Authored by Chloe Zimmerman
As a part of Mental Health Awareness Month, it’s essential to recognize nature’s positive impact on mental health. Another important aspect of mental health is finding a sense of purpose and belonging. One way to ignite both is through volunteering and giving back to your community. Whether joining a local cleanup organization, working with the unhoused, or starting a community garden, there are various ways to give back. If you’re an animal lover, volunteering at an animal sanctuary is a great way to get outside, engage with your community, assist animals, donate your time and money, and serve the greater good.
From farm animals and exotic birds to cats and dogs, there are amazing sanctuaries all across the country dedicated to helping and healing neglected and abused animals and giving them a second chance to live freely and without harm. Sancaturaires provide refuge to all animals in rehabilitation and a peaceful place to call home.
The mental health benefits of working with animals are tremendous and undeniable. The “pet effect” involves the release of feel-good neurochemicals like oxytocin, serotonin, and dopamine, through touch and quality time with animals, and can help people feel calm and relaxed. There is also evidence from the University of Missouri that animal-human interaction improves both species’ physical and mental health. Overall, animal shelter and sanctuary volunteers have reported that their cognitive functioning and quality of life have significantly increased due to their time volunteering with animals.
If you’re interested in working with animals and want to give your mental health a little furry boost, we have put together a comprehensive list of animal sanctuaries—one in each state—dedicated to protecting vulnerable species, so you can learn where and how you can show your support and make a difference close to home.
Whether you’re a passionate animal advocate or nature enthusiast, sanctuaries offer as many benefits to human beings as it does to animals. What’s critical to remember is that part of respecting (and protecting) nature involves advocating for creatures of all types. Creating a brighter future for the environment needs to include us all—animals and humans alike.