If you’re like most pet sitters, you have a big heart for animals, especially pets in need. Volunteering with a local animal shelter or rescue is not only a wonderful way to help homeless pets but can also benefit your pet sitting business.

The Benefits of Volunteering

Besides making a difference in the lives of animals, volunteering with a rescue can help you:

  • Gain pet care experience - Especially if you are just starting out as a pet sitter and don’t have much experience caring for pets aside from your own, volunteering at a shelter can give you much needed experience handling and caring for many different types of pets and a wide variety of breeds, ages, sizes, and temperaments.

  • Make connections - While volunteering, you’ll meet many people from your local community who are also passionate about pets. This is great opportunity to do some networking.

  • Promote your business - While some shelters and rescues do have policies against promoting businesses, many like to connect their adopters with great, local, pet-related services, like trainers, vets, and yes--pet sitters. While volunteering, ask about including a coupon, brochure, or business card in their pet adoption packets or see if they would list your business in the “Resources” section of their website.

Ways You Can Volunteer

Providing care, like feeding, walking, and clean up, to the pets in the shelter is probably what comes to mind first when you think of volunteering, but there are many other important tasks that you can help with. Shelters often need volunteers to answer phones and do other office work. If you’re skilled with a camera, you can volunteer to take photos of adoptable pets to post online.

Committing to regular volunteer hours can be difficult since a pet sitter’s schedule can be so erratic, but don’t let that deter you from volunteering. Some shelters allow volunteers come in to walk dogs or socialize cats whenever it fits their schedules. You could also consider just volunteering to help out at a special event or a fundraiser.

Another way to volunteer is by opening your home is to a foster pet. The rescue will cover healthcare and usually food and supplies for the foster pet; you just provide the attention, love and a safe, cozy place to live until the pet finds its forever home.

Things to Keep in Mind

Avoid Spreading Illness

Animals often come into shelters from less than ideal living conditions, and communicable diseases can spread quickly in the stressful, crowded environment of a shelter. Just because a shelter pet seems healthy, doesn’t mean it is. As a pet sitter, you not only have to be concerned about potentially spreading illness to your own pets at home but also to your client’s pets.

While volunteering at the shelter, follow all of the shelter’s cleaning and infection control protocols to the letter. Many shelters provide smocks for volunteers to wear while caring for animals and bleach dips to step your shoes in before leaving; if your shelter doesn’t provide these, you could buy your own smock and bring bleach wipes to use on the bottom of your shoes. Consider having designated clothes and shoes that you use for volunteering only and don’t wear them anywhere else. When you are done volunteering, go home and change before going to visit any clients’ pets. Always thoroughly wash your hands when you finish volunteering.

You need to be especially careful if you or your clients have very young or very old pets. If this is the case, you may want to avoid volunteer activities that put you in direct contact with the animals at the shelter for the time being.

Avoid Compassion Fatigue and Burnout

While volunteering, you’ll likely see pets that have been severely abused or neglected. There may be people who come into the shelter and abandon their pets for nonsensical reasons. And even if you’re volunteering at a no-kill shelter, your favorite pets will eventually get adopted. It’s common for people who work and volunteer with animals to suffer compassion fatigue. Try to concentrate on the positives--seeing a pet get adopted into a loving forever home or when a sick or injured pet makes an amazing recovery or a frightened pet finally learns to trust you. But pay attention to your emotional health and don’t be afraid to seek help or take a break from volunteering if you start to feel burned out.

Other Ways You Can Help

If volunteering directly with a shelter or rescue isn’t for you, there are other ways you can help pets in need:

  • Make a donation - Shelters and rescues depend heavily on donations. Consider donating a portion of your profits in honor of your business’s anniversary or another special time of year or having a promotion where you make a donation for every new client you get.

  • Organize a pet food drive - Find out what food and pet supplies your local shelter or pet food bank needs and encourage your clients to leave donations for you to pick up when you come for pet sitting visits.

  • Blog about it - Raise awareness about pet rescue and adoption by writing about it. It’s a great topic for your pet sitting business blog. Consider writing a post on Where to Adopt a Pet in [Your City], Reasons You Should Adopt a Pet, or Tips for Volunteering at an Animal Shelter.