What Do Volunteers Do At Animal Shelters? [8 Main Tasks]

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Written by Vytautas Vaitkevicius.

Vytautas is a passionate freelance writer, traveler, and nature lover. During his travels, he met countless stray dogs and volunteered in an animal shelter, inspiring him to write more about animals.

Volunteering at an animal shelter can be a wonderful, exhausting, and chaotic – all at once experience. Nonetheless, in the end, you will feel proud and fulfilled with a sense of a bigger purpose in life.

You might even want to continue contributing to the cause in other ways.

But before you start, you must have questions such as: what do volunteers do there? What to expect? What are some primary tasks?

In this article I will answer everything. Read on!

What To Expect

Before you go headfirst into volunteering with animals, you must know a couple of things, especially that it is not easy!

Volunteering can be:

  • Stressful & chaotic
  • Mentally & physically exhausting
  • In “surprising” sanitary conditions
  • A 24/7 job-like experience even if you signed up for 1 hour a day

 Volunteering can also be:

  • Incredibly Inspiring
  • A source of your best memories
  • Giving you friends for life
  • Fulfilling & wonderful

For your time, you may also receive free food and accommodation, which is quite common if you are volunteering abroad instead of locally.

Task #1: Cleaning, Cleaning & Cleaning

A lot is going on in an animal shelter, which means there’s usually tons of cleaning involved in voluntary work. (I warned you, it’s not all glitz and glamour)!

Cleaning in an animal shelter will come in a variety of forms.

So, be prepared to wash dishes (both people’s and animals’), sweep the territory, clean kennels and litter boxes, wash linens, and more.

You’ll become a master of sanitation and neatness, which is not a bad thing at all! You’ll easily impress your family and loved ones with this new habit and skill.

dog shelter in colombia

Task #2: Constructing, Fixing & Painting

If you love DYI projects or want to learn new practical skills, volunteering at the animal shelter can do wonders!

The tasks can be so different and unique when it comes to painting, constructing, and fixing!

Think of painting fences, paving the pathways, changing lightbulbs, fixing an old table, or even creating something from scratch.

It all depends on the animal shelter’s conditions, finances, and country.

If you find yourself heading to a third-world country, these tasks probably will be even more present.

Task #3: Making Sure that Animals are Clean

Cleaning animals are one of the main tasks that involve direct contact with dogs or other animals. And just like the previous task, this task comes in different forms too.

It starts with the overall cleanliness of animals – brushing their fur, bathing them, cutting nails, and similar.

Then you’ll probably have to remove some ticks from them and keep them free of contaminants.

This task will promote animals’ optimal health while ensuring the overall sanitation and cleanliness.

Task #4: Gardening & Planting

Some animal shelters have quite lush premises with different plants and trees growing. And may even have a dedicated garden with colorful flowers blooming. Or simply a large meadow that needs some mowing from time to time.

You may be asked to water or cut plants, maybe even cut some tree branches or root out trees. Mowing the lawn and planting flowers are also possible tasks.

Get ready to get your hands dirty and spend more time with nature because that is the case in some animal shelters!

Task #5: Feeding Food & Medicine

Animals that come into the shelters are usually not in great condition. The ones that get healthy and stay a long time here may also get sick again. At the same time, others become prone to various health issues due to their age.

You might be asked to fill bowls with food and mix and administrate unique food formulas to individual animals depending on their dietary needs.

Besides food, you may also force-feed animals with crucial vitamins and medicinal pills to get them healthier.

feeding kitten at pet shelter in latin america

Task #6: Playing with Animals!

One of the best things about volunteering in an animal shelter is getting to play with all the cute animals, craving sincere love, care, and attention! And often, animal shelters even have puppies which will certainly melt your heart!

Playing with animals, especially dogs, is more important than you might think.

It is social bonding, relieving stress, establishing trust, and helping to develop/keep their motor skills.

Stray dogs may not be used to people and they do try to bite the helping hand at first.

Playing with animals also involves dog walking and a bit of training if needed.

street dog

Task #7: Participating in the Events

Some animal shelters participate in or organize events where you may be asked to participate or even be their ambassador!

These events range from pet adoption events and fundraisers to educational and awareness-raising events. The variety and number of these events will heavily depend on your shelter’s location and organization methods.

And if there are none, you can always take the initiative and propose an idea – call for your inner marketer and public speaker because animal events are a great way to spread the word and find a home for some animals in the shelter!

Task #8: Doing Some Laundry

And last but not least, it’s the laundry! Like it or not, chances are high that you’ll not escape laundry here and that it will be a part of your volunteering experience.

Laundry in the animal shelter requires handling soiled items, washing, drying, folding blankets, and towels.

Washing animal toys and similar items are also a part of the laundry.

It may also involve doing laundry for yourself and the rest of the volunteers and staff.

And there you go!

These eight tasks are the primary duties you can expect to be asked to perform in an animal shelter.

Therefore, don’t be surprised if some physical labor appears or you’re asked to become a gardener for a little bit – it’s all for the good of the animals.

Now let’s get out there and see how we all can help animals in need!


Photos by Vytautas Vaitkevicius.