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6 ways to volunteer with your pet

If there’s one thing our pets provide more than anything else, it’s unconditional love. And with National Volunteer Week kicking off on April 12, now’s the perfect time to extend that love to others. Getting involved and volunteering with your furry pal is a fun way to spend time together while making a difference in the lives of others. It is also a great way to socialize your pet, helping her to get used to being around other people and animals. Here are a few ideas to get you thinking about all the ways you might want to make a difference with your pet.

Charity walks or runs
Get both of your heart rates pumping by partaking in a charity walk or run. Animal-related charities typically allow you to bring your pet with you. For example, in Greenville, S.C., supporters are encouraged to bring their dogs to Paws for a Cause, which is a canine charity walk that raises money for cancer research. Don’t forget to call the organization prior to signing up to ask if animals are permitted.

Scout’s honor
Dog Scouts of America (DSA), a nonprofit organization, aims to enrich the lives of dogs and their owners by promoting responsible dog ownership. The DSA has programs that allow you to earn merit badges for your dog by participating in community service. Can’t find a DSA in your area? Check out their website to learn how you can start a group in your area—now that’s a way to do some real good.

Giving from within
Accidents happen, and just like human blood, animal blood is often needed to help save the life of a dog or cat who has lost too much of his own blood. Donating your pet’s blood is a fairly painless procedure that takes no more than 20 minutes but can mean everything to another pet and her owner. There are certain guidelines that must be met, however, so contact your veterinarian and the blood bank to be sure your pet is healthy enough to donate.

Canine reading program
If your dog likes children, consider donating his time to being an attentive listener to a child struggling with reading. These programs are designed to invite a nonjudgmental listener to act as support for the emerging reader. Many of the children in these programs suffer from low self-esteem as a result of not being at the same reading level as their peers. Dog listening companions can boost reading levels often because the child begins to associate this once-unpleasant task as something fun and exciting. Reading programs are popping up all over the country—a quick Internet search will help you determine if there is one in your area.  

Search and rescue
The most notable breeds for search and rescue (SAR) operations are German shepherds, border collies, Labrador retrievers, and golden retrievers. However, even if your dog isn’t one of these breeds, you could consider SAR training if he has excellent scenting capabilities, strong drives (prey, pack, play), and plenty of physical endurance and stamina.  Your canine must be intelligent and easily trainable. Training requires a considerable time commitment, beginning from puppyhood. You and your four-legged pal would be aiding local, state, and federal authorities while helping to save lives. If you’re interested in pursuing this option, check out the American Rescue Dog Association or the National Association for Search & Rescue.

Therapy
People in nursing homes, rehabilitation centers, and hospitals can benefit from some one-on-one time with your pet, and it doesn’t just have to be your dog or cat. Rabbits, horses, pigs, birds, llamas, alpacas, guinea pigs, and even pet rats can be registered as therapy animals. The animals typically have to go through special training and health exams to be approved for visits to various facilities. Habitual visits from animals not only provide much-needed social interactions but also something for a patient to look forward to regularly.

If you think you and your pet have the makings to be a good volunteer team, more power to you! It’s a win-win situation: Your community will benefit greatly as will your relationship with your pet.

 

Bekka Burton is a freelance writer and English language teacher who lives with a diva in the form of a tortoiseshell cat.

 

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