Today is Giving Tuesday, an annual day dedicated to reminding us to give freely of ourselves to those less fortunate. As a professional dog trainer, I feel it’s my responsibility to be a vocal advocate for animals in need, and few animals are in greater need than homeless pets. I’m obviously not alone in my passion for helping homeless pets; shelters and rescue organizations couldn’t do the great work they do without the dedication of staff, volunteers, fundraisers and donors. But there are countless animal lovers who would like to help homeless animals but don’t know where to start—I was one of them for many years. For these people, here are a few ways to pitch in, that doesn’t involve adopting them all yourself and ending up on an episode of Confessions: Animal Hoarding.
- Donate Money
Most shelters and rescues cannot survive without financial contributions from the public. They operate on very lean budgets and every little bit counts. For this reason, many reception desks at animal shelters even have small donation boxes right on the counter! You can drop in and pop a few dollars or even a few cents in the container. But a more common method of donation these days involves donating online directly on the website for your favored animal rescue organization. Another popular way to donate to an animal rescue is by asking your friends and family to make donations on your behalf for special events like birthdays, weddings and ::ahem:: Christmas—which is incidentally right around the corner!!! Simply email your friends and family a donation link on the organization’s website (which is the best way to ensure nearly 100% of the funds go to the charity of your choice) or you could set up a fundraiser on GoFundMe.com.
- Donate Goods
Shelters and Rescues also rely heavily on material donations from the public. The care of homeless animals requires a large amount of supplies including but not limited to food, litter, toys, bedding, leashes, collars, cleaning supplies, etc. This is easiest for pet owners who may have purchased food or toys that ended up not being a hit or may have gently used leashes and collars that have since been replaced, but anyone can give shelters old towels, blankets and sheets for bedding, or old stuffed animals that the kids have outgrown. These are items that shelters go through very, very quickly and must be constantly replenished, generally by donations from the public. Shelters are also in very regular need of cleaning supplies like paper towels, rubber gloves, bleach, laundry detergent, window cleaner, etc.
- Donate Time
Now, those of you who’ve read about how I became a dog trainer know that volunteering at an animal shelter changed the course of my life. My experience was unusual, but I genuinely believe that anyone who donates their time to helping care for homeless animals will be shaped by the experience. You don’t necessarily need any special skills to be of use, and it’s definitely not all adorable puppy cuddles. When you volunteer with a shelter, be prepared to pick up a lot of poop and mop a lot of floors, but also be prepared to fall in love and to experience the joy of seeing an animal you’ve come to care for find a loving forever home. And know that all aspects of volunteering are important. As a volunteer you help care for the physical, psychological and emotional well-being of homeless pets and it’s tremendously rewarding.
- Donate Your Skills
One area that shelters and rescues ALWAYS need help is in finding ways to present their animals to the public that will encourage interest. The skills that are often most helpful in this are: photography, videography and writing. If you have a gift for any of these skills, please consider donating your ability to a rescue organization to help them market the animals in their care. Shelters and rescues also almost always need help with tasks like answering calls from the public, processing adoption applications, and giving facility tours to potential adopters and other activities that require special organizational and people skills.
This is probably the most impactful way you can help a homeless animal. It’s also the biggest commitment and not something to undertake lightly. That said, fostering a homeless animal is tremendously rewarding for you, for the animal and for future adopters. A foster home is a transitional, temporary home where a newly homeless animal may learn to adapt to a new way of life. Fosters keep animals out of kennels, which are inherently stressful, and provide scared animals with a safe, stable environment. Fosters also typically will begin any training that may be necessary to make the animal more adoptable. Finally, fosters usually take an active role in marketing the animal for adoption, including taking photos, writing updates, posting on social media and taking the animal to adoption events. Ideally, the foster will hold onto the animal until a suitable forever home can be found. A few words of warning: do a lot of research about any rescue organization for which you may consider fostering. Good foster-based rescues will be responsive to your inquiries, should pay for food, medical care and should provide support for any behavioral issues. They should have working relationships with local positive reinforcement or force free trainers. A good foster organization will be up front about any potential difficulties you might expect with the animal (ie. cat isn’t litter-boxed trained, dog guards food or toys, etc.). And a good foster organization should be willing to place the animal into another home as soon as possible if it doesn’t work out. I have come across several foster-rescues that don’t do any of these things; so do your homework!