helping animals in need

Your furry friend gifts you with his devotion and companionship all year round. Why not pass on some of that love to homeless animals?

Help needy and homeless animals is a gift that keeps on giving. It’s one way you can pay your own companion back for always being there for you with his love, patience, unwavering dedication and friendship. Supporting a shelter, rescue or sanctuary is a great way to do this, but it’s important to make sure you select a reputable organization that cares properly for the animals in its charge. While there are thousands of wonderful individuals and groups out there who do everything in their power to help animals, there are unfortunately also some who take advantage of people’s compassion for animals and use it for their own personal gain. Be sure to do your research before deciding which organization/s you want to give your time or money to.

Who should you choose?

“My preference is for local, volunteer-run no-kill shelters,” says Gwen Cooper, who spent five years working in nonprofit administration, fund-raising and marketing, and also authored Homer’s Odyssey, a book about a blind rescue cat she adopted. “A volunteer staff by definition doesn’t require salaries, which means every penny you donate is going directly into service for the animals. Plus, when you donate on the local level, you can see your money put to good use in your own community. You can attach individual names and faces – your friends and neighbors – to the people you’re supporting in their efforts on behalf of animals in need.”

Of course, there are also many larger national organizations that do fantastic work. “Right after 9/11, when my cats were trapped in my apartment five blocks from Ground Zero, the ASPCA and the relief effort they coordinated were instrumental in enabling me to rescue my cats three days later,” says Gwen. “Local shelters are great on the day-to-day level, but when you’re talking about large-scale disasters, national groups are a godsend. They also have a great track record of supporting local shelters through grants and donations.”

4 ways you can help

1. Monetary donations

This is the least time-consuming way to support a shelter or rescue. It’s ideal for those who are pressed for time, but have some extra income to spare. “Shelters all need money for supplies and medication,” says Gwen. “These days, my schedule is much more demanding, but I donate 10% of my earnings from Homer’s Odyssey to rescue organizations.” How you decide to donate is up to you and the options the organization offers. You can give a single sizable gift once a year, or set up to have small amounts automatically removed from your bank account once a month.

2. Supplies

Another way to give is to donate supplies such as quality pet food and treats, cat litter, toys, bedding, shampoos and brushes, or even office and cleaning supplies. If you have the time and are feeling more ambitious, you might organize a drive to collect gently used blankets or towels. If you’re throwing a birthday party, ask guests to bring pet food donations for the shelter rather than gifts for you.

3. Time

If you can’t afford to donate money or supplies, it doesn’t mean you can’t help. Far from it, in fact! “At various times in my life, I was short on money but had enough control over my work schedule to volunteer a certain number of hours every week,” says Gwen. Most shelters gladly welcome volunteers to come in and help clean cages and litter boxes, walk or groom dogs, spend quality time with the cats or feed and water the animals.

4. Services

Take a look at any particular skills you might be able to offer homeless animals. Are you good at office work, writing, organizing, fund-raising, carpentry or decorating? Most shelters and rescues are glad to have volunteers help them with paperwork, fund-raising events, repairs or painting jobs around the facility, or even the building and maintenance of dog runs and cat enclosures. Some might appreciate assistance doing up a newsletter or composing letters. If you do any form of healing work, you might offer to go in once a week to give animals Reiki, acupressure or TTouch. “There are many ways to get involved,” says Gwen. “For example, if you’re a web designer you could assist your local shelter in putting together a website featuring adoptable pets and a ‘Donate’ button.”

Going further

Maybe you’re thinking of getting even more involved and doing something such as fostering dogs or caring for a feral cat colony. Just be sure to think carefully before you take this step. It’s a big responsibility and entails a significant investment in time, funds and both physical and emotional energy.

“Fostering is an incredibly generous thing to do,” says Gwen. “But before you commit to it, you should ask yourself how realistic it is for you to bring another dog into your home. Do you have the time and resources to care for him, and will you be able to part with that dog when he’s ready to go to his ‘forever’ home? “The other important thing to understand is that you’re not in it to change the world. I’ve seen volunteers burn out when they realize they can’t save all the animals. You’ll never save them all. The volunteers who understand that each individual animal saved is its own miracle are the ones who last the longest and do the most good.”

Another way to go that extra mile is to do what you can to help strengthen animal welfare legislation. “I think it’s always a good idea to educate yourself as to where your specific representatives and senators stand on the issues that matter most to you,” says Gwen. “If one of those issues is animal welfare, make it your business to find out. Email them and use your Facebook and Twitter accounts to inform others if you don’t approve of their animal welfare voting record.”

Last but not least, always adopt homeless dogs or cats rather than buying them from breeders or pet stores, and encourage your friends and family to do the same. Shelter and rescue animals often make the best companions, and by adopting, you’re easing the burden on these organizations by one more animal.

Whatever you decide to do to help, rest assured your efforts will have a ripple effect that will make many homeless animals happier and healthier!