girl with dogTwo years ago, when I was seeking summer plans, all I wanted to do was work with animals. I knew I wanted to work at an animal hospital or at a facility that trains animals to work with the disabled; but, unfortunately, internships involving animals all require you to be at least sixteen, and I wasn’t.

So, I found a plan B: volunteering at my local animal shelter. I realized that I didn’t need a fancy internship just to get the hands-on experience I was looking for. So, I spent the summer volunteering, and it was probably the best decision I have ever made.

Working at an animal shelter isn’t the most glamorous work. I can tell you from firsthand experience: Do not wear your favorite shirt when training the dogs how to sit and stay because the big slobbering kiss that the Boxer is going to give you is going all over it.  I wouldn’t wear new sneakers when feeding the cats either, especially near that one black tabby who shows her displeasure of particular food by spitting it out at random targets.

Despite all this, it’s an amazing and rewarding experience. While there are many tough chores, like cleaning up after the animals and washing their dirty beds, there are also fun ways to directly interact with the animals. I always love walking around and deciding which dog to take to the training room to teach new tricks. It’s always a difficult decision because the dogs always get so excited to see you, and it can be hard to just pick one.

I remember teaching a mixed breed Collie how to sit, and when I came back the next time, another volunteer had taught her how to do paw. So every time I came with a treat, without even giving the commands, she immediately sat and gave me her paw. The experience was as motivating and exciting as it was to teach my own Labradoodle puppy to do the same tricks. In addition to teaching the dogs tricks, you can also take them on walks and train them how to act appropriately on a walk. This is probably the most difficult task because each dog acts differently on their walk, and it becomes hard to gauge how each dog will react in certain situations.

When I first came to the shelter, I have to admit I was terrified of cats. But when I came with my friend, a cat lover, she convinced me to “socialize” the cats and interact with one of them directly. Slowly, my fear subsided, and now I love playing with the cats. While I still prefer hanging out with the dogs, I make sure to set aside enough time to go to the cat room during a visit, especially because most volunteers only come for the dogs.

Many people don’t realize the importance of donations for a shelter’s survival. Shelters often run low on basic and necessary supplies, like newspapers and towels. When I heard about this, I solicited small donations from my school to allow the shelter to purchase necessities, which made the shelter extremely grateful. People also don’t realize that in order to get involved, they don’t need to work hands-on at the shelter. There are so many other ways to contribute: raising money, soliciting donations, or even helping out at the front desk.

So, if you’re not a big fan of animals but still want to help, there are other ways to do so. Ultimately, plan B was a great decision!

doriaDoria Leibowitz is a high school junior best known for her floor hockey goalie-ing skills, yes FLOOR hockey. She is also a tennis player who spends most of her time trying to perfect her serve. When not stopping an orange ball from getting past her or trying to serve an ace, she is playing with her huge dog, Fenway. She also enjoys volunteering at her local animal shelter, running her own animal advocacy club at her school and writing for one of her school’s newspapers.

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