Volunteering at Animal Shelters is Good for Your Own Health


Photo Courtesy of Tuscaloosa Metro Animal Shelter

Sarah Cosner, Contributing Columnist

The bonds that we form with our pets are often inseparable. We love our pets like family, as they are a source of comfort in times of need. Pets can also teach us valuable life lessons, such as patience and compassion. For these reasons, many people feel that they need pets in their lives.

Unfortunately, moving away to school means that most students must leave their family pets at home. When pets are no longer physically there, it adds to the stress that students experience in college. A Washington State University survey reports that 75% of college students have experienced pet separation anxiety at some point.

Initially, it seems like adopting a pet at school would be an easy solution. However, the large financial responsibility that comes with owning a pet is not feasible for most full-time students, even those who live off-campus. Adoption fees, food costs and veterinarian bills can quickly add up, forcing students to spend thousands of dollars on their pet.

It also takes hours each day to properly care for a pet. The time commitment that an animal requires can be difficult for many students to fit into their busy schedules. 

While these are major obstacles for those of us who want to own a pet, there is still a solution to the problem: volunteering at a local animal shelter. This volunteer work gives students the chance to improve their own well-being while giving back to local animals in need.

Volunteering with shelter pets is just as beneficial for both physical and mental health as owning a pet. Researchers at Washington State University have proven that interacting with pets for just 10 minutes a day can greatly reduce an individual’s stress hormones. 

At the same time, human-animal interaction is beneficial to shelter pets. A 2019 study by the University of Florida shows that even a small amount of human interaction and enrichment can reduce the aggression in shelter dogs. This is a mutual interaction: we can help shelter animals while they help us.

In Tuscaloosa, there are several opportunities to help shelter pets have a better quality of life while having valuable interactions with these animals. Tuscaloosa Metro Animal Shelter is a local animal rescue that houses hundreds of homeless pets in West Alabama.

Whether you are available for an entire day or just a couple of hours each week, Tuscaloosa Metro has a position to fit into any schedule. There are a plethora of volunteer positions that range from being an animal care assistant to a cat cuddler or dog walker. 

The Tuscaloosa Metro Animal Shelter also has a program designed for people in the community to interact with their rescued canines. Through their Happy Hour Program, the shelter allows individuals to take one of their adoptable dogs out of the shelter for a few hours. The program runs Monday-Tuesday and Thursday-Friday from 12 p.m. to 4 p.m. 

It can be incredibly difficult to leave pets at home, but there are plenty of opportunities to eliminate this pet separation anxiety. Pets give us happier and healthier lives, and spending time with local rescue animals can greatly improve their lives as well. 

If you are interested in these volunteer opportunities, you can sign up to become a volunteer or participate in the Happy Hour Program. Applications are typically approved within 24 hours and all volunteers will be contacted by the shelter. Helping animals can help you, so take the opportunity as the school year starts to weigh down.