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Man’s Best Friend

Get involved in dog rescue volunteer work


Most people don’t move to foreign countries and find themselves defending strays, the way that I did. But if you’re a dog lover and want do something rewarding and make a difference in an animal’s life, there are many options out there. In fact, it’s not even necessary for you to own a dog to get involved.

I know many people who volunteer to help animals who are unable to have pets of their own for a variety of reasons. Volunteering at a shelter or with a rescue group can fill a void in any animal lover’s life. I’ve seen it happen. Volunteering can be a win-win situation. There are so many rescue organizations in the U.S. and all over the world. They are all looking for dedicated volunteers, all the time. The most important asset you can offer any of these groups is a love of dogs and a willingness to get involved.

Your local animal shelter is a great place to start.

Most shelters are under-staffed and under-funded, so they actively rely on volunteers to do a great deal of the daily work involved in caring for animals and running the facility. If you do decide to volunteer, be prepared to get dirty, and to go home smelling like a dog. Many of the jobs you will be asked to do are not that fun, or glamorous. You’ll likely be asked to scoop poop or wash kennels.

You also need to be prepared to fall in love with many adorable, needy dogs. It may be heartbreaking to say goodbye to some of them when they are adopted. But know that the work you are doing is incredibly valuable. Volunteers play a special role in preparing and socializing shelter dogs for their future home with a new family. Walking, petting, playing, bathing and grooming the dogs helps to make them feel more at ease, thus more adoptable.

The best way to find out what your local shelter needs in the way of volunteers is to call and ask, or just drop by and talk to a staff member. They will most likely welcome you in with open arms.

Animal rescue groups are another avenue for doing dog volunteer work. With rescue groups, there are a number of different directions you can pursue. Volunteer jobs range from fostering rescued dogs in your home, to driving rescued dogs from location to another and arranging the logistics for dogs that have been taken in. Dog rescue groups are often comprised of dozens of people who may not even know each other. Much of the work is done by networking with other rescuers thru e-mail or phone calls, and sometimes it’s hard to know who’s actually in charge. Just know that each role in rescuing a dog is critically important, and a chain is only as strong as its weakest link.

If you are interested in becoming involved in dog rescue, ask someone at your local animal shelter. Animal shelters will likely have select group of trusted rescue organizations that they can share with you. Actually, shelters and rescue organizations often work closely to find homes for animals in need. You can also search online dog rescue organizations, and reach out to them directly with questions. Just remember that they are likely overwhelmed with their workload; so don’t be frustrated if they don’t respond immediately.

There are so many opportunities locally, nationally and internationally for those who want to give their time to dogs. Every level of experience is needed, so never feel as though you don’t have anything to offer. Give some thought to what you are good at, and look for the opportunity to bring that skill to a dog in need. Are you a great writer? Offer to help with a rescue organization’s newsletter. Are you a web designer? Build a site for your local shelter. Love taking pictures? Offer to shoot photos of the animals to post on-line so future families can find animals that are right for them. You might be surprised what you can do.

Before stumbling onto Dead Dog Beach, I’d never volunteered at a shelter or ever worked with dogs. My reason for writing the book was not only to tell the story of my journey, and the dogs I tried to save. I wrote it in the hopes that it would rally and inspire readers and animal lovers to come forward and do something about the injustice and cruelty these dogs and other animals face every day, all over the world.

My hope has always been that my story will encourage others to stand together and stare down the bully and say “Enough is enough.”

Sometimes it’s scary to stand alone while trying your best to do the right thing. You don’t win any popularity contests either. But, if you stand your ground and push yourself outside of your comfort zone, you can live knowing that you followed your heart and did your best to be honorable. I’ve always lived my life knowing that I have to act if I want to see a change. Talking about change isn’t enough. Talk won’t save the dogs.

Please remember that rescue shelters and rescue non-profit organization cannot operate on love and good intentions alone. They need money from donations to facilitate the work they do. So, if volunteering your time is just not possible, please consider giving a financial donation to a trusted non-profit shelter or rescue organization. The rescue groups I support in Puerto Rico are Save-a-Sato and All Sato Rescue.


STEPHEN MCGARVA is the founder of The Achates Legacy Foundation, a non-profit organization that works to end the abuse of strays and build animal-friendly communities in Mexico and Puerto Rico. Steve first came to prominence as the Dog-Rescuer, for his work saving hundreds of dogs in Puerto Rico. He has been featured in People magazine, on NPR, and appeared on Ellen. He is the author of The Rescue at Dead Dog Beach: One Man’s Quest to Find a Home for the World’s Forgotten Animals.

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Image credit: *petitpor*, Flickr Creative Commons

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