If you don’t know this already, I’ll tell you now that most dog shelters are tragically understaffed and underfunded. There’s always one more thing to be done, and not enough hands or time in the day to do it. As a result, dogs go unwalked, cages go uncleaned, blankets go unwashed, and dogs go unbathed. Volunteering at your local shelter gives you a quality somewhere between “angel” and “Buddha.”
However, the reality is that most people can’t volunteer at a shelter. People have busy lives. Other people can’t stand the idea of being among animals that may be put to death – it’s too sad for them. Understandable. But there are many ways to help shelter pets without spending hours at a shelter, or making yourself sad. I’d say to buck up and get over the “sad” part for the sake of the dogs – that’s what I had to do – but some folks can’t do it.
Here are 10 unusual ways to help shelter pets that you might not have thought of before:
Take Photos:Shutterbugs are in a position to help shelter dogs in a big way. Most shelter photos are abysmal. A shelter photo should be as good as an online dating profile photo. You wouldn’t put your worst picture on a dating profile and expect anyone to respond, would you? The same goes for the dogs.
Shelters are often amenable to people who want to come in and take better photos of the adoptable dogs. This is a great place to practice your photo skills if you’re a beginner. For those just starting out, the book “Dog Photography for Dummies” is a great guide not just to dog photos, but also to photographing dogs in shelters. If you’re a seasoned photographer, think of the service you can provide for the dogs – one photo can save a life.
Create Videos: Creating a video for an adoptable dog goes a step beyond the photo. I’ve done this many times and have had great success with it. People like to see the dogs in action. A video gives a better impression of the dog’s temperament. You don’t have to get fancy – most people’s phones have video capabilities these days, and many also have apps that let you edit the video and add music, etc. Then you can share these videos on your social media, or give them to the shelter to share.
Another thing I like to do is create general videos about adoption that may prompt people to rethink how they perceive shelter pets. My latest video is a parody of the popular song, “Somebody That I Used to Know” by Gotye; mine is called “Doggie That I Used to Know.”
Click: One little click can feed shelter pets if you bookmark Freekibble, Click to Give and The Animal Rescue Site and click on them every day. Freekibble has a fun trivia question and whether you get it right or wrong, the shelter pets still get fed just by you playing. The Animal Rescue site also runs contests for shelters to win funds, and all you have to do is click for your fave shelter. Another way to “click to give” is to keep your eye out for contests on your social media pages – I see a lot of contests there run by various corporations that want to fund shelters.
Send a Postcard: Of course, I have to include my own charity site, The Pet Postcard Project. I started this project in 2007 with the idea that most people don’t have a lot of money to give to shelters, but that they could use their creativity to help feed shelter pets by simply making and sending in postcards of their own pets. I find sponsors who donate a certain amount of pet food for each postcard that comes in. So far, the project has raised hundreds of thousands of pounds of food for shelter animals, as well as thousands of dollars of toys and cash.
Party Animals: If you like mingling and parties, as many of us dog people do, there are all sorts of “yappy hours” and “puptail parties” that serve as fundraisers for various rescues and shelters. Sign up for your local rescue’s mailing list and eventually you’ll be invited to an event. The money you spend going in raises funds for the homeless pets – and there’s usually a goody bag at the end of the night too. No good events in your area? If you’re a “party planner” type, offer your services to your local shelter and help them plan one.
(Not Your Typical) Fundraising: Fundraising is the key to keeping most shelters and rescues going. There’s never enough funds and every bit helps. Work with your neighbors or other dog-loving friends to have a bake sale, or perhaps you and your friends are crafty and can make key chains or other items to sell on Ebay, giving all of the proceeds to your local rescue. How about scouring the thrift stores in your area for books and selling them online for a profit that you give to a rescue? How about having a garage sale? Get the whole block involved! People like to help – it makes us feel good. There are many ways to fundraise that take very little (or no) money out of your pocket – just very worthwhile time and effort.
Shop: Many rescues have signed on with affiliate programs that allow you to click through to your favorite online shops (Amazon, for example) and whatever you buy will earn a percentage of the sale for the rescue.
(Not Your Typical) Donation: Shelters always have a “wish list” of things that they need that might be sitting around your house, unused. Blankets, towels, and sheets, for example, are always a hot items in shelters, and always in short supply. Operation Blankets of Love collects these items (and others) to distribute to needy shelters. Or, you can collect all of your unused linens and drop them off at the local shelter yourself. Rescues can also use your unused dog food and treat coupons.
Social Media: Facebook and Twitter have becoming a valuable networking hub for pets in need. Does your local shelter have a Facebook page where they post their adoptable animals and events? All you have to do is click “share.” If you do it just once a day, you won’t annoy your friends and you may help to save a life. Some people put up “crossposter” pages where all they do is post adoptable animals. Friend some of these people so that you can share what they’re posting. One Twitter page that helps animals is AdoptAPet – follow them and share their posts.
Prevention: Preventing a dog from entering the shelter system is a blessing. Some people can’t afford to feed their pets, especially at this tough time – that’s where pet food banks come in. They exist all over the country. You can find a few at the Save Our Pets Food Bank’s site or Google “pet food bank” along with your city and see what comes up. Then donate your pet food coupons to them, or buy an extra bag of dog food each time you shop and drop it off there. Or, maybe you can find someone in your area in need and help them directly.
If you have a few extra bucks in your pocket, how about “adopting” someone else’s pet and help pay for their medical needs? What a kind and wonderful thing to do if you can afford it. How about sponsoring a spay/neuter for a needy family, who otherwise might allow their dog to make puppies? Every kind soul should have the right to know the love of a dog, but sometimes it’s hard to make ends meet. Helping a family keep a dog makes a huge impact for both the family and the dog, who now will not have to die in a shelter.