These Volunteer Programs Let You Take a Shelter Dog Out for the Day · The Wildest

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These Volunteer Programs Let You Take Shelter Dogs Out for an Adventure

Whether you’re going for just a stroll or an all-day hike, everyone will benefit big time.

by Mia Mercado
June 7, 2024
Couple walks their dogs on a date outside at the park.
Jennifer Brister / Stocksy

You know what’s better with a dog? Everything. And yet, on any given day, millions of people run errands, go on a walk, take a nap… entirely dogless. Devastating, right? Fortunately, there are an estimated 3.1 million dogs in shelters across the country who would be delighted to accompany you for a full day or even just an hour or two. Isn’t that so generous of them? 

We know what you’re thinking: But what’s in it for the dog? For the person, the benefits are self-evident: You get to meet a dog, and studies show that interacting with animals is good for our mental health. Although we’re sure shelter dogs would go on an outing simply out of the goodness of their hearts, it does benefit them greatly, too. 

Make your day even better with a shelter dog.

Regardless of where you go and what you do, just taking a pup to a location outside of the shelter is great for them.“They also get a break from the commotion of the shelter, which at times can be noisy and chaotic,” says Katy Hansen, director of marketing and communications at Animal Care Centers (ACC) of New York City. ACC runs a program called BoroughBreaks, which pairs interested volunteers with shelter dogs for a daily outing.

According to their website, “The BoroughBreak program was created in order to help reduce kennel stress and provide dogs with enrichment and increased visibility.” On their outings, dogs from ACC wear “Adopt Me” vests, which give the dogs exposure and help expand their number of potential adopters.

BoroughBreak outings are flexible, allowing community members to take a dog for as little as one hour and as long as all day. As for activities, ACC suggests hiking, going to the beach, taking a fun car ride, but you have the freedom to do (pretty much) whatever dog-friendly activity you want.

“Sometimes dogs will just want to take a long nap!” Hansen says, and snuggling up with a pet for a nap is scientifically proven to boost your mood. As for the more active pups, Hansen adds, “Most of the dogs that come back from [BoroughBreaks] are exhausted and fall right asleep upon their return.”

Programs like Borough Breaks that offer daily outings are also wonderful for helping the animal shelter itself, as well as the people who work with the dogs regularly. Becky Mathia, the Adoptions Manager at Wayside Waifs in Kansas City, says these outings “[allow] us to get some more information about the dog,” like how they handle riding in a car or being on a leash outside of the shelter. “[It also] gives us more information to use when working to find the dogs a home,” Mathia adds. 

Don’t worry: You’ll be provided with everything you need.

Shelters across the country are usually in need of more volunteers, whether that be someone to walk dogs, clean kennels, or spend time socializing with the animals. While smaller shelters might accept walk-ins, larger shelters often have training sessions for prospective volunteers.

The Los Angeles SPCA, for example, asks people who are interested in volunteering in any capacity to first attend a virtual info session, which they hold monthly. The ACC doesn’t require any formal training class to participate in BoroughBreaks, but Hansen says that interested volunteers should have a general grasp of dog handling and be comfortable around dogs. 

If you’re concerned about showing up for a daily outing empty-handed, don’t worry. Shelters often provide the dog’s basic necessities, like leashes, collars, poop bags, and treats. ACC also supplies water bottles and a fitted harness that makes the walk easier and more enjoyable for both parties. If you want to come prepared, most dogs wouldn’t say no to a toy, a ball, or more treats, as long as you check ahead that bringing in outside items is OK with the shelter.

Get started with volunteering today.

To find shelter-dog-outing opportunities near you, contact your local animal shelters. In addition to looking the shelter’s website, Mathia suggests looking at the organization’s Instagram, TikTok, and other social media accounts, which often post up-to-date calls for volunteers. Spending the day with a shelter dog “is a great way to learn about different breeds of dogs, different temperaments, energy styles, and dog body language,” Mathia says. And who among us isn’t a lifelong learner when it comes to dogs?

Daily outings are also perfect for pet lovers who aren’t able to take care of a pet full-time. “If you can’t adopt or foster a dog but want to help the physical and mental wellbeing of a dog stuck in a shelter, taking them out for the day is the answer,” Hansen says. “It’s fun for the dog. It’s fun for you. It’ s a new way to explore your city and parks, and it’s great exercise.” Also, it means you get to spend time with a dog, which, as we’ve well established, is only going to enhance your life.


Pet Adoption Statistics 2024

Mia Mercado with her small white dog

Mia Mercado

Mia Mercado is a writer whose work has appeared in The New Yorker, New York Times, and The Cut. She’s also the author of two essay collections, She’s Nice Though and Weird But Normal. Mia has a dog named Ava who is an adorable little freak just like her mother.

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