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Volunteering at animal shelters around the world: a step-by-step guide

How about helping the animal cause while traveling? Find out all about volunteering at animal shelters in the US or abroad.


volunteering at animal shelters

Since the pandemic, more and more people started thinking about different, more conscious ways of traveling. For many, this reflection awakened the desire to live and travel with a greater sense of purpose, making a positive impact in the world.

If you also feel this calling, I invite you to discover a way to travel while helping those in need by volunteering at animal shelters and other projects that rescue and care for animals. Spending time among nature and animals can be invigorating and transformative for you and change these creatures' lives. 

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Why should you consider volunteering at animal shelters?

The World Health Organisation (WHO) estimates there are nearly 200 million stray dogs worldwide and an even higher number of stray cats.

In addition to all the suffering for the animals, abandonment is also a public health issue, as stray dogs and cats can transmit zoonoses such as rabies and leishmaniasis, among other diseases.

We can help animals in several ways: avoiding travel experiences that involve animal abuse; financially with donations; sponsoring a pet; publicizing the work of organizations dedicated to this care; or with our time and dedication, volunteering at animal shelters.

At the volunteer work platform Worldpackers, there are several NGOs and non-profit projects around the world that are dedicated to the protection of animal rights, including shelters and social projects, all verified by the platform.

The volunteer programs through the platform consist of a collaborative experience where you offer your time and dedication in exchange for accommodation and other benefits.

In this article, you will find what you need to know before looking for volunteer work in animal welfare. I'll also share some of the best animal shelters and animal rights NGOs that are looking for volunteers in many parts of the world..

tips for volunteering at animal shelters

Where to find opportunities to volunteer at animal shelters

There are many animal shelters and NGOs focused on animal care in the US and abroad, but it's not always easy to volunteer for these organizations. As this is serious and delicate work, these places need to take many precautions when selecting a person to volunteer.

That's where Worldpackers comes in: the platform works as an intermediary between people interested in collaborating and animal shelters and NGOs that need help. On the website, the host can see your profile and reviews, and you can read about the host and the volunteering opportunity.

There are several vacancies available at Worldpackers, with different types of projects in various destinations. You can volunteer for weeks or even months, exchanging your work for accommodation. In some cases, hosts also provide other benefits such as meals, laundry, and tours.

Not to mention the opportunity to experience nature and be in touch with the local community, an experience much deeper from the one you’d have if you just passed through the destination quickly as a typical tourist.

Using the platform's filters, you can view all vacancies in NGOs or select the skill “Animal care”. That way you’ll find positions for volunteering at animal shelters and other opportunities to care for animals all over the world. You can also select your preferred destination (continent, country, state or city) and see the positions available there.

And if what you are looking for is volunteering in nature, whether with animals or not, it is also possible to contribute with various types ecological projects, from beach cleaning actions to work with permaculture and bioconstruction or agroecology.

Tips for volunteering at animal shelters

Volunteer work at an animal shelter generally consists of care such as feeding, bathing, walking, cleaning kennels and utensils and participating in the adoption and socialization process.

In addition to volunteering with domestic animals, such as dogs and cats, you can also find projects and sanctuaries focused on caring for wild animals and farm animals.

I’ll give you some super cool examples of volunteer positions to help animals around the world later in this article. But first, let's talk about some important points that you should understand before having an experience of this type.

Keep reading:

help animals in need

Loving animals is just the beginning

To work or volunteer at animal shelters and similar places, love for animals is a must, of course. But it's not enough. Volunteering with animals require enormous responsibility.

You must be open to learning new skills and prepared to work hard and get your hands dirty. Remember: working with animals involves fur, smells, feathers, noises...

You won't always work directly with the animals

The routine of volunteering at animal shelters can be very diverse. Taking care of animals also involves caring for their space through maintenance, cleaning and gardening, among other tasks.

Producing content for social media and other activities to publicize the project are also possible demands from hosts, as well as administrative tasks.

Remember that the main goal in any volunteer position is to fulfill the needs of the host organization and, in this case, help the animals in need. Your personal preferences should be considered, but they’re not the priority.

Specific tasks vary depending on the host organization’s needs, as you can see on the descriptions at the hosts’ profile pages. 

A typical day as a volunteer may include:

  • Socializing with the animals and giving them affection;
  • Walking the dogs and train them to walk on a leash;
  • Feeding the animals and giving them water;
  • Assisting with medical care, as instructed by professionals;
  • Cleaning the shelter facilities and property grounds, cleaning the dog kennels, and cleaning your volunteer accommodation and communal areas;
  • Hosting tours of the shelter and talking with visitors;
  • Producing content for advertising and social media;]
  • Helping with administrative tasks.

volunteering at animal shelters includes very diverse tasks

It is important to believe in the purpose of the organization

Volunteering through Worldpackers, where you get free accommodation, is an option to save money on your trip. However, to work on projects such as animal shelters and NGOs, you need to be aligned with the purposes of the place, so that the work makes sense to you.

Before applying for the position, carefully read the description of that opportunity on the Worldpackers platform and research the organization. It's also worth getting in touch with people who have already been there, which you can do through the platform itself. If you have any questions about the organizations' values and functioning, you can also ask the host.

Previous experience is often not necessary…

In most of the volunteer positions available at Worldpackers, it is not necessary for you to have previous experience working with animals or professional training in the field. You just need to have a desire to help and be open to learning in practice the skills needed for day-to-day activities.

