“Rescue Me” is a recurring column by Samantha Randall, editor-in-chief at Top Dog Tips. She provides personal anecdotes and perspective about her life as a pet lover with a passion for cat and dog rescue. Today, she talks about why it’s good for families and children to get involved with rescue shelters.
Many parents are familiar with the question, “Can we get a dog?” If you hear yourself repeat “No!” to your kids, or if you’re not sure if they’re ready to take care of another living being, consider letting them volunteer at an animal rescue shelter first. Volunteering will give them the opportunity to spend time with dogs and cats while helping animals without your family taking on the commitment of a full-time pet.
It’s not always feasible for families to adopt a dog. Maybe you don’t have a lot of time to take care of a pet, or maybe you don’t live in the ideal environment for a specific pet. In those cases, it may not be a good idea to adopt. That doesn’t mean that your child can’t get some of the benefits of having a pet. Shelters always need extra help, and there are plenty of things that kids can do to help out around facilities like these.
It can do a lot of good to get your kids involved with organizations that give back to animals in need. Kids love spending time around dogs, and shelter dogs really need the one-on-one attention that they can get from kids who volunteer. This can also significantly benefit both your child and the dog, something that I’ve recently discussed with a child therapist in a podcast about kids and dogs.
Moreover, dogs who get regular interaction with kids and adults are more likely to be adopted. If potential adopters can see how good a particular dog is around kids, they are much more likely to consider adopting that pet. Even if you can’t adopt, you can still save a dog’s life!
Here are some other reasons that I always encourage parents to get their kids involved in working with shelter dogs:
- Future Career Possibilities
If your child is interested in working with dogs, they might be headed for a career in the veterinary field. Working with shelters and rescue dogs is a fantastic way for your child to find out more about working with animals and what it takes to care for dogs. You could be sowing the seeds for your child’s future career by encouraging them to volunteer at a rescue shelter.
Developing empathy is an important stage in the psychological growth of children. Volunteering teaches kids how to understand the consequences of their actions toward another living being. It also teaches them how to understand and care about the emotional needs of another living being. Learning empathy will help your child grow up to be an adult who can consider the feelings of others, instead of only thinking of their own feelings.
Caring for shelter dogs (making sure that they have food, water, walks, playtime and love) will teach your child responsibility. And volunteering teaches kids how important it is to keep your word and be reliable. Having to show up at the rescue and work for a few hours on a regular basis will prepare your child for the commitments that come later in life.
Having a relationship with a dog is a wonderful way for kids to learn how to trust others. Kids often confide their small secrets, hopes and dreams to the dogs they work with. The dog’s unconditional love and acceptance for the child will teach that child how to be open, loving, and trusting in all their relationships.
Kids learn self-esteem by completing tasks and feeling valued. Working with rescue dogs gives your kids the building blocks for stronger self-esteem. They will get satisfaction from working to make life better for the dogs and from the dogs’ unconditional love and attention. Research has also shown that kids who are around dogs are less likely to be stressed in their daily lives.
Kids learn how to treat animals and people with respect by caring for shelter dogs. They will need to learn to pet the dogs gently and respect their boundaries. Respect, empathy and compassion are all things that will make your kids trustworthy and loving adults.
Dogs are fantastic examples of loyalty for kids. Even dogs who have been neglected and abused still show love and loyalty to their caretakers. Your kids will learn the value of loyalty and how to show loyalty to others.
Patience can be a difficult concept for kids to learn. But working with rescue dogs in shelters teaches kids how to be patient and give them the satisfaction of winning a dog’s trust and love.
Children who practice kindness grow into the kind of adults who will make the world a better place. Dogs are living examples of kindness, and they can teach kids how to be kind and loving and loyal in any situation. Children are also more likely to be kind to other people after they have worked with dogs.
- Social Skills
Kids who take rescue shelter dogs to the park or out on walks will find that many of the people they meet, especially other kids, want to stop and talk and pet the dog. Kids will learn how to talk to others and how to make friends through their work walking dogs and talking to other people about their work in the shelter.
- How to Handle Loss
Death is a very difficult concept for kids. It’s never easy to have a beloved dog die, but kids who work with shelter pets will learn how to process and cope with grief when their beloved canine companions do pass away.
What Kids Can Do at Rescue Shelters
Even very young kids can get involved with dogs at rescue shelters. There are a lot of ways that your family can help out at a shelter. Parents and kids can walk dogs, give out food and treats, and provide companionship. Depending on how old your kids are, they might be able to help with activities like bathing the dogs as well. Together, it can be a fun family experience.
Some shelters have a fantastic volunteer program where kids read to the dogs. The kids get to practice their reading, and the dogs get love and attention. These programs have been wildly successful for kids and dogs, so you should see if your local shelter or rescue organization has a program like this. If they don’t, you could consider starting one.
Without the help of volunteers, dogs in shelters spend many hours of the day in cages or crates. Kids can volunteer to walk and play with dogs and give them some outside time that will make the animals happier and healthier. It’s also good for your kids to be spending time outdoors playing and getting physical activity.
Playing with puppies is another fun way for kids to volunteer. Puppies need regular interaction with humans to learn how to be good family dogs. They also have a lot of energy and need a lot of physical activity. Playing with puppies teaches kids how to gently handle pets and train them. And it also teaches the puppies how to safely be around children, which makes them more adoptable.
Another thing that kids can do at shelters is help clean. Kids often don’t seem to mind cleaning and doing chores when they’re doing it for animals, even if they hate doing it at home. Kids can scoop up poop outside, clean water and food bowls, and help wash blankets and bedding.
Kids can also help out with adoption fairs and events. At adoption events, many shelters need extra hands to help keep the dogs busy and talk to potential adopters. Kids can help the dogs they love find great homes. While they might be sad when their favorite dogs are adopted and aren’t at the shelter anymore, they will learn the joys of helping others without expecting anything in return.