Change Your View and Other Lives Too With Volunteer Vacations

482902_10200536274353607_1093409579_nYour next getaway could change more than your view. More travelers are finding a way to help others while exploring experiences and cultures through volunteer vacations. Social impact travel is growing in popularity for individuals seeking unique experiences and real connections with locals as they explore new communities. This type of vacation may be described as a cultural exchange, service adventure or educational tourism.

Volunteer vacations can also strengthen family bonds while working together to help others. Volunteer get away programs may offer opportunities to spend meaningful time as a team while learning new skills.

Travel adventures for a cause can involve some tropical paradises or exotic scenery, but require more planning than your typical vacation advises travel expert and author of Voluntourist, Ken Budd: “Taking a volunteer trip isn’t like spontaneously going to the beach. It requires a lot of homework and research. You want to find organizations that are meeting a legitimate need, and projects that need volunteer labor; not projects created to give volunteers something to do.”

Fall_Park_sheltephoto-1465940617394-6c04e5525665Finding a great volunteer vacation opportunity starts with being realistic about your desire and abilities for the adventure. Taking a good look at what you’d like to get out of the trip will decrease your chances of disappointment.

Think about what areas and subjects are important to you: Do you want to study climate change in Alaska, volcanic activity on a tropical island or preserve the campground where you vacationed as a child? Budd suggests you ask questions about a volunteer vacation adventure before packing your bags.

  • What is the volunteer work?


  • Who will benefit?


  • Who runs the volunteer programs?


  • Where does the money from program fees go?


  • May I contact previous volunteers about their experiences?


hotel.jpgMany volunteer vacation organizations will ask you to submit to a background check, particularly if you’re working with children. Others will want you to provide references or to write an essay on why you want to volunteer. When organizations don’t require some kind of registration that should be a warning sign.

There are many volunteer vacation opportunities close to home.  For example, public conservation trips combine service and vacation locations. These popular options combine living in national or state parks with service projects.Fall_lake_photo-1444492827838-96343b09c9af

The National Park Service offers a wide variety of volunteer opportunities for individuals or groups to work behind the scenes or in front line positions at park locations throughout the United States, including the territories in the Pacific and the Caribbean. There are artist-in-residence programs at some parks for visual artists, writers, musicians, and other creative media.

Some volunteer adventures travel on the rails as Amtrak and the National Park Service are partners in an initiative to educate travelers on the heritage and natural resources of a specific region while traveling by rail. In 2017, there were 600 Trails & Rails volunteer guides who gave 43,000 hours of time to the program.

banner on VC2-croppedWildlife refuges are another popular option to volunteer and get away within the United States. Volunteer opportunities may be found at more than 500 U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service refuges and hatcheries. Volunteer conservation opportunities may include activities like wildlife photography, trail work, counting butterflies, banding birds, maintaining gardens and sprucing up buildings.

Volunteer vacationers often get access to parts of wildlife preserves and parks not open to the public. There is always have free time to enjoy the beautiful public lands they’re helping.

Whether your volunteer tourism takes you across your nation or around the world, it can change more than your view and teach you a lot about people and the places they call home.

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New Bug Barometer Predicts A Bad Year for World’s Deadliest Pest – Mosquitoes


 What to Know About Dangers of Mosquitoes for Your Family and Pets 

It is time to ready your pets and family for spring and more mosquitoes. The National Pest Management Association is out with its biannual Bug Barometer and it looks like it could be a big season for mosquitoes.Mosquito_pexels-photo-169357

Drawing on weather patterns and long-term predictions, the entomologists believe everyone’s least favorite neighbors will arrive in full force as our weather warms up.

Scientists say a wet winter and La Niña, the cool phase of a natural climate pattern in Pacific Ocean, are creating conditions favorable to mosquitoes which spread misery and disease to people and animals.

This is how the conditions for pests are shaping up across the United States.

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Jim Fredericks, Ph.D. explains, “Residual moisture is a prime attraction for pests, especially home-damaging termites and mosquitoes known for transmitting disease, and conditions are ideal for when these pests typically flourish in the springtime.”Big_tiger-mosquito-mosquito-asian-tigermucke-sting-86722

Mosquito-borne diseases are among the world’s leading causes of illness and death. Viral encephalitis, the West Nile virus, the Zika virus and malaria are just a few of the illnesses mosquitoes spread to people.

Heartworm is a deadly, but preventable parasite spread by mosquitoes to animals. Heartworms primarily infect dogs, cats and ferrets. They also infect a variety of wild animals. This is important to know because they can only be transmitted from animal to animal by mosquitoes.

Since heartworms are spread by mosquitoes, any pet exposed to mosquitoes should be tested. Because mosquitoes can also get into homes, this puts indoor-only pets at risk of infection as well.


