This past year I started volunteering at a no-kill animal shelter. I’ve had a love of animals since I was very little, but I wanted to do more than help out with my own dogs at home. My family has three dogs – one is a rescue from Puerto Rico. He was adopted from the Lost Dog & Cat Foundation. While I was performing in a musical in Maryland and had some free days, I looked for a no-kill shelter where I could reports that each year approximately 2.7 million dogs and cats are killed because shelters are too full and there aren’t enough adoptive homes. A no-kill shelter means that no healthy or treatable animal is killed even when the shelter is full.

I grabbed my computer and looked up local animal shelters. I got lucky on the first call.  They said they would love the help! Because I was only 13, I had to bring my mom along (I needed to be 14 to volunteer alone.). It is common for shelters to have an age requirement. Many will let a parent come along and help alongside you. They want to make sure you are responsible enough to perform the tasks needed to care for the animals alone or with a staff member. I fantasized that my volunteer time would be spent cuddling puppies and baby kittens.

The first thing I noticed was the smell! It just comes with the territory. There were so many cats and dogs and so many pens. This shelter tried hard to give the animals as much space as possible, but they had a lot of guests. My first task was far from my dream. I was to wash all of the food bowls that the animals had recently used by hand. There were probably 60 bowls! It took me about 45 minutes.

This may sound boring but it’s important. The shelter doesn’t just house the animals – they want to keep them disease free and healthy. Cats and dogs need clean living areas and bowls to eat and drink from. I learned quickly that volunteering is hard work and you have to be up for anything, especially when it comes to animals.

Volunteering at your local animal shelter is a great way to help the community and your fellow furry creatures! Shelters do not receive a lot of money to run on – whether they are private or public – so volunteers are crucial to keeping the animals safe and healthy until they are adopted. If you are unable to volunteer, most shelters can use food, bedding, treats, toys, and financial donations.

The shelter was always buzzing. There were a washer and dryer cleaning and drying bedding constantly. There were people carrying in and stocking food. There was a veterinarian assistant walking around administering medicines to those animals that were ill. There were people hosing down all the pens. People who were walking the dogs for exercise. People who were filling the food and water bowls.

Outside of tasks like cleaning food bowls, I was excited to learn I would get to bring some dogs in from their walk and give them treats! I also got to walk a newer member of the shelter, a sweet little black labrador. On our way outside I saw a dog with a wheelchair for his legs. A wheelchair! In case you missed it, I am a huge advocate for those with disabilities, so seeing a dog who was able to have a second chance at life was really amazing! His name was Chubs, which is the cutest thing ever!

Adopting from shelters or rescue organizations can also make a huge impact on saving animals lives There is always a need for space and resources for new animals that arrive daily. Adopting a pet from either of these is usually much cheaper which can be a plus when trying to convince a parent to let you have a pet! Many animals are older and have had some training which makes the transition of bringing a new pet home easier.

Oh, and you’ll be glad to know that Chubs was adopted by a family with a bunch of kids, some of whom had disabilities themselves. They couldn’t wait to welcome him to his forever home.

Looking for a place to start?

1. Contact animal shelters in your area to find out if they need volunteers.

2. If you’re looking for a new furry (or even feathery or scaley friend), look to shelters for your new family member!

3. Donate to a shelter that you support! Even if you can’t donate your time and energy, a few dollars can help them purchase valuable supplies like food and beds.

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Sissy Sheridan has been acting, singing, and dancing since the age of 4 when she fell in love with the Lion King on Broadway.  She has worked professionally in the Washington DC area as well as New York and Los Angeles.  When she isn’t working, she loves hanging out with her friends, creating YouTube videos, making slime, and eating candy.