Anyone who loves animals probably also has a special place in their heart for animal rescues and shelters. More times than not, these facilities are the difference between life and death for so many animals. While many of us would love to help the dogs, cats and other rescued animals living at the local shelter, let’s admit it, it isn’t always easy!
First, there are barely enough hours in the day to keep our own lives under control. While the thought of being “Volunteer of the Year” sounds like a dream come true for so many of us, things like jobs, paying bills, and taking care of our families often take priority over being able to realize those dreams. And of course, we all wish we could help out more by donating money, but a lot of folks simply don’t have much to spare in their budget. Well, don’t despair! I’ve researched this topic and am happy to share that there are lots of creative ways we can help our favorite facilities without spending a lot of time or money. It just takes a little bit of ingenuity, a little energy, and a lot of heart!
If you don’t already have a favorite, the first step is to do a little research and find out what is out there. Is there a special place located in your community or is there a facility, like Isla Animals, that exists far away from you, but needs your help just the same?
Once you have identified your favorite, you should then start to become educated about their needs. Contacting the shelter is the best way to learn about what they need. Figuring out where you can fill in the gaps is the next step. Get creative in your thinking and pick a few small things you can do to make a huge difference.
There are many ways you can help; it just takes a little bit of thought about what kind of things you can offer; here are some ideas of how you can help:
- Help spread the word – contact the organization and volunteer to share information about upcoming adoption events, fundraisers, etc. You can post signs in pet stores, veterinarian offices, dog parks, etc. You can also share information and spread awareness on your social media. Sharing a link to the charity’s website is a powerful and easy way to spread awareness.
- Do you have a vehicle and a little bit of time? The shelter might need help with getting animals to and from vet appointments, or other necessary trips.
- If those don’t appeal to you, what about volunteering some time to walk or play with the animals? Shelters can be short on staff to devote to exercising and socializing their animals. You’ll get a little exercise yourself and the mental reward will be amazing.
- Other ideas you can offer to do at the shelter are cleaning the kennels, helping out at feeding time, working an adoption event, answering the phone, performing clerical tasks, etc.
- Gathering supplies: I met a friend on social media who visits local veterinary offices, and pet supply stores and flat out asks them for donations for her favorite shelter. A lot of times veterinarians will donate supplies that are almost at the expiration date or slightly beyond; things that they would normally have to discard anyway. The charity can use them immediately and in doing so they will not go to waste. Also, check the classifieds, the penny saver ads, or Facebook Marketplace and look for free items being given away that you think the shelter could use. Collect them and donate. The shelter will certainly appreciate it!
- Another great idea is to call local hotels to see if they have any unusable sheets, blankets, towels, or cleaning supplies that they will be willing to donate to a local shelter. Do the same with office supply stores to see if they have anything they are willing to donate, such as printer paper, ink, envelopes, etc. You just never know who will say yes!
- Do you have any special skills? Think about things you can make – like homemade toys and bedding – by using old T-shirts, sheets, and blankets. Make some cute bandanas that say “Adopt Me” for the animals to wear on walks or at events. Carpenters and handypersons are always welcome at a shelter if you are willing to donate your time to make repairs or build things.
- Professional services: Skills from lawyers, accountants, web designers, writers, and photographers just might be in demand. Give them a call and offer your services.
If you don’t have the time to offer the services listed above, why not get creative and try your hand at fundraising?
- Hold a fundraiser for your birthday or other event. You can set it right up on your social media site or create your own fundraising website on one of the many sites out there that do this. When my kids were younger, some of their friends would have birthday parties and request shelter items instead of birthday presents.
- Throw a party! We all need to get back together with our friends and loved ones that we’ve been missing over the past 2 years. Add a special request for folks to bring something to donate to a shelter or set up a collection center near the bar!
- At school: I saw a story on our local news about one of the elementary schools in our area having an art show to benefit the shelter in their community. The theme was cats and dogs, and the students created drawings, paintings, and other art pieces that even included portraits of some of the animals in the shelter. They held a gala-style event where parents and other attendees were allowed to purchase the artwork. The admission price as well as the proceeds raised from the sale of the artwork all went to the local shelter. The art teacher was pleased that not only did everyone get to enjoy some beautiful art, but the event served to raise awareness at an early age about caring for pets. The students also learned some valuable lessons about the role of art in raising funds for a good cause.
If you can’t find the time to volunteer, consider purchasing supplies for your favorite place. Be sure to contact your favorite shelter before purchasing anything because they may have a preference to a particular brand or be in extra need of a certain item. (If Isla Animals happens to be your favorite, check their website for a more inclusive list of supplies needed. Given their mission and the exceptional types of assistance they provide, they need additional kinds of supplies not listed below. Please contact them for information about how and where to send supplies.)
Here’s a great list to help you get started:
- Baby bottles with size 0-3 months nipples
- Puppy formula
- Dry and wet puppy food
- Dry and wet kitten food
- Dry and wet dog food
- Dry and wet cat food
- Heating pads (these can help keep newborn puppies warm but not all heating pads are safe for animal use so please check with your shelter before donating)
- Wire pet crates of any size
- Soft carrier
- Baby gates
- Pet leashes of all sizes
- Pet collars of all sizes
- Stainless steel food and water bowls
- Cat litter
- Pet beds
- Treats for training and administering medicine (small chewy soft treats)
- Heartworm medication
- Flea and tick medication for dogs
- First aid type supplies
- Copy paper
- AA and AAA batteries
- Permanent markers
- Storage bins with lids, etc.
- Clorox bleach
- 13 Gallon/55 Gallon Trash Bags
- Laundry detergent
- Mop Heads and Nylon Brooms
- Ziplock Bags Quart Sizes
- Paper Towels
Finally, consider fostering, or even better, adopting a shelter or rescue pet. Adopting a dog from a shelter will make room for another animal in need. You can look for breed-specific rescue programs if you have your mind made up that you want a certain breed. Fostering isn’t the easiest way to volunteer, but it is one of the most important and valuable ways to help. It can also be one of the most fulfilling. Being in a shelter can be extremely stressful for many animals and may not always be the best place for them to thrive. Opening your home to an animal in need and providing the food, shelter, love, and training it needs while waiting for a forever home is one of the best things you can do to help.
Diana Colbert lives near Pittsburgh PA Married with twins (son and daughter) who are 21 years old and still love to travel with their parents. She and her family have owned dogs and/or cats for most of their lives. She works in financial services and would love to live in Mexico someday.