All of us know the following scenario very well: A teen walks in needing ten hours of community service by the end of the month and they want to volunteer. As much as I want to say “yes,” reality sets in and I can’t always accommodate those requests. Teens should be proactive when it comes to community service, but what if they have no idea who to contact? Well, this is where our super library powers come in and, with a little research, and a few phone calls, we can definitely refer our teen patrons to organizations that need their help.

The best way to point our teens to local organizations is to create a list of local nonprofits for ready reference. When I started researching organizations in my community, I was blown away with the number of organizations that need help other than the library! In fact, there is such a variety of organizations in my community that teens should not have any problems finding a suitable volunteer position. One excellent example is for teens to volunteer at their local humane society and animal shelter.

According to Animal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) “approximately 7.6 million companion animals enter animal shelters nationwide every year. Of those, approximately 3.9 million are dogs and 3.4 million are cats.1” There are many, many animals that need homes and, if they are unable to be placed in a loving home, they face the threat of being euthanized. For teens, this is the type of issue that will not only ignite a passion in them, but, as a volunteer for the humane society or shelter, they will put that passion to good use. The goals for these programs are to give teens the tools and knowledge to not only help communicate with the public about homeless pets, but promote the humane societies’ or shelters’ mission and objectives. When I was a teen, I thought that if I worked at an animal shelter, I would be cleaning kennels the entire time, which is why I ended up volunteering with the library. I was so wrong and, as much as I loved volunteering in the library, I really wished I worked at the local humane society.

After researching a variety of teen volunteer programs in various shelters and humane societies, I learned that teens are involved in a variety of tasks that include outreach, animal care, event organizing, hosting fundraisers, leading tours of the shelter, and, if their parents agree, volunteering to be a foster family. When I looked in my own city, the Pasadena Humane Society offers teens the opportunity to become “Junior Ambassadors” where their duties include: giving presentations about animal welfare at day camps, providing tours to shelter guests, attending a seminar about the inner workings of the shelter, and attending behavior trainings that will allow them to walk shelter dogs). Other shelters have similar programs and, believe it or not, some shelters have programs for younger children as well AND other educational opportunities to teach families about pet adoption and other topics.

What makes this opportunity unique is that teens can benefit greatly from the animals because caring, and working with these animals helps teens cultivate empathy, compassion, and respect for these creatures. As a momma of three rescued cats, animals have this uncanny ability to give unconditional love and loyalty, which is amazing. In fact, animal therapy has proven to help young people with emotional, physical, and intellectual problems to not only help them express themselves, but help them process their current situation; therefore, by advocating and working with animals, teens from all backgrounds will gain an amazing set of interpersonal skills. Furthermore, this particular opportunity will also teach teens about responsibility and ethics that will help teens develop their own sense of morality; by becoming a spokesperson for homeless pets, they become an active voice in their community. It’s crazy enough to think about all the possibilities that come of volunteer work, but, as a volunteer for homeless pets, it can bring out the most amazing traits in teens. For example, Amber Nelson, a teen from Florida, started her own nonprofit to rescue homeless pets and has managed to home quite a few animals already. What was compelling about why she created her own organization is that when she rescued a badly-burned pit bull (who was scheduled to be euthanized) she saw how grateful and loving the pit bull was for being saved 2. Teens are very capable of doing the right thing and that is why I am so happy that great nonprofit organizations are willing to give them a chance.

Although we want to encourage teens to volunteer at the library, we can also help them use their passion for public service by helping them reach into other pockets of our community to help as well. In fact, we can actually take it a step further by inviting the local humane society, or shelter, to the library to talk about the various volunteer opportunities. We have these community partnerships for a reason so let’s bring everyone together to help out teens develop into well-rounded members of our community.




About Deborah Takahashi

Deborah Takahashi is a Senior Librarian for the Monterey Park Bruggemeyer Library. Deborah has been working with teens and children for seventeen years and loves every minute. Deborah is also the author of "Serving Teens with Mental Illness at the Library: A Practical Guide."

One Thought on “Working with Animals: A Unique Volunteer Opportunity for Teens

  1. This sounds like such a great program! I used to volunteer at an animal shelter and it was so rewarding. I have a rescue dog and am a firm believer in rescue animals being the best type of pets!

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