Indoor pets also need heartworm medication

The American Heartworm Society recommends testing pets every 12 months for heartworm and giving your pet a heartworm preventive 12 months a year.

Heartworm is a progressive, life-threatening disease. The earlier it is detected and treated, the better the chances a pet will recover and have less complications. You can learn more about heartworms in animals at  or your veterinarian’s office.


Bee a Nature Hero: 3 Easy Ways to Help Pollinators + Free Online Garden Resources

Bees and other pollinators are in trouble. Join the Million Pollinator Garden Challenge

Have you spotted many butterflies this year? What about bees? Unfortunately, these pollinators are in trouble. Pollinators move from plant to plant while searching for protein-rich pollen or high-energy nectar to eat. As they go, they are dusted by pollen and move it to the next flower, fertilizing the plant and allowing it to reproduce and form seeds, berries, fruits and other plant foods that form the foundation of the food chain. Pollination is vital to the air we breathe, the food we eat, the water we drink.Bees  are on the decline

Bees are the most obvious and recognized pollinators in nature. It came as a surprise to me that over 100,000 invertebrates also pollinate. These include butterflies, moths, wasps, beetles and even flies! Hummingbirds are among a thousand birds, mammals and reptiles also helping pollinate.

Vital pollinators on the decline

You can be a pollinator hero in many ways. Here are three easy ways to start.

  1. First, and perhaps the most obvious is through plants. Whether you’re a gardening novice with a small balcony or gardening veteran with a few acres; you may be able to help wildlife in your area. It is easy to plant varieties that will attract pollinators. For example, start with native plants. Native plants form the foundation of habitat for pollinators by providing them with pollen and nectar for food, cover from the elements and predators, and places where their young can grow. The best way to attract beautiful butterflies, busy bees, speedy hummingbirds and other pollinators is to fill your yard with native plants. There are some free resources to help at the end of this post.DB85E1D0CC
  2. Avoiding pesticides is not only good for your family and pets, it is the second great way to help pollinators.  Using insecticides will kill many pollinators. Herbicides will kill important native plants such as milkweed that pollinators rely upon as a food source and a place to raise young. Make the commitment to avoid using chemicals and to maintain your garden in a natural, organic way. The traditional suburban lawn, on average, has ten times more chemical pesticides per acre than farmland. By choosing native plants for your landscaping, you are creating a healthier place for your family and community.10494643_10207078779912157_3907921197852980798_n
  3. The third easy step is to help protect our grasslands to aid pollinators. America’s native grasslands are critically important for pollinators such as bees and monarch butterflies. Our grasslands are filled with native plants that offer nectar and pollen for bees, butterflies, hummingbirds and a wide variety of pollinators. They also provide milkweed, the only host plant for monarch caterpillars. Today, more than 90 percent of native grasslands have been converted to cropland and development. Grasslands are disappearing faster than any other ecosystem in North America, and that’s a big problem for pollinators. Planting milkweed to attract butterflies will give you enjoyment as you help pollinators.

Businesses and community groups can get involved in this effort to help pollinators. One non-profit in Saint Louis is working to provide a living landscape for birds and other wild animals. The Animal Protective Association of Missouri or APA Adoption Center is part of the growing trend to garden for wildlife in landscaping as a way to care for wildlife as well as the pets brought to the facility.

The Missouri Botanical Gardens offers many free resources online to help with native gardens. You can find them by clicking on A Guide to Native Landscaping in Missouri 11078212_10204083286547347_1748544961633585133_n
A national native online plant guide can be accessed by clicking on American Beauty Native Plants. 

The National Federation for Wildlife or NWF offers many free resources for gardening to benefit pollinators and wildlife. The NWF is joining with dozens of conservation and gardening organizations as well as seed groups to form the National Pollinator Garden Network. Spreading the word through social media and helping educate others is a great way to be a pollinator hero too.


Coyote Attacks on Pets on Rise in Saint Louis Region

More than a dozen Saint Louis area families have lost a pet to a coyote attack in the past year.

Coyotes are common in Missouri and Illinois even in densely populated urban areas. There are some indications coyote numbers are on the rise in the St. Louis area. While there are no official numbers, the increase in sightings and rise in attacks, lead wildlife experts to believe the coyote population is increasing.

“Coyote interactions with people and pets are increasing,” explains Tom Meister, a wildlife biologist with the Missouri Department of Conservation.


Meister wants to do more research on the coyote population and their urban behavior in the Saint Louis region.

Meister says the increase of attack reports convinces him more animal owners should take steps to protect their pets.

– Pets should be supervised when outside between dusk and dawn.

– If pets must be left outside, make sure your yard fence is at least 6′ tall and 6″ deep to ensure coyotes cannot jump over it or dig under it. Coyotes like to dig, so install vinyl lattice 2 to 3 feet below ground to prevent any tunneling. Consider a Coyote Roller for your fence: A coyote roller attaches to the top of your existing fence. The Coyote Roller prevents a coyote from latching its paws to the top of fence by spinning the animal off, making it lose its footing.

