By Alison O’Connell
I was able to use an organization I already had connections with for my volunteering requirement this semester. I was very excited to continue working on a project I really believe in and that has impacted my life in such a positive way. I volunteered with Rural Dog Rescue, a rescue center for dogs from rural areas that are transported to DC to be adopted. Rural Dog’s motto is “Root for the Underdog!”, and they try to live up to it by devoting the majority of their resources to saving dogs who would otherwise be euthanized: black dogs, hounds, pit bulls (or dogs that resemble them), elderly dogs and sick dogs. They select dogs from high-kill shelters in southern states (including Southern Virginia) and bring them to foster homes in DC until they can find suitable adopters. My previous volunteering experience was as a foster. My work this semester was very different: I did all my volunteering virtually, assisting with various social media initiatives.
It was very interesting to compare and contrast Rural Dog with the structures that exist in larger non-profit organizations. Rural Dog is entirely volunteer run and focused on a small-scale mission, so many of the initiatives that larger non-profits deal with did not apply to them. Our class this semester also gave me a lot of insight into why non-profits are started and how we assess their success and merit. I can definitely see ways for Rural Dog to grow and expand, should they choose to, but I am proud of the work they’re doing right now and think it absolutely has a positive output.
One of the best things about my organization is how many ways there are to volunteer. I am disabled and have struggled with my desire to volunteer and contribute versus my ability and energy level. I was very excited to find there were a number of ways I could help that weren’t on a set schedule. I highly recommend virtual volunteering if your organization offers it: you can fit your contributions to your life and still make a difference in how your organization approaches their mission. In my case, I feel my work directly helps the organization stay visible and recruit potential adopters. Fostering was also a really positive experience for me, and I highly recommend it to any animal-lovers who can’t afford to own a pet themselves. The Rescue provides supplies, food and vet care. Your job is to give of your time and energy- no mean feat- and help a vulnerable dog adjust to their new life. Many people balk at the idea of caring for a dog and then giving it up. I definitely did (and my first foster dog was a foster-failure…meaning I kept her). However, I quickly adjusted to the cyclical nature of fostering: the adjustment period of adding a new animal to your home, the bonding that occurs, the grief of letting them go, and the satisfaction of seeing them thrive in their forever-home. The grief happened every time, but each new dog taught me a very important lesson: they were all special and all deserved to be loved and safe. My momentary pain was totally worth it in the scheme of things. Without fosters, the rescue couldn’t do their work, and all of those wonderful lives would be lost. Rural Dog also needs volunteers for weekend adoption events. Those volunteers attend the events and handle the dogs so they can meet prospective adopters. It’s a very important job and key to helping dogs meet the right people for them. Many of their volunteers for this position are from local universities.
If you’re an animal lover, I highly recommend getting involved with this rescue (or one of the many other excellent ones in the NOVA area)! The rescue is entirely volunteer run, so every contribution, from virtual volunteering to dog wrangling, is an essential part of the process to getting these dogs adopted.
Alison O’Connell is a junior at Mason and helicopter dog-parent. She loves baking and pop-culture.