Compare the Difference You can Make
For the purpose of comparison, we will look at the number of animals that you can help by volunteering for certain animal causes for 1 hour/week over the course of a year.
Volunteering to Help Farmed Animals
Volunteering for farmed animals seems likely to produce the biggest gains for animals. We discuss the impact of leafleting, an easy and cost-effective way to conduct outreach, as an example of how many animals you can spare from a lifetime of suffering. However, as not all advocates want to leaflet, we note some examples of other tactics commonly used by volunteers to help farmed animals below (including pay-per-view events, Facebook ads, humane education, letter-writing, protests, and food sampling). We take accessibility into account in our discussion, so there are many other examples of activities that we do not list on this page (such as lobbying politicians or conducting corporate outreach) because they might not be attainable by the average individual.
Volunteering at a Shelter
Humane Societies provide a valuable service to the community and to animals by helping place stray companion animals in loving homes. These efforts need many forms of volunteering, including cleaning cages, walking dogs, and socializing cats. If you volunteer one hour per week for an entire year to walk dogs, you’ve spent 52 hours helping dogs that are otherwise well-cared for. At an average of five dogs per hour, this means you’ve walked dogs 260 times over the course of the year. These dogs would not have died without your assistance (in most cases), and another volunteer would have likely replaced your efforts if you were not able to make it.
Volunteering at a Zoo
Volunteers are often needed at zoos to help with crowd management or to give talks to patrons about various exhibits. These volunteers often don’t interact with animals directly, and instead speak about issues like conservation or natural history. By volunteering one hour/week for a year, you can spend 52 hours per year educating the public in this way. Assuming that you speak to between 5 and 50 people each hour, you will not have had any direct impact on animal care, and will have spoken with between 260 and 2,600 members of the public. It is difficult to ascertain what effect these conversations will ultimately have on animals. While we believe firmly in the concept of using education to inform the public, these efforts can actually do more harm than good. Conservation may be viewed by some as a noble effort, but there may be unintended consequences for animals as a result of such work. Additionally, the background of animal captivity spreads speciesist tendencies that are impossible to overlook. We firmly believe that working to instill anti-speciesist mentalities will be most effective in helping animals in a broader sense, and zoos’ use of captivity for profit as their primary function works against this idea.
Volunteering to Stop Animal Testing
The number of animals used in research is relatively low compared to the number of animals on farms (9 billion). Each year, millions of animals in the U.S. are used in research, primarily for testing drug and cosmetic products that are destined for human use. Because labs aren’t required to report their use of common animal subjects like rats and mice, estimates for the number of animals used vary significantly. Such research often inflicts extreme discomfort and pain on animals and requires that they live in confined, unstimulating environments. Animal advocates have been campaigning for years to change these practices.
Volunteering to Help Wild Animals
Wild animals undoubtedly need assistance. With the encroachment of humans into their native habitat, and with the human population expanding rapidly, wild animals are often displaced. This displacement leads to injuries, death, and potentially to a federal “endangered” status. There are many efforts taking place to combat these problems; however, none seem to have the far-reaching potential of farmed animal advocacy. Rehabilitation often involves many hours of work for each individual animal, even more so when the animal in question is orphaned at an early age. Volunteering one hour/week for a year, you will spend 52 hours helping wild animals. Through your individual efforts, you may save the equivalent of anywhere from 1-52 animals over that year (it is hard to estimate how much your 1-hour contribution makes while considering the many hours dedicated to each individual animal, but it is unlikely that each volunteer is able to save more than an animal for a 1-hour/week commitment). Volunteering for wild animals does not produce as much impact as some methods of volunteering for farmed animals, including leafleting.
However, there is significant animal suffering in the wild; some estimate that wild animals suffer in numbers that are many magnitudes greater than the number of animals that suffer on factory farms. Individual rehabilitation efforts may not affect especially large numbers of animals, but it is possible that there are opportunities to alleviate suffering on an even greater scale than the suffering that occurs on factory farms. We think that animal advocates should consider wild animal suffering as a significant problem, but as we don’t currently know of any methods to significantly help large numbers of wild animals on a scale comparable to farmed animal advocacy, we still recommend volunteering for farmed animals.