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Volunteering at an animal shelter can be one of the most rewarding and life altering experiences a person can have.

For the past 2 two years, I have been volunteering at a local animal shelter in Los Angeles. I mostly go there on the weekends, when I have the time, but volunteers are welcome to spend as little or as much time as they want to.

The shelter I work with is a rescue shelter. That means that they rescue dogs and cats from the pound before they are put to sleep. This feature is one of the things that made me chose the particular shelter to volunteer at. I personally could not bear to grow attached to the animals only to see them gone one day.

The shelters and pounds that do euthanize still need volunteers to help with the animals that are there there. Some people have the kind of personality where they can deal with this type of shelter and some don't. It's important to know if you would be able to handle it. If you can, those shelters are always desperate for volunteers. If you don't think that type of environment would be best for you, you should seek out a "non kill" or "rescue" shelter.

There are many acitivities that volunteers can participate in. Some of the less glamourous jobs include the animals, cleaning cages, helping perspective clients (that want to adopt a pet) and helping with paperwork are some things that always need to be done. Of course, the main reason most people, including myself offer to volunteer is because they love animals and want to spend time with them.

I love taking the dogs on walks. The excitement and happiness they exude when you come over to their cage holding a leash is indescribable. They are so eager to go out, to smell the fresh air, to walk on grass, to be free even for a short time.

Some times, I just go and play with the animals. Both the dogs and cats need a lot of love and affection. They have all been in bad situations and some of them are scared or hesitant when it comes to letting people get close. One of the most rewarding feelings is when an animal that was nervous and hesitant at first, finally trusts you enough to get close.

When I go to the shelter, I can help but to forget any problems on my mind. The animals give everyone unconditional love, no matter what. Because of that, it is easy to become emotionally attached very quickly. I care about each of the animals at the shelter, but sometimes you will develop a particular connection with one. It's different for every volunteer. Whether your preference is big dogs or little ones, kittens or cats, it doesn't matter. All that matters is that you have a little time and a little attention and affection to give.

There are also the difficult moments. I have seen dogs and cats get sick and die, I have seen animals that have been abused before they were rescued and I have seen a lot of sad and lonely animals. Even when they are adopted, I have mixed feelings. Adoption, of course, is the goal. But there have been times when I've gone to the shelter, looking forward to seeing a particular dog, only to find out that it's gone because it's been adopted. Sometimes you don't get the chance to say goodbye. Sometimes you miss them terribly once they leave.

Even having said that, there is still not a downside to volunteering. The other people you meet are usually very nice, you are making a difference and the fullfilling feeling you get is extremely strong.

I recommend volunteering very strongly. If you find that you have even an hour or so a week, there is a local shelter near you that would be so appreciative of your help.

You can find local shelters by looking in the yellow pages or on the Internet. It's very easy to find a place that needs help. Believe me, once you start going, you will be glad you did!