6 Ways to Help Your Local Animal Shelter · The Wildest

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6 Ways to Help Local Shelters Without Committing to Full-Time Pet Parenthood

Adoption isn’t for everyone—here are other ways you can be there for animals in need.

by Lindsay Hamrick, CPDT-KA
Updated April 11, 2024
anonymous woman pampering and taking care about a small ginger kitten
Thai Varela / Stocksy

Adopting a pet definitely goes on the list of “Things You Shouldn’t Do Lightly.” Once you bring that dog or cat home from the rescue, you’ve got to, you know, feed, water, and spend actual time with them. If the full-time commitment isn’t for you, here’s a thought: You can still help pets in need without going all-in as their parent.

Most animal shelters and rescue organizations are underfunded and short-staffed, and they can use all the support they can get. From volunteering in person (think: walking dogs, cuddling cats) to volunteering your skills (photography, graphic design), there’s a niche for everyone. Here are six of the many ways in which you can help the six to eight million homeless pets who pass through the shelter system each year in the U.S.

Foster

Maybe you’re not quite ready for the long-term commitment of adopting a new family member, but that urge to get a cat or dog fix is strong, and there’s no reason to fight it. Fostering delivers on the rewards of being a pet parent, without (most of) the downsides — you’ll still need to scoop or pick up poop, but only for a few weeks.

Many foster pups and kitties have never lived in a normal home, so foster moms and dads are often the first person to show that animal love and earn their trust. There is arguably nothing more rewarding than watching a feral kitten take a treat from a human’s hand (yours!) or a fearful puppy wag their tail for the first time (you did that!).

The foster gig is to show a rescue animal how to be a family pet, which will get them adopted far faster than if they were cowering in the corner of a cage at a shelter. After all, you’ll have insight into the dog or cat’s personality, likes, and dislikes that a shelter worker doesn’t — not to mention tons of derpy photos. Most organizations provide foster parents with the necessary supplies, and anything else you purchase is a tax write-off.

The main reason why people hesitate to foster an animal is the self-limiting belief that it will be too emotionally taxing. We feel you — but while letting a foster pet go to their adoptive home can be bittersweet, knowing that you made that happen by showing them how to dog or cat feels pretty darn good. Plus, not only does that mean you can bring a new foster pet home who needs you now, it also opens up space at the shelter so they can take in new strays off the street.

Volunteer at a shelter

Maybe fostering isn’t your thing because your landlord doesn’t allow pets, or you just know you’ll end up keeping all 12 kittens from that litter you bottle-fed. Volunteering at your local shelter may be the next best thing. At many overcrowded shelters, volunteers help pups get that long walk they need, with time to sniff and play and connect with a person before heading back inside. Cats don’t need walks, but they still need affection and socialization. So, if you’re a cat person, head to your local shelter and go cage by cage doling out kitty cuddles.

Rescue organizations also rely on volunteers to handle (read: show off) animals at adoption events and talk to prospective adopters. But if you’re more the behind-the-scenes type, ask your local shelter how else you can help — perhaps their adoption space needs a fresh coat of paint to make it more inviting? If you’re not afraid to roll up your sleeves, your local shelter will surely find something for you to help with.

Volunteer your skills

Don’t dismiss volunteering if you don’t have animal-handling experience. Great photographs are essential for getting a pet adopted, so whether you’re a professional or amateur photographer, capturing those puppy-dog eyes or kittenish curiosity will help grab the attention of prospective adopters.

Organizations also need help writing grants, designing flyers, planning events, and keeping their social media feeds fresh. Do you have a strong Instagram or TikTok following or know how to write shareable posts? Maybe you’re looking to dust off your graphic design degree by creating catchy adoption promotion materials? After all, graphic design is your passion — and not just an overused meme.

Transport

There are a lot of moving parts in animal rescue — literally. If you own a car, you can drive shelter animals to/from the veterinarian, saving staff valuable time. Some shelters organize free or low-cost spay/neuter clinics for people in underserved communities, but not everyone has the time or transportation to get their pets to appointments. You can help volunteer to give dogs or cats rides to their spay or neuter appointments.

If you live in the Northeast, many shelters “pull” animals from shelters in the South or the Caribbean and bring them to your region. These dogs and cats often arrive on chartered flights, and organizations need volunteers to transport them from the airport to shelters or foster homes.

Donate

Meryl Streep sang about this one in Mamma Mia: “money, money, money.” That’s what rescues and shelters need most. Organize a pet-food drive at work or at your kid’s school to help keep your local shelter’s pet food pantry stocked, drop off those threadbare towels and blankets, search for the best toys to keep shelter cats and dogs entertained during their stay, or put together a puppy or kitten “shower” to collect all of the supplies on your local shelter’s wish list. Create a Facebook fundraiser or see if your workplace has a matching gift program to match your monetary donation.

Advocate

Many of the reasons why animals end up in shelters are connected to the struggles of families in your community. Consider partnering with a local shelter to create a fund to cover pet security deposits or a program that provides temporary fostering of pets while a pet parent is in the hospital. Offer to run a community pet food event, distributing food and supplies to pet parents who can’t easily get to the shelter for help.

If you’re at the bottom of this story, it’s clear that you actually want to take action to help the pets in your community — even if you can’t commit to parenthood right now. That’s huge. Take an inventory of your interests and skills, figure out the time commitment you can offer, and then let the creative juices flow. Just try not to keep all 12 of those kittens.

Lindsay Hamrick, CPDT-KA

Lindsay Hamrick lives in New Hampshire with her three dogs, chickens, and an assortment of rotating foster animals. She forces her elderly chihuahua, Grandma Baguette, on overnight backpacking trips, can diaper a lamb with one hand, and while she’s a long-time Certified Professional Dog Trainer, 66.7% of her dogs still won’t lay down when asked.

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