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10 Great Ways to Help Shelter Pets

How to Help Pets in Shelters and Rescues Many of us animal lovers want to do something to help homeless pets. Making a monetary donation is always appreciated by pet shelters and rescue groups, but money isn't the only way to help. Here are a few ways you can help brighten the lives of the pets still waiting for their fur-ever families.

1. Donate Much-Needed Supplies.

Check out the shelter's website to see if they have a "wish-list" of items that they really need (if not, email or call them up and ask them). Some rescue groups will have a list of items that can be purchased online (such as via Amazon) and delivered directly to them. You can also gather together some of these items to donate - watch for coupons and sales, when you can get more bang for your buck. Ask family, friends, neighbours and co-workers if they have any items that they would like to contribute. Items don't necessarily have to be new, provided that they are in clean, usable condition.

Something that's almost always needed are used towels, blankets, and sheets. Many of us have some of these lying around; shelters would love these! So long as they don't have holes in them (pets can get stuck their heads or legs stuck in the holes, which can be dangerous), throw them in the laundry, fold them up, and pack them away for donation. Call local hotels to see if they have any old bedding or linens that they'll be discarding and are willing to donate.

Check Craigslist or the local Freecycle group to find useful items that people are giving away. Check with garage sales at the end of their day and ask them if they would be willing to donate any remaining useful items. Please remember that shelters and rescues aren't dumping grounds for used junk, though; donate what they need (if in doubt, ask), and don't leave them with the responsibility of disposing of a bunch of stuff they don't want or can't use.

2. Volunteer.

Most animal shelters and rescue groups rely heavily on their volunteers to do a wide variety of tasks. Basic day-to-care animal care volunteers are always needed, of course, to do things like feed the pets, clean out the kennels, do laundry, help to file or process paperwork, and other necessary tasks. This type of work might not be glamourous, but it is critical to the well-being of the pets and the smooth operation of the shelter.

A shelter environment can be very stressful for animals - lots of noise and strangers can cause animals to become anxious and over-reactive, or shut down entirely. Shelter workers do the best they can to spend time with the animals in their care, but are often stretched to the limit dealing with the basic needs of the animals and the running of the shelter. Volunteers are needed to give animals individual attention. One-on-one attention can do wonders in helping animals relax and feel better, and thus give them a better chance of being adopted. Dog walkers are greatly appreciated by both the dogs and by the workers. Volunteers who play with cats and other small pets provide them with socialization and enrichment.

3. Foster.

Shelters and rescue groups are always in need of people who are willing to become a foster parent to a needy pet. Fostering helps to free up space at the shelter so that other animals can be helped; plus it directly helps the pets who go into foster care.

Foster care is important for many pets who need a bit of extra love and care, including:

  • Pets who are injured or ill and need time to recover. A home environment can give pets a quiet, safe place to get better and get the medication and extra care they might need.

  • Pets who find the shelter environment much too stressful. It's not easy for these types of pets to get adopted because they may be hiding or not interacting with people who visit them, or because they may be acting aggressively out of fear. A quiet, home environment can do wonders for them and make them more appealing and adoptable for potential adopters who visit them in their foster-family environment.

  • Pets who need to learn to trust people or who need extra socialization.

  • Pregnant pets who need a safe, quiet place to have their babies.

  • Babies who need extra care.

  • Pets who need time to "look better" (such as growing back fur). This might initially seem like a superficial reason to go into foster care, but the reality is that pets who look "nice" will attract more attention, giving them a better chance to find the right home.

Fostering is a big commitment but one that can be richly-rewarding. Shelters usually cover the costs of a pet in foster care. Most will require the potential foster families go through an application and screening process.

4. Donate Skills.

It takes a wide variety of people with a wide variety of skills to successfully operate a shelter. Ask if the shelter can use a volunteer with your particular skill-set. For example, photographers can make a huge difference by taking beautiful photos of the adoptable animals - great photos that show a pet's personality can help get them adopted more quickly. Are you a good writer? Offer to write pet profiles. An honest, engaging, and relatable profile can do wonders in helping an animal find the right home, faster.

Other skills that are often needed around the shelter include things like: "fix-it" and repair skills; dog trainers; groomers; website designers; bookkeepers; and much more.

5. Arrange a Fundraiser.

Setting up a fundraiser doesn't have to be complicated. Something as simple as a garage sale, bake sale or a crafts sale can raise some much-needed funds for shelters who are always in need of donations. Every little bit helps!

Ask family, friends, neighbors, and co-workers if they would be willing to donate an item for your fundraiser. And ask them to tell others about the sale or to hand out fliers to promote it.

Having a party? Ask everyone to bring a donation for the shelter instead of something for the party.

6. Sponsor an Animal.

Shelters face ongoing costs to house and feed each pet that needs their care. Many shelters and rescue groups offer the option to "sponsor" a pet. The sponsorship fee can be for a day, a week, a month, or a year. Sometimes you can choose to sponsor a specific type of pet, like a dog or a cat; and some shelters will even give you the option to specifically choose which pet you want to sponsor.

Another option: sometimes a pet will be a long-time resident at a shelter, passed over for who knows what reason. It can be baffling; even pets with great temperaments can be overlooked! Senior pets and special needs pets also typically find it much harder to find a home. Sponsoring the adoption fee for one of these pets can help to draw attention to them and make people take another look. It just might help them find the perfect home!

7. Offer Transportation.

Shelters and pet rescue organizations often need drivers for a variety of reasons, including:

  • Taking pets to/from the vets;
  • Picking up pets and bringing them back to the shelter;
  • Picking up donations and/or supplies.

Offering transport helps to free up more of the shelter workers' time. Note that you may be asked to fill in an application form and/or proof of your driver's license.

8. Brighten Things Up.

Sometimes it's the little things that can make a world of difference to homeless pets. For example, sewing a brightly coloured bandana with the pet's name on it can help attract the attention of potential adopters. Add the words, "Adopt Me!" to make it clear that the pet is still available for adoption. This is especially handy when pets are out for a walk or attending an event ... you just never know when their perfect family will just happen to see them.

You can also brighten up the animal kennels and offer extra comfort for the animals still there. For example, "up-cycle" old shirts, pants, and other fabrics to make cat toys, or comfy beds.

9. Spread the Word.

Social media can be a life-line for good causes like animal shelters. Share adoptable pet profiles, or requests for supplies or donations. Even if no one in your circle of friends is currently in a position to adopt or help in other ways, they just might share it with someone who can.

10. Show Support for the Caregivers.

Caring for rescued, homeless pets is a rewarding experience, but it can also be physically, mentally, and emotionally exhausting. Shelter and rescue workers and volunteers spend a great deal of time tending to the physical needs of pets (feeding, cleaning, grooming, etc) ... as well as doing their best to make the animals feel safe and loved. Many workers also deal with the public side of things: taking adoption applications, interviewing potential adopters and foster homes, answering questions, processing donations, and many other tasks.

A simple "thank-you" can make someone's day. Or drop off a treat, buy them lunch, or arrange for some pizzas to be dropped off. It's an easy pick-me-up that can brighten their day and give them an extra boost of energy to continue caring for all the pets that rely on them.


Please consider making a donation to one of the many pet rescue organizations or humane societies, so that the animals in their care can continue to receive shelter, food, warmth, and love. Canada Helps is a site that makes it easy to find charities, arrange donations, and get your tax receipt, all in one place.


"Some things just fill your heart without trying."
(Author Unknown)

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