My husband and I just returned from volunteering at the elephant sanctuary and wildlife rescue center at Wildlife Friends Foundation Thailand (WFFT)—a dream of mine three years in the making. Being a volunteer there involves strenuous, physical labor in tropical heat and humidity, but it’s an incredibly rewarding experience that allows you to safely interact with animals in a responsible and meaningful way. You truly do make a difference in these animals’ everyday lives, majority of whom were rescued from decades of unimaginable abuse and mistreatment in the tourism and logging industries as well as the exotic wildlife pet trade.Read More
For years, I’ve wanted to volunteer at an animal shelter, rescue or rehabilitation center, but I knew that my ultra sensitivity to animals—especially when they’re suffering or can’t be saved—could really take a toll on my emotional wellbeing. I’m one of those people who can’t even watch a drama movie (cartoon or not) about animals because they always bring me down and stay with me for days to weeks.
I watched Happy Feet because I thought it was, well, happy… but it left me feeling far from it. And I’ve never seen Land Before Time because I know I’ll turn into a weeping mess (yes, even a movie about dinosaurs gets to me). And don't even get me started on Blackfish, The Cove and Gardener's of Eden ... I'm just not quite mentally prepared to watch them (don't know if I'll ever be).
My Alternatives to Volunteering
I tried to help out on the sidelines by donating to animal organizations, and signing every animal-related petition and letter that came my way—from Change.org to Defenders of Wildlife. I also flooded my friends’ Facebook feeds with stories and petitions about animals and the environment. (At this point, many of them have probably blocked me from their newsfeeds after my one too many “Debbie-Downer” posts showing gruesome images and depressing headlines.)
I’ve even applied to PETA and Best Friends Animal Society but received no response. I thought that if I couldn’t help animals in person, then I would put my writing skills to use and work for an animal organization.
What Changed for Me
In the end, it all came down to me feeling the need to do more. That meant stepping away from the sidelines and giving a few hours of my free time each week—or whenever I had the chance—to help animals in need of care and affection. It was a win-win after all: being around them is relaxing and therapeutic.
Do what you're mentally, emotionally, and physically capable of doing to help. What matters is simply doing your part at any level, in any way you can. I just felt like I couldn't keep promoting animal welfare if I wasn't going to physically help animals. I needed to get over my fear of becoming depressed or attached to the animals, and just be that person helping to counter animal abuse and neglect. It all goes back to Gandhi's famous quote, "Be the change you wish to see in the world." How could I encourage people to volunteer if I wasn't doing it myself?
What are some ways you do to help? How did you prepare yourself for the emotional effects of volunteering in person? Share your tips below!