6 Ways to Volunteer With Your Pet

MUSH: Raise money for a charity while having a blast with your dog in a skijoring event. (Photo: Bright {novella} Patricia/Flickr).

Our pets bring us joy and enrich our lives. But they can also bring joy and enrich the lives of others — with a little help from us. Whether your BFF is a dog, cat, parakeet or something more exotic, teaming up as a volunteer duo is a great way to share time with each other and share your combined gifts with the world. Here are some ways you and your furry (or feathery) friend can begin reaching out to others.

Donating blood. It’s a regular ritual for many of us — the bloodmobile comes around, and we roll up our sleeves to give blood for the injured and sick. Well, it turns out animals need blood transfusions too, and for all the same reasons as humans. Good news: Now your pet can give the gift of life just like you do. To find a pet blood bank near you (donations are mainly from dogs and cats), ask your veterinarian or check this list from the Association for Veterinary Hematology and Transfusion Medicine.

Animal-assisted therapy. Hospital patients, nursing home residents and even a neighbor who can’t get out much may all benefit from a little pet therapy. Regular visits from animals provide much-needed social interaction, plus they’ve also been shown to reduce stress. If your pet is friendly, well behaved and patient (and if you are too), you may have all the makings of an excellent therapy team. All you need is some training, and you and your pet can begin spreading the love. Dogs are the most common animal “therapists,” but Pet Partners (formerly called the Delta Society), one of several national and local groups that certify pet-human volunteer pairs, has cats, birds, rabbits, horses and even llamas among its 10,000 teams.

Take Your Dog/Pet to Work Day. Great news for Fido and Fifi. At least one day a year they won’t have to stay home alone while you work. Started by Pet Sitters International in 1999, Take Your Dog to Work Day events are sponsored by companies and their canine-loving employees every year on the Friday after Father’s Day to raise awareness and money for animal adoptions. PSI recently began designating the entire post–Father’s Day week as Take Your Pet to Work Week so businesses that are closed on Fridays and those with employees who prefer pets of the non-canine persuasion can participate.

Provide a foster home. Many would-be pets at animal shelters need a little socializing or just some time to recover from an illness before they can be adopted out to a loving home. You and your darling can help these pets-in-training (everything from cats and dogs to guinea pigs, parrots and even horses) transition to a forever home and feel more comfortable around people and other animals by temporarily taking them in. Check with your local animal shelter for fostering opportunities in your area.

Search and rescue. When disaster strikes or someone goes missing, human-canine teams are often called in to help. Turns out many are volunteers that aid local, state and federal authorities. What’s more, you and your dog can learn to locate tornado survivors, missing skiers and drowning victims too. All it takes is two years of search-and-rescue training and a lot of dedication and stamina. The best hero-breeds include German shepherds, golden retrievers and border collies. If your dog is agile, obedient, outgoing and young (training is best started in puppyhood), then contact the American Rescue Dog Association or the National Association for Search & Rescue.

Walk/race for charity. Here’s another opportunity for you and your best canine buddy to get in shape together while also doing good. Many charities raise money by sponsoring human/dog racing events — everything from dog walks and runs (canicross) to bikjoring (dogs pulling bicyclists) and skijoring (dogs pulling skiers). In Grand Marais, Minn., there’s even Mush for a Cure, where sled-dog teams race to raise funds for the National Breast Cancer Foundation.