Help Shelter Dogs Even If You Can’t Adopt

When dogs come into animal shelters, they are often tied up, fearful and feeling awful -- in short, not looking their best. But professional pet photographer Seth Casteel is one of many volunteers across the country who come to the rescue of such homeless dogs. At the West Los Angeles Animal Care Center, he plays with the skittish dogs, gets to know their unique personalities and captures their happy moments. The resulting memorable photographs are later featured on websites, newspapers and other places advertising dogs up for adoption.

Casteel’s talent happens to be photography, but you can use your own particular skills to help shelter dogs. Jennifer Lu, communications manager at the San Francisco SPCA, says, “Our goal is to place animals in caring homes, but there are many ways in which people can support the process leading up to this end goal.”

The Obvious One: Donate Money
As is the case with many facilities, the San Francisco SPCA is funded solely by donations. But do you know how your money actually helps out the animals? Lu broke down some typical donation amounts, and how the money can be used:

  • $15: a flea treatment for a puppy or adult dog
  • $50: heartworm test for dogs
  • $60: full medical exam for an incoming new dog
  • $90: microchip identification insertion and vaccinations
  • $350: dog spay or neuter surgery

Inga Fricke, director of Shelter Initiatives for the Humane Society of the United States, says she was recently touched by stories of young students who instead of accepting birthday or holiday gifts, requested money to help their local animal shelter. Once the money is donated, sometimes shelters will offer personal tours or other fun rewards for students.

Donate Services to Animal Shelters
As Casteel proves, all sorts of services can be useful to shelters. Noah’s Ark Animal Sanctuary in Cypress, Texas, for example, is now seeking these donated services: printing, advertising, general contracting, electrical, plumbing, septic, concrete and brick work, landscaping and lawn service. The San Francisco SPCA is even looking for volunteers to staff the windows at Macy’s during the shelter’s big winter holiday adoption drive at the popular department store.

If you cannot adopt a dog but still enjoy spending time with canines, consider offering to exercise a bit with dogs, an activity that Fricke said really assists many shelters. Just an hour of your time each day can work wonders -- and whittle down your waistline too. “For dog lovers, our volunteers take our dogs on daily walks to get them much-needed physical and mental exercise,” explains Lu.

Foster a Dog
If you cannot take on the commitment of a full-time adoption, think about fostering a puppy or adult dog for a limited period of time. Says Lu: “Nearly 1,000 animals a year who are too young or ill to be immediately adopted are cared for by foster volunteers who nurse them and prepare them for adoption.”

Contact Local Veterinarians
Yet another way to help reduce the number of homeless dogs is “to prevent them from winding up in shelters in the first place,” according to Fricke. Encourage local veterinarians to offer low-cost spaying and neutering and to collaborate with neighborhood shelters. Fricke says that “some veterinarians participate in free vaccination clinics or refer animal behaviorists that can help socialize pets that are up for adoption.”

If You Are Allergic to Dogs …
If you love animals but are allergic to dogs, you can still help reduce the number of homeless dogs and improve the lives of those already in shelters. Fricke suggests organizing a food and blanket drive to obtain items desperately needed by animal care staff.

Noah’s Ark Animal Shelter in Houston, for example, needs everyday items like soap and newspapers. But medical and office supplies are also on its “wish list,” along with a van equipped with air-conditioning. A representative mentions that “the animals cannot be transported in Houston’s sweltering heat without risking heatstroke. We really need another van to safely transport the animals.”

One of the easiest, most effortless ways to help is to do just what you are doing now: Go online. Lu explains that “we and other shelters are embracing social media as a way to promote both programs as a whole and specific animals.” She asks that you look for your local shelter on Facebook and Twitter. With a simple mouse click, you can help share information about events, fundraising and adoptable animals.

Famous Fathers and Their Dogs

Famous fathers have a way with words when it comes to describing their relationships with the top dog of the house:

“No man can be condemned for owning a dog,” said the 1930s film cowboy Will Rogers, who had four children and a series of pets. “As long as he has a dog, he has a friend; and the poorer he gets, the better friend he has.”

“If you want a friend in Washington, get a dog,” said the 33rd U.S. president, Harry S. Truman. He had two dogs while there -- Feller, a cocker spaniel, and Mike, an Irish setter.

Even President Obama noted the special companionship that Bo, the family’s Portuguese water dog, provides in a house otherwise full of females. “I’m surrounded,” he told an interviewer from NBC recently. “It’s me and Bo.”

There’s a reason dogs became known as “man’s best friend.” From hunting partners to guard dogs to running companions, dogs have bonded with men. Experts even believe that having a dog can help men with their human relationships, particularly when raising kids.

Dog Ownership Benefits Dads
The American Kennel Club’s 21st Century Dog Owners Study found that 72 percent of dads think dog ownership is good for their health, which has been backed up by numerous studies. In 2002, researchers at the State University of New York at Buffalo determined that spending time with a pet was associated with lower stress responses than spending time with a human. A 2006 study by Saint Louis University researchers found that nursing-home residents felt less lonely after being visited by a pooch than they did after spending time with people.