…But responsibility is always a must

Even without experience volunteering with animals, you should take this opportunity very seriously, as we've mentioned before. Don't commit to things you don't feel like you'd be capable of doing.

Working in animal shelters, NGOs and social projects can require psychological preparation, as there may be sick, injured, and traumatized animals, and contact with them requires a lot of care and attention. Always respect the site's procedures and rules, for everyone's safety.

Go beyond volunteering

Knowing the history of the place, the employees and everything that involves the operation of where you chose to volunteer will further enrich your experience, in addition to helping you become a better volunteer.

And even once you’re not volunteering there anymore, you can continue helping in many ways, such as donating or promoting the animal shelter on social media.

a Worldpacker volunteer at an animal shelter in Brazil

5 opportunities for volunteering at animal shelters

Now that you know what it's like to volunteer at an animal shelter, look at these vacancies we've selected for you to start planning your volunteering experience:

1. Texas, USA

The Llama Rescue Foster Farm welcomes travelers who want to make a difference in the lives of llamas or alpacas that have been rescued. You can explore the hill country of Texas in your off hours and the hosts tailor projects to the talents volunteers may have, as there are many tasks to choose from.

Among other things, you can help cleaning or repairing facilities and caring for the animals. In exchange for your volunteer work, you’ll get lodging in a cabin and three vegetarian meals a day. See more information at the host's profile page on Worldpackers.

“The people I met here are lovely, if you are looking for a peaceful place with contact with nature and beautiful, docile llamas, this is the perfect place. You need to treat them well and respect their schedules, animals have a routine, and you need to follow it. I would come back here again!”, said former volunteer Elizete.

2. Amealco, Mexico

Learn about animals, permaculture and eco-living at the Animal Shepherd Farm Sanctuary, a hilltop retreat in the countryside in the magical town of Amealco, Mexico. More than 100 abused and neglected animals rescued from the streets call the place home, living without cages. They need volunteers who love cats and dogs and are comfortable with basic outdoor and farm work.

The tasks might include housekeeping, making compost, animal feeding and cleaning, bio-construction, farm renovation, gardening and forestry, social media management, and decoration, depending on your skills and interests.

On your free time, you can enjoy the close contact with nature. The site is surrounded by woodland where you can catch a glimpse of squirrels, sparrow hawks and glow-worms. You can also stroll down to the village nearby or explore the lively town of Amealco.

Check out the review by former volunteer David, from Australia: “Animal Shephard was an amazing and eye-opening experience, learning about the operations of an animal shelter for dogs and cats. Ryan is environmentally aware and aims to have his farm off grid, so along with taking care of cats and dogs, volunteers are encouraged to contribute/help with environmental projects. Be prepared to get your hands (and body) dirty, so bring outdoor clothes and a good pair of shoes/boots!”.

volunteering at animal shelters

3. Simabô, Cape Verde

Does living on an island in Cape Verde while taking care of pets sound like a dream to you? At Simabô, an NGO that takes care of abandoned dogs and cats in Mindelo, volunteers are responsible for playing with the animals and taking them for walks. A dream job!

They have paid staff to clean and feed the animals, and your task will be primarily to walk the dogs, play with them, brush and cuddle them and check that they are in good health, especially the puppies. Clear instructions will be provided for accomplishing tasks and volunteers are required to perform them accurately.

"The experience at Simabô was the best thing I’ve done in my life so far. In addition to accomplishing the dream to live in another culture, I was able to do incredible work in a wonderful place with very inspiring people. The choice of the NGO could not have been better. I was very well received and the work itself is enriching", said Worldpackers’ traveler Danielle.

animal shelter in Cape Verde

4. Allqo Llaqta, Peru

This stray dog rescue center in the Sacred Valley of the Incas, in Peru, needs help with the daily operation of the rescue center, hosting tours of the shelter for visitors, and working with the local population to raise awareness in dog welfare. Find out more by checking out this animal shelter's page on the Worldpackers platform.

Here’s the testimony of volunteer Alice, who spent time there through Worldpackers: "An incredible experience!! All the volunteers are wonderful, we became a family and shared the tasks easily. The dogs are beautiful, very kind and love to receive affection. We carry out tasks related to caring for the dogs and maintaining the refuge, all as a team. Fabrizio has incredible energy and a lot of love for the dogs, which makes everything easier! A beautiful experience that I highly recommend :)"

help dogs in Peru

5. Pucón, Chile

What about getting to know the charming city of Pucón, in the Lakes Region of Chile, while taking care of friendly horses? Check out this volunteering opportunity with horses at the Kodkod organization.

The tasks to be carried out are defined each week by the hosts, but some recurring activities are cleaning the stables, cleaning and feeding the horses, and accompanying the rides as an assistant.

The place is beautiful, and the experience allows for a lot of contact with nature. As the host’s profile says, their community “has been created to facilitate our positive connections with the environment. We believe that it is important to live not only prioritizing economic aspects in life but looking for the ecological limits of them. Saving the planet is something that begins with the way each of us organizes our own way of life: our jobs, what we eat, or what we value”.

“The place is incredible, I felt great in the middle of nature. The work is very relaxed, and the hours are super flexible (I had to change my day off and Camilo was super understandable)”, said the volunteer Sabrina.

take care of horses in Chile

Now that you know how to volunteer in animal shelters around the world, search the Worldpackers platform for positions related to animal care and get ready to make a difference while you have the time of your life. Enjoy!

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