1t’s Friday evening and you’re home an hour late again. Grabbing the laptop out of the backseat of your car, your mind is preoccupied with traffic, the work week and the kids’ schedules.

You open the door, and there they are. Wagging their tails or sitting by the window, wondering where you have been without them. Perplexed about how you managed a whole day without their guidance.

Our pets are our walking/jogging buddies, confidants, nurses and best friends. People who have never “been owned” by a dog or cat can have a tough time relating to us. When that bond is created, it can never be broken.

In addition to being humans’ best friends, dogs and cats are now being certified as therapy and service animals in record numbers, helping humans cope with cancer, guiding and protecting children with autism, serving side by side with soldiers in battle, and even providing emotional support for people suffering from depression or post-traumatic stress disorder.

During the High Holidays, we reflect on what we have done and how to give back to our communities. As Jews, we are taught the concept of tikkun olam, acts of kindness to help repair the world.

You and your pet are already a great team, so why not spend your time together helping others, by volunteering with your pet?

Here are some ways to share the love.

Become a canine blood donor.

Just like humans, dogs are in need of blood transfusions and suffer blood loss due to injuries or complicated surgeries. My own dog, Sophie, a lab-shepherd mix, has been a canine blood donor for more than three years.

Dogs must have an easy temperament and meet certain criteria to donate. Knowing your dog is helping save the lives of others is highly rewarding for both of you. A box of treats and peanut butter is the usual compensation! For information, visit Blue Ridge Veterinary Blood Bank at www.BRVBB.com.

Pet visitation therapy is probably the most common way to volunteer. Taking your pet to a nursing home, rehabilitation center or hospital can be a healing experience for all. Science has proven that petting an animal reduces stress and can lower blood pressure and relieve anxiety.

Now, more than ever, therapy pets are in demand. Dogs from Maryland have been used in Newtown, Conn., after the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting, and in Boston after the Marathon bombing. What is so unique about this is that a cat, dog, bird, bunny and even a pig can be used in this capacity. To see if this is something you and your pet would like to do, visit www.TDI-DOG.org or www.Petsonwheels.org.

Foster parenting for a shelter or rescue is as easy as opening your home.

Fostering allows a dog, cat or litter to be housed outside of a shelter. This helps the pet assimilate into a home environment while freeing up valuable shelter space to save another animal.

Most foster pets are sponsored by a
rescue and adopted out in approximately 45 days. Fostering is the most needed instrument in the shelter/rescue community. There are numerous shelters and rescues in our area in current need, and I wish I could list them all.

However, a simple internet search will lead you to many of them, from breed specific to community organizations. Here are just a few: www.BaltimoreAnimalshelter.org,
www.baltimorecountymd.gov/Agencies/health/animalservices/, www.animalalliesrescue.org, www.smallmiraclesanimalrescue.org, and www.smallmiraclesrescue.org/index.shtml

There are more unique ways to give back with your pets, such as volunteering your dog at universities to help people with public speaking fears, donating cat fur to local farms or gardens (as the scent helps keep predators away) and reading (with your pet at your side) to children in public libraries.

Start off this new year on the right paw (or the left) by sharing the love of your pet with others and doing your part to help repair the world. L’Shana Tova!

Joy Freedman is a dog behaviorist and obedience instructor. She can be reached at www.joyfreedman.com. If you have any pet-related questions, please submit them for a future column.

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