Dogs Help Men in Human Relationships
“You can’t be macho around an animal. They don’t relate to that. They need fairness and consistency,” says Chris Hamer, author of Parenting with Pets: The Magic of Raising Children with Animals. “So do children.”

In fact, raising a dog can be a wonderful way for Dad to spend time with his children and teach them a thing or two. “Having a dog in the house provides a great way to teach children responsibility,” says Lisa Peterson, director of communications for the American Kennel Club. “It’s also a great bonding experience, not only for Dad, but also for the kids as well.”

Here are four lessons dads can learn from dogs:

1. Be better communicators. Men sometimes have difficulty with communication, particularly with children. “A pet can sometimes be a conduit to open up communication,” says Hamer. She recommends that dads do tasks with their children involving the family dog, such as brushing, washing or walking the dog. While doing these tasks, conversations start naturally, and dads can talk with their kids.

2. Don’t react in the moment. “Working with an animal, especially if you’re doing training, you have to be thinking ahead of time about what you are trying to get out of the situation,” says Hamer. The same techniques can be applied to parenting, she says. “Be proactive, not reactive.”

3. Soften up.
Many men tend to react to complex situations by becoming more dominant or forceful, when sometimes the opposite approach is actually more effective. “I try to get them to soften their voice and give a lot of praise,” says Hamer. “A dog will teach you that you’re not going to get anything by being more aggressive. They’re going to cower. Or sometimes they may become aggressive back.”

4. Devote time to the relationship. Involving kids in taking care of the dog is a great way to teach responsibility, build confidence and experience a great family dynamic.

Celebrate the Season While Helping Dogs in Need

Like many animal lovers, dog bakery owner Trina Messano wants to spread holiday cheer to orphaned pets during the season of giving.

Messano, who runs Doggie Cakes in New Port Richey, Fla., is opening the doors of her business to a fundraiser for the SPCA Suncoast Shelter, a nonprofit animal shelter supported through donations. Santa Claus is posing for pictures with pets, while a raffle will also feature handcrafted dog toys, pet beds and a dog-edible gingerbread house that Messano is baking. 

"I'm a huge pet lover," explains Messano. "I have three dogs and six cats. They're all adopted. I can't save them all, but I wish I could. So I had to find other ways to help."

Many animal shelters across the country need to raise money to support their good work helping homeless pets during the coming year. You may be surprised at how you can turn some of your holiday activities -- such as baking cookies, shopping and even socializing -- into fundraising for your local shelter.

Holiday Help for Homeless Dogs
Consider these six activities:

1. Find homes for hounds. While making the rounds of holiday parties, open houses and dinners, spread the word about homeless pets. In 1999, the Helen Woodward Animal Center, a nonprofit, no-kill shelter in San Diego County, Calif., teamed up with 14 other area shelters to start the Home 4 the Holidays program. They found homes for 2,563 orphaned pets that year, according to John Van Zante, a shelter spokesman. The program has since grown into the largest pet adoption drive in the world. This year, they hope to facilitate 1.5 million adoptions.

2. Shop for Fido. Many shelters participate in programs through iGive, an online fundraising organization that gets such retailers as Amazon, eBay, the Gap and Home Depot to donate a share of your purchase to a favorite cause, such as the Brockton Blue Dog Shelter in Brockton, Mass., or Oregon’s Hood River Adopt-a-Dog Foundation.

3. Organize a dog food drive. Help your school or company to set up a dog food drive. Some, such as Helen Woodward, operate food banks for pet-owning senior citizens who are having economic difficulty or who can't go to a store. "Get a giant box and put it in the lobby or send information in the company newsletter," suggests Tim Crum, of The Philanthropy Team, a fundraising and marketing company for animal shelters.

4. Collect pennies for pups. Recruit your elementary and middle school students to collect coins to help a local shelter. "Make it a contest between classrooms or between schools," says Crum, who worked with one school in Pittsburgh that raised $2,500 in pennies for the Animal Rescue League a few years ago.

5. Bake cookies for canines. While baking holiday cookies, fruitcakes or other delectable treats, make enough to hold a bake sale to raise funds for a shelter. If possible, set up at a local library or in the school cafeteria.

6. Give gift cards to shelters. During your holiday shopping outings, don't forget to pick up a gift card for your local shelter. "If you know a shelter shops at a particular store, get them a gift card or certificate," says Kimberley Intino, a certified animal welfare administrator and the director of shelter services for the Humane Society of the United States. The options include pet stores, office supply stores or discount chains.

Spreading Holiday Cheer
In addition to hosting picture-taking with Santa and baking the gingerbread house for the holiday raffle, Messano is doing what she can to be one of Santa's elves for the orphaned pet population in Florida. She says, