Your local animal shelter needs help. News of chaos dogging animal welfare programs seems to be everywhere, from earthquake recovery efforts inHaiti to shelter mismanagement in Dallas and misdirected policies on dealing with strays in Memphis. These are important issues that deserve our attention and action. But just because your local shelter isn't making headlines doesn't make it immune to needing support of its own from you and your family.
As much as animals (and shelters) need support from families like yours, kids need animals, too. Animals and people seem, historically, to be made for each other — and removing pets from the family mix may be snipping children's empathetic heartstrings. Children from violent homes are more likely to be cruel to animals than children from stable, loving homes.
It seems evident, then, that raising children in empathetic relationship to animals is the way to go. But what if keeping a pet at home simply isn't in the cards? And thus, our topic turns back again to the local animal shelter — where despite some age-related limitations, there may be more opportunities for your child to contribute than you think.
Not all animal shelters accept volunteers under the age of 16. Working with animals that are sick or have been mistreated calls for solid judgment, an even emotional head and a strong, steady hand. We've identified a sampler of ideas that may inspire animal-lovers of 10 or so and older:
Socializing the kitty-cats is pretty straightforward: sit down near some cats, wait for one or more to stroll your way, snuggle, repeat.
Dogs can be a little more challenging to handle, but the principles are the same. Most kids do a pretty good job at petting, praising and cuddling.
Walking the dogs takes a little more maturity. Kids must be able to control dogs that pull and jerk to get away, and they should be aware of how far they can go and when it's time to head back. A buddy system with a grownup is the safest choice.
Younger children can help collect and make things the animals can use: old towels for bedding, decorated cardboard boxes ("kitty hotels") for cats to curl up in, and of course anything the shelter can use in the way of animal care or administrative supplies.
Most shelters have a wish list (and they can all use donations), and organizing a good old-fashioned car wash, lemonade stand or similar effort to meet those needs is fun and produces a tangible result.
Staff members may need help grooming, watering and feeding the animals — a perfect chance for supervised interaction.
What about the basics? Teens can help with basic office tasks like filing, phone message and assisting visitors.
Even grunt work can be fun when it's done around wagging tails and purring voices. Sweeping, cleaning, folding towels ... These mundane tasks become much more exciting with the friendly companionship of various dogs and cats.
Don't be discouraged if your shelter at first tells your child "no." Ask about their policies and how else your child could help. Some may be more open to the idea once kids have proven their dedication at less exciting, more administrative tasks or projects like collecting bedding; volunteering as a family might also pave the way. If there's just not a good fit for your kids, ask if the shelter can recommend another outlet.
Perhaps the shelter can suggest an older person who could use an extra pair of hands to care for a beloved pet.
What about a veterinarian who might be willing to accept a young "intern?"
Kids and animals are a natural combination; throw in some enthusiastic persistence, and your kids should be able to find someplace to share their love for animals and give back to the animals and community they live in.