Do you wish you could spend more time with animals while making a difference? If you have a passion for furry friends and helping people, there are plenty of ways to get involved. Volunteering with animals is a great way to learn about animal-related careers and still give to the community in incredibly meaningful ways. Below are several often-missed ways to get involved with the philanthropic side of animal care.


Humane society opportunities 

The first place many people think of when wanting to volunteer with animals is the Humane Society, and it’s for a good reason. Most of them are always looking for help. But when many people think of volunteering at the Humane Society, they think of cage cleaning and kennel maintenance. And while these are necessary duties, if you’re not the mucking-about-in-filth kind of person, there are plenty of easily overlooked ways to put other skills to use with the Humane Society.

Wendy is a volunteer for the Humane Society.

“Wendy is a volunteer for the Humane Society.” from Jo & Joey on Flickr (CC BY-ND 2.0)

Many Humane Society locations will have the basic animal socialization needs, like cat cuddling and dog walking. These are great options if you just want some one-on-one time with some animals.

But there are also other programs like helping with mobile adoptions, where volunteers bring animals out into the community to show people what types of critters are currently up for adoption. This is a wonderful option for those who like to interact with the public as much as they enjoy working directly with animals. Along the same lines is helping with community events like run-walks and other fundraisers. Many shelters will also need help with animal training courses or may even need clerical help.

Your best bet is to call up your local Humane Society and see what they need.

Like most volunteer positions, you’ll most likely need to attend one or several training/orientation sessions, depending on which service you’re looking to help out with.


Foster and rescue care  

Want to work with animals, but would rather do it in the comfort of your own home? Starting a rescue or serving as a foster home for rehabilitating animals is perfect for those who have a strong caregiving streak for sickly, injured and healing animals.


“Gouda. This the most ridiculously cute set of puppies my parents have fostered so far.” from Keith Kissel on Flickr (CC BY-NC 2.0)

Again, a great place to start is with your local Humane Society, many of which need people to take recovering or young animals into their homes to prepare them for adoption into permanent homes. The Humane Society will often support you with resources and training.

If you’d like to focus on a certain animal/breed it’s also possible to start running your own rescue out of your home, in which you take in animals and care for them until they can be adopted out elsewhere. This is a good opportunity for enterprising, organized people who prefer to work independently.

Granted, this is the most time-intensive and complicated option for volunteering with animals. With this, you’ll essentially be running a business. You’ll be connecting with others to find animals in need, possibly working with fundraising, getting the animals spayed and neutered and you’ll need to know everything about keeping animals healthy. You may have to pass state licensing requirements to become a nonprofit as well. This is often a graduated method of working with animals after you’ve had pets of the same type/breed and have worked with a shelter extensively.

If this is something you would seriously consider, start by learning everything you can. Talk to those who run rescues and research what it takes to run one.


Animal therapy programs 

Here we get back into something that’s less time-consuming. Getting your pet certified as a therapy dog is a rewarding way to work with your own pet and other people out in the community.

For those who have never seen a therapy animal, these are animals that are certified to go into facilities like hospitals, schools and nursing homes to visit with the patients, students or residents. Studies have found that interaction with animals helps with recovery and improves psychological wellbeing.

Norman West Therapy Dogs

“Norman West Therapy Dogs. Norman West showcased the various therapy dogs children can read to at the library.” from Pioneer Library System on Flickr (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

To start this process, you’ll need to seek certification through courses offered by a therapy dog organization, many of which can run for about 12 weeks or so, though requirements vary. You can find a list of certifying organizations here. You’ll learn and be assessed on how to work with your dog and other people in the community in an effective, safe manner.


Zoo volunteer opportunities  

Want to work with exotic animals or help with animal education in the community? Check with your local zoo, if you have one. Many volunteers work directly with zookeepers to help maintain the zoo in some organizations, though not all.

New Heights

“Baby penguin climbing up Katie’s leg (before comically tumbling off).” from David Goehring on Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

A more common way to volunteer at a zoo is to become what many zoos call “docent volunteers,” in which people work with education programs and tours. This is a great option for those who love interacting with the public one-on-one, talking about animals and public speaking. Another common volunteer role is to work with fundraising programs to help directly raise money for a zoo.



Aquariums are an often-overlooked place to volunteer, but many of them do need help. You may be surprised by what aquariums need from volunteers.

Miller & I

“Miller & I” from Stacina on Flickr (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

For instance, the Shedd Aquarium in Chicago has a number of volunteer positions that involve giving talks to school groups, gathering data about the guests who come to the aquarium though tasks like market research, helping with animal husbandry, working with the water quality or working in the library, to name a few. Experienced divers can even give presentations in the tanks to guests.