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Pets

(BPT) - When you come home from work, he's always there to greet you. When you need extra motivation to workout, he's happy to join for a walk. When you've had a bad day, he can sense it and is quick to give you a loving nuzzle. Pets provide endless joy to their families, but for millions of shelter animals, each day is a test of patience in hopes of finding a forever home.

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Volunteers are the lifeblood of any shelter

Approximately 7.6 million companion animals enter shelters nationwide every year, according to the American Society of Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) statistics. Of those, approximately 3.9 million are dogs and 3.4 million are cats. These numbers underscore the massive need for volunteers to provide the necessary care to ensure as many pets as possible can be placed in safe, loving homes.

Volunteers are the lifeblood of any shelter, and it's a true community effort to keep animals healthy and safe. The Dumb Friends League - Denver's largest animal shelter dedicated to giving a voice to those who cannot speak for themselves - depended on 1,418 volunteers who donated 211,307 hours of service last fiscal year to help needy animals in Colorado. That's the equivalent of 101 full-time employees worth $4.7 million in donated time.

This is just one example of the impact volunteers make in the estimated 13,600 shelters nationwide.

In addition to volunteers, support from a variety of businesses and corporations helps keep shelters running strong. Hill's Pet Nutrition, for example, is one of the largest donors of food to shelters across the country. In fact, Hill's Food, Shelter & Love(R) program has provided more than $280 million worth of food to more than 1,000 shelters since its inception in 2002.

Both volunteers and Hill's share the common goal of transforming the lives of homeless pets. To recognize the vital contribution of shelter volunteers, Hill's has launched an initiative this year to bring volunteers long overdue recognition. Hill's has created a contest, Hill's Shelter Heroes, to recognize the amazing volunteers who continue to go above and beyond in their commitment to shelter pets.

One of the recent winners, Annie Hughes with Wayside Waifs in Kansas City, who has dedicated more than 7,279 hours to her shelter, wanted to express her appreciation to Hill's for creating a program that "allowed her to share her passion for helping sheltered animals." Hughes' submission, along with the rest of the 10 finalists, can be seen at Hill's Shelter Hero Contest page.

It's apparent that caring for shelter animals is a group effort, yet one person can make a big difference to help save lives. If you want to change the world for animals in need, here are some tips for becoming a volunteer.

1. Reach out to local shelters.
Call your local animal shelter or rescue group to see if they are accepting volunteers.

2. Think about your interests and skills.
Caring for animals one-on-one is a popular shelter activity, but there are so many more opportunities for volunteers. Whether you're able to foster in your home, offer professional skills in administration departments or serve as an adoption counselor to new pet parents, volunteer options are truly endless.

3. Spread the love.
Once you find your volunteer home, spread the love to help pets find homes and encourage friends to volunteer. By sharing posts on social media like the #HillsShelterHeroes contest, hosting fundraising events and simply bragging about that adorable new pooch to your friends, you're helping to open everyone's eyes to the growing need for volunteers at shelters and the importance of pet adoption.

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