Working at an Animal Shelter (and 4 Other Savvy Alternatives to Pet Ownership)

According to the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA), the annual cost of owning a pet is more than $1,000 for a large dog, while a cat costs more than $800.

But animal lovers, don’t worry: You can still get your fix by trying these five ways to hang with four-legged friends. From working at an animal shelter to dog walking, there’s no shortage of ways to enjoy the company of pets without the costs of pet ownership.

Work at an Animal Shelter

Shelters are often short-staffed and appreciate the extra sets of hands they get from volunteers in the community. Call or stop by your local animal shelter or Humane Society to find out about its specific volunteer process. Many organizations let volunteers walk dogs and spend time with pets to give them the extra attention they deserve.

Foster a Pet

Sometimes, shelter pets need a temporary home while they recover from illness, injury, pregnancy or any number of other reasons. In these situations, a quiet home is better suited to the animal’s needs than a shelter.

Lengths of stays vary, so you’ll want to make sure your schedule lines up with the pet’s needs. You’ll also want to gauge any costs. Some shelters provide everything from food to toys, while others only get you set up with some initial food. However, expenses may be eligible for a tax deduction if the IRS recognizes the organization as a qualified charity or nonprofit. Some shelters look for volunteers to watch pets for periods as short as a single weekend, minimizing the cost to you.

Raise a Service Dog

Before they develop into their role assisting humans, service dogs need loving homes. Organizations like Canine Companions for Independence look for volunteers to house and socialize puppies. Raising a puppy for several months or even a couple of years is a huge time commitment, but your help will eventually change someone’s life for the better.

While organizations provide you with the support you need to successfully prepare a puppy for a life of service, you’ll likely have to pay for food, toys and veterinary visits. Some also require you to cover training expenses. Make sure you understand the costs and, as with fostering, see if the IRS will allow you to write off puppy-raising expenses on your taxes.

Walk Dogs and Pet Sit

There are plenty of pet owners who hire people to let their dogs out for walks while they’re at work or to watch their pet while they’re on vacation. You get to hang out with a pet without having to pet-proof your home or fork over money for food, medical costs or training.

There are ways to get more formal credentials, but many pet sitters and dog walkers gain experience by first watching pets for friends and family. Sites like Rover allow you to list yourself as a sitter so you can earn some extra cash, too.

Visit a Pet Destination

Use your vacation to spend time with animals. Certain getaway destinations are known for their unique fauna. The Exuma Cays in the Bahamas are famous for their swimming pigs. In Japan, Okunoshima Island is known for its bunnies, while Tashirojima is known for its cats. And at Kenya’s David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust, you can get up close with elephants who have been orphaned by poaching and are being rehabilitated to return to the wild.

While travel far and wide can help you get your animal fix, a less expensive option is springing up in cities closer to home: cat cafes. There, you can order a coffee or tea and then spend time with the resident felines.

There are lots of ways to enjoy the company of animals without the financial commitment of pet ownership. Try one of these options to meet four-legged friends while keeping your savings growing.

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