FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS ABOUT VOLUNTEERING WITH ANIMALS
QUESTION: Why should I volunteer with animals instead of with children or adults, on a sustainable farm, etc.?
ANSWER: While the rationale behind this decision will be different for every person, I can tell you why I choose to volunteer with animals. In my mind, animals are often incapable of improving their situation without human intervention. An island’s stray dog population will not diminish without a sterilization program, elephants cannot reforest the habitat where they previously roamed, etc. It’s up to animal-serving organizations, and often their unpaid volunteers, to make these things possible in order to decrease suffering and improve quality of life. In the end, the human communities where these animals live will benefit as well. Oh, and I just love animals, so there’s that, too.
Q: Where do I start if I want to find an animal serving organization to volunteer with?
A: You’re already here, so start by perusing the organizations that I’ve volunteered with in addition to those featured on the “Great Organizations” section. If none of those projects fit your fancy (or travel destination), run a Google search for “volunteer with animals <insert country>.” Once you’ve found one that you like, check Tripadvisor.com for reviews and peruse for blogs written by fellow volunteers. LIKE the organization’s Facebook page and reach out to others who have volunteered in the past so you can get an accurate picture of what your time spent there will be like. Once you’ve found the right fit, reach out and get the ball rolling.
Q: Why do some volunteer programs cost money? Shouldn’t my time be contribution enough?
A: Most animal-serving non-profits operate solely off of donations and your “volunteer fee” serves as income that keeps the organization afloat. Some projects are more expensive than others, ranging from $100/week to thousands. These organizations are constantly working to strike a balance between sufficient volunteer numbers and positive cash flow. Generally speaking, volunteering with wild animals costs more than working with domestic ones. In fact, many organizations that help street dogs and cats require no volunteer fees and occasionally offer free accommodation. Working with wild animals is generally more expensive due to the prestige (I’m willing to pay to work with a puma, for example) and higher costs associated with maintaining the facilities necessary to foster their wellbeing.
Q: What is the time commitment?
A: The minimum commitment varies, but I have found that you should volunteer for at least two weeks, and preferably a month, in order to really make a difference and get something out of the experience. It typically takes about a week to learn the ins-and-outs of the day-to-day operations of an organization. That said, you can usually still help out if you only have a few days to volunteer. At Lanta Animal Welfare, for example, if you can’t commit to the one–month minimum, you can still come by and walk dogs each day. This allows the other volunteers to get ahead on tasks such as checking for ticks, scrubbing kennels, etc. and is much appreciated.
Q: Is it safe?
A: Volunteering with animals, whether they be domestic or wild, is never 100%safe. You can, however, take precautions that will make your chances of escaping without a major trauma more likely. Get the pre-exposure rabies vaccine (preferably while abroad as it will be exponentially cheaper than doing it in the US), select an organization with a solid safety record, and make sure that you feel completely trained and comfortable before being alone with the animal(s).
If you have any additional questions about volunteering with animals, feel free to send me an email (see the CONTACT ME link above). Now get out there and do some good!