Pet projects

Often after seniors retire, they feel a need to give back to the community. Doing so helps them remain physically and mentally active.

Also, according to a study conducted in recent years by the University of Michigan Research Center and published in American Health, volunteering dramatically increases life expectancy.

And one popular way that seniors like to spend time during their golden years is by volunteering at animal shelters.

For the most part, volunteering at a shelter can be very simple — all that most shelters ask is that you fill out an application (and sometimes a waiver) and make a commitment to show up periodically.

Some volunteers only commit to several specific projects during the year, while others work at shelters anywhere from one to 10 hours a week. But regardless of the number of hours or special skills you can offer, most shelters welcome senior volunteers.

When volunteering, many shelters require new volunteers to attend an orientation session. At the orientation, you’ll receive a tour, information about the shelter and volunteer program and answers to any initial questions you may have.

Then, if you’re still interested in volunteering, some shelters require people to attend volunteer training sessions, which usually last anywhere from one to two hours.

Volunteers can fill many roles at shelters and usually fit in one of two categories: those who actually work with animals and those who don’t. Examples of volunteer jobs filled by those who work with animals:

• Dog and/or cat specialists. These are the people who actually feed and care for the animals, clean their cages and walk them. Among the usual qualifications are being able to handle large animals, patience, kindness and affection.

• Bathers and groomers. They brush, bathe and treat cats and dogs for fleas as needed in adoptable wards.

• Animal transporters. These people take dogs and cats from the shelter to area veterinary offices.

• Education program assistants. These volunteers demonstrate responsible pet ownership to schoolchildren and community groups.

Among the types of volunteers who don’t necessarily work with animals are:

• Shelter cleaning crew. These are people who don’t handle the animals but want to help keep their living areas clean. Chores include washing cages and vacuuming.

• Receptionists. These people greet the public, answer the phone and fill out necessary paperwork. Among the valued skills for this position are a pleasant manner, good public-relations skills, organizational skills and the ability to work as a team and follow policies and procedures.

• Fund-raising and/or publicity. This job sometimes entails delivering fliers advertising shelter events, as well as making signs and flyers for special events and participating in fund-raisers and working together to publicize the shelter and facilitate adoptions.

In addition to the above, numerous shelters also have foster programs, under which volunteers agree to take care of an animal or animals at their home for a specified period of time.

Usually, these animals are very young — typically under 10 weeks of age -— or are older but have non-life threatening injuries. Since shelters have limited space, these animals are placed in private homes until a time when they’re old enough or well enough for adoption.

Foster programs provide a nurturing environment for animals so they may mature, heal, socialize and become adoptable. While this is a very flexible volunteer position, it can require a great deal of dedication and time.