation makes it to its cause. Those sites include www.Give.org, www.Guidestar.org, and www.CharityNavigator.org.
Whether donors give from their wallets or of their time, Hill says she’s pleased with either. “You can’t buy the devotion of our volunteers but we also can’t pay employees or buy medical supplies without donations.”
Looking to get involved, but don’t know where to start? Visit www.VolunteerMatch.org to find a non-profit that works for you. They’ll set you on the path to making a difference in no time.
Tami Kamin-Meyer is an Ohio attorney and writer who adopted her White Samoyed from Buckeye Samoyed Rescue nearly six years ago.