– Trash cans should be secured and taken to the curb close to pick up time.

– Pet food should not be left outside. Do not feed coyotes or other wildlife.

– Monitor fruit trees and bushes: Be vigilant about cleaning the yard of fallen apples, berries, oranges, and other food.

– Breeding season is from January through March, and pup season is from March until May. Coyotes may attack any size dog if they feel they or their pups are threatened.

– Dogs should be kept on a leash when on walks.

– If you spot a coyote, wave your arms, clap, and shout to scare it away. It is important to make yourself seem as large as possible.

– When letting out dogs in a yard at night, turn on outdoor lighting and make noise to alert coyotes a human is nearby. Be prepared to take action against coyotes.

Meister advises pet owners to “make lots of noise, pots and pans, throw rocks at them, spray coyotes with a hose. Whatever you can do to persuade them to leave your yard.”

Coyotes are reddish or grayish brown with a whitish belly and throat. They have black-tipped tails, large pointed ears, and small pointed muzzles. In Missouri they are usually around 23-25″ tall and weigh 25 to 35 pounds.

The Missouri Department of Conservation has a free resource guide and booklet on coyote control including using guard animals and regulations concerning coyote hunting and trapping seasons.


Tips to Keep Your Pet’s Outdoor Adventures Safe

Are you ready to start the warm weather season on the right paw for your pet? After a long, cold Saint Louis winter, heading outdoors can prove not-so-sunny for pets and their owners. Warm weather celebrations, spring cleaning and home improvement projects may present potential pet hazards.

Warmer weather may mean more trips to the park, longer walks and more chances for your pet to wander off! Make sure your dog or cat has a microchip for identification and wears a tag imprinted with your contact information.

Pet microchips are available at the Animal Protective Association of Missouri, local veterinarian offices, and most animal shelters. A study of more than 7,700 stray animals at shelters showed that dogs without microchips were returned to their owners 21.9% of the time, whereas microchipped dogs were returned to owners 52.2% of the time. Cats without microchips were reunited with owners only 1.8% of the time, whereas microchipped cats went back home 38.5% of the time.

This is the season to hit the highway for vacations and weekend getaways. The lure of the road is a powerful force as dogs love to feel the wind on their furry faces. It can be very dangerous to allow dogs ride in the bed of pick-up trucks or stick their heads out of moving-car windows! Flying debris and insects can cause inner ear or eye injuries and lung infections, and abrupt stops or turns can cause major injury, or worse. Pets in vehicles should always be secured in a crate or wearing a seatbelt harness designed especially for them.

Many pet families welcome spring breezes by opening windows. Unfortunately, this may put furry friends at risk, as pets may be tempted to jump or fall through unscreened windows. Be sure to install snug and sturdy screens in all of your windows. If you have adjustable screens, make sure they are tightly wedged into window frames.

Spring showers bring flowers and an onslaught of insect pests! Make sure your pet is on year-round heartworm preventive medication, as well as a flea and tick control program. The clinic at the Animal Protective Association of Missouri can recommend a plan designed specifically for your pet.

Spring cleaning can also hold hidden hazards for pets. Be sure to keep all cleaners and chemicals out of your pets’ way! Almost all commercially sold cleaning products contain chemicals that are harmful to pets. The key to using them safely is to read and follow label directions for proper use and storage.

This is also the time of the year for household projects and fix-ups. Products such as paints, mineral spirits and solvents can be toxic to your pets and cause severe irritation or chemical burns. Carefully read all labels to see if the product is safe to use around your furry friends. Also, be cautious of physical hazards, including nails, staples, insulation, blades and power tools. It may be wise to confine your dog or cat to a designated pet-friendly room during home improvement projects.

Spring is the time to let your garden grow but check before you plant. Many popular seasonal plants including Easter lilies, rhododendron and azaleas are highly toxic to pets. A garden threat may come in a variety of volunteer of poisonous plants and native flowers that are dangerous to curious pets. For example, mushrooms are among the most commonly pet ingested organic material in the yard during the summer. Remove mushrooms you find growing in the yard. Mushrooms are a fungus and they can grow quickly, even overnight, so check your yard frequently.

Wildlife is active in the spring and coyotes are among our Saint Louis urban wildlife population. Coyotes are increasing in the Saint Louis area. During the spring coyotes are on the prowl for food for their pups and are aggressive with family pets. It is smart to go out with your pet late at night and if you see a coyote, make a lot of noise to scare it off. You can make your property safer for pets with fencing, getting rid of debris piles, high grass and weedy areas. This will also reduce your risk for encountering a venomous snake.