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8 Creative Ways to Donate to Shelters (Without Spending a Dime)

From upcycling linens to handing down used toys, you can help animals in need and prevent waste.

by Maia Welbel
June 22, 2022
Woman with curly hair on her computer sitting next to her Boxer mixed breed dog
Jimena Roquero / Stocksy

Your pet wants you to read our newsletter. (Then give them a treat.)

Most animal shelters depend on community support to keep their furry residents safe, fed, and housed. Since it’s rare for rescues to receive government funding, and adoption fees cover only a fraction of an organization’s overhead costs, donations from caring individuals and groups are crucial to a shelter’s survival. Plus, there are so many ways you can help your local animal rescue beyond writing a check. And a bunch of them help prevent waste to boot! Here are eight non-monetary aid options for helping out animals in need. 

1. Donate supplies

We all have that box of garbage bags, pack of batteries, pair of cleaning gloves, or roll of paper towels that’s been lingering in storage for years and never used. All of these items and more can be especially useful to rescue organizations. Get your spring decluttering done and help stock up a shelter in one go.

Other possible donations include:

  • Hand and dish soap

  • Bleach

  • Laundry detergent

  • Rubber and disposable gloves

  • Printer paper

  • Rubbing alcohol

  • Trigger spray bottles

  • Baby wipes

  • Distilled water

2. Upcycle your linens

Give linens a second life as bedding and cleaning materials for shelter animals. Have a sheet with a few holes, a blanket that’s not being used, or towels that have seen better days? Make sure they’re clean and send them to your local rescue and you can feel good about keeping those textiles out of a landfill. Note: not all shelters accept used items, so make sure you check individual policies first.

3. Put papers to use

Since recycling isn’t always as straightforward as one might hope, it’s great to find ways to upcycle paper goods. Remove any glossy ads or magazines from your newspaper pile, tie up a stack, and many shelters will be happy to take them off your hands. 

4. Share pet items

If your pooch never took to that kong toy you got them or your cat turned up their nose at the new brand of litter you bought, see if the local shelter wants them. Carriers, leashes, collars, and stainless steel food and water dishes are also often appreciated as long as they are in good condition. 

5. Redirect registry gifts

This summer is going to be an exceptionally busy season for weddings, birthday gatherings, and other celebratory occasions. If you’re hosting one, consider asking guests to donate to a shelter in lieu of gifts, or offering it as an option on a registry.

6. Clean out your fridge

If you have a pet, you probably know that human foods are frequently favorite treats. A pack of hot dogs, frozen meatballs, string cheese, or a jar of peanut butter that you’re not going to eat would probably make a delightful snack for shelter dogs and cats. Just make sure they are unopened, within their expiration window, and don’t contain ingredients that might be harmful to animals (avoid anything heavily salted, too). 

7. Fulfill Amazon and Chewy wishlists

A lot of organizations have Amazon or Chewy wishlists on their websites. If you’re looking to gift new items to a shelter, that’s the place to go to make sure your donation is filling a need. You can also select participating shelters on smile.amazon.com so a portion of every purchase you make on the site is automatically directed to them. 

8. Volunteer 

The gift of your time can be invaluable to pets in the shelter system and the humans who care for them. Volunteer in person walking dogs and cuddling cats, or share your skills by offering to help with anything from graphic design to photography to grant writing. 

Don’t forget that every shelter has its own unique needs and limitations and may not be able to accept every type of donation listed here. It’s always a good idea to research the specific organization you’d like to support or give them a call to ask how you can best be of service. They might be looking for help in a form you never even thought of.

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author Maia Welbel

Maia Welbel

Maia is a freelance writer focused on using storytelling to help people treat our planet with more compassion. She lives in Chicago with her perfect pets, Maxx the dog and Rubie the cat. Find her on maiawelbel.com and @mwelbel.