I emphatically believe that if kids are involved in volunteerism early on, they’ll grow up knowing that helping others is just a natural part of what we do as human beings. My kids have volunteered in one way or another since they were wee toddlers. We cooked and served food at a homeless family shelter for several years, and their love for animals spawned many an opportunity to give back to their feline friends.
I think the cool part of volunteerism is that the volunteer receives just as much (sometimes more) benefit than the person/animal/project for which they’re helping. Honestly, what feels better than knowing you helped make a difference in a life or situation? Studies have shown that helping others boosts our endorphins — and even our immunity. If we all reached out and gave just a little, we’d be happier and healthier and the world would be a better place!
Here are five ways you can involve your children in cat-centric volunteer opportunities.
1. Become a foster family
When you work with a shelter to foster a cat, you agree to take care of the kitty’s needs and give him lots of love and attention for an agreed upon length or time or until the cat is adopted into a forever home. I’ve never fostered, but have many friends who regularly welcome cats into their homes. Fostering also helps shelters free up space for more animals and allows a more peaceful space for special needs cats, including new moms and kittens.
Before your family jumps right into fostering, it’s important to assess your living situation, schedule, and age and demeanor of your kids and the foster cat. There really are so many things to consider, so practice due diligence. Catster provides a thoughtful reference that details some of these considerations. Making the decision to foster is a serious commitment and an excellent opportunity to involve kids in cat care, teaching responsibility and compassion.
2. Ride along with a transport
Sometimes we see cats online who urgently need adopting. Many times a person feels an immediate connection to one of those cats, but the shelter is halfway across the country. What then? Ever heard of a cat transport? There are a few transport groups on Facebook and online, including one run by Catster’s own author, Dorian Wagner of Your Daily Cute. These groups help find drivers for each leg of the trip to get kitty right into your loving arms! How fantastic is that?
One way children can help is by riding along on the transport. They don’t forget those experiences. Blake (pictured above) has ridden along with Mom Dolly in two of Dorian’s transports. Dotty says he sits beside the kitty and chats with her during the drive. This helps him feel connected and is a necessary part of saving a cat’s life. It can be an incredibly powerful teaching moment. To learn more about transporting and how to get involved, read Dorian’s post.
3. Volunteer for a shelter
One of the most common ways to help is to volunteer for a shelter. Most shelters will allow younger kids to help if they’re volunteering alongside an adult. Some shelters may allow teens to fly solo. There’s a definite sense of immediate satisfaction when you spend a few hours cleaning cages, scooping litter boxes, and cuddling cats. Kids actually see the difference they are making in the cats’ quality of life at the shelter.
If you and your kids aren’t able to spend chunks of time at a shelter, you can still help. Collect donations of food, towels, bleach, treats, litter, and toys. Buy a little something each week and keep a tub of supplies in the laundry room or somewhere out of the way. Encourage others to help — let your friends and kids’ friends know your home is an official drop-off! Once you’ve filled the tub, deliver it to the shelter. Even the smallest children can participate in this way. And again, you are modeling positive behavior, which is one of the best gifts of all.
4. Birthday fun
When my kids were young, they had plenty of toys and games. When birthdays rolled around, they received gifts from family, but we planned birthday parties around helping others. Each child got to choose the organization which would benefit and we’d ask guests to bring a donation toward the cause in lieu of a gift. My two kids usually chose animal-related causes, including local shelters, and my daughter even asked her friends to help her sponsor a cheetah (see No. 5). When you involve children outside your family, your ability to inspire others to reach out increases exponentially! In the end, you’ll never really know how many lives you’ll touch.
5. Adopt a big cat
On my daughter’s 10th birthday, she decided she wanted a cheetah for her birthday. We decided we didn’t have a big enough litter box so we did the next best thing and encouraged her to sponsor a resident cheetah though Cheetah Conservation Fund. Each child brought cash toward the sponsorship, I made T-shirts for everyone, and the kids created a cool banner. Everyone had a blast and they actually worked together to make a difference in the life of a living creature. The party guests are now about to be seniors in high school and they all have fond memories of the party that took place nearly 10 years ago. I doubt gifts of video games or action figures would have generated quite the impact.
You dont have to wait until a birthday to sponsor a cheetah — and you can sponsor at any level. What an opportunity to help raise global awareness and teach kids they can make a difference in the life of a cat on the other side of the world! And with sponsorship, your child receives regular updates on the cheetah, so it’s not just a one-time event.
Do you have any tips for involving kids in cat-centered volunteer activities? Tell us about it in the comments!
About the Author: Angie Bailey is a goofy girl with freckles and giant smile who wants everyone to be her friend. Loves pre-adolescent boy humor, puns, making up parody songs, and thinking about cats doing people things. Wrote a ridiculous humor book about cats wheeling and dealing online. Partner in a production company and writes and acts in comedy web series that may or may not offend people. Mother to two humans and three cats, all of which want her to make them food.
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