With all the tragedy and suffering in the world, the concept of one person making a difference can get lost in the enormity of it all. From the global economic crisis to natural disasters affecting millions, it’s understandable that we may want to bury our heads in the sand. But the reality is, one person can reduce suffering, provide an education, or simply make his or her own community a better place to li ve.

As with so many things in our lives, our dogs can help to ground us and guide our way in this. Finding a cause to be passionate about is the first step towards making a difference and where better to start than with our animal companions who already hold a cherished place in our lives? Volunteering with an organization that helps dogs or works with dogs to help people can give you the chance to move past mere good intentions and begin to carry out acts of kindness.

Your choices are almost endless: raising puppies for assistance dogs, walking dogs at shelters, taking your own pooch to visit seniors or sick kids, fostering homeless hounds—these are just a few options. Read on and be inspired.

Location: Los Angeles, California
Agency: Los Angeles County Department of Animal Care and Control

Former PTA mom Robin Kahrs needed to find a new passion once her boys grew up and left the nest. She had always advocated for special needs kids (those who couldn’t speak for themselves) so fostering shelter dogs was a natural transition.

“The ones I am drawn to are the underdogs,” she says from her home in Westlake Village in southern California. “I get them to a place of good health so they can be adopted out and have a second chance.”

The animal shelter she volunteers at is fortunate to have a funded program for animal medical care, from orthopedic surgery to dental care. As a result, the shelter has a large foster program, which is fortunate, since surrenders have increased as families lose their homes in hard economic times.

“Primarily the ones I foster have health issues or are puppies way too young for the shelter. My Rottie mix acts as surrogate mom,” says Kahrs. She has nursed back to health a Shih Tzu who had an eye removed, and cared for an emaciated dog that needed to learn how to eat.

“I’ve volunteered with the shelter for ten years and probably have fostered close to 100 dogs; I never counted.” When they need her, if it’s a good fit with her existing dog dynamic, she takes the dogs.

Kahrs says dogs always pay you back when you help them. She remembers one dog pulled from the shelter, emaciated with a bowel disease. To digest food, it needed to be given medication immediately before eating. A family in her neighbourhood adopted it.


Location: New York, New York
Agency: Animal Care and Control of New York City

When Christine Hahn left South Dakota and arrived in New York with the dream of being an actress, she says it was the start of a whole new life. Unfortunately, it was a life without dogs.

“I didn’t have a back yard. I missed that—not having a dog. I would say hi to every dog on the street,” she says. She read an article about an opportunity to attend a training session at Animal Care and Control, the local shelter, but by the time she called, the class was full. Rather than hang up the phone on a willing volunteer, the agency suggested volunteer dog walking as a possibility, and Hahn signed on.

“I go through the kennels and see who really needs to be walked, slip a lead on him, and take him outside. We walk about 15 minutes apiece,” she says. “They sniff the grass and read messages on trees and fire hydrants along the way. It gives a dog a better chance to be adopted. They’re outside, happier, more social. They show better in the kennel,” she says. Every Saturday, she gets up at 3 a.m. to go to the shelter and take a group of dogs to NBC Studios for an adoptable dog segment. She returns the dogs, and then starts her walking, ultimately doing the same trek with three to five dogs. Her favourite adoption story is about a Beagle that she had taken to an adoption event. It was the only dog not to be adopted that day.

“I had spent the whole day with that beautiful Beagle. I was taking her out for a walk before leaving her at the kennel. A family walked in as I was walking through the lobby with the dog and they met him. He was five and not rambunctious,” she said. That family stayed and got to know him and decided to adopt him from the shelter that night. “I was kind of blue. He wasn’t adopted—it wasn’t right! And then we walked right into the right family! They found each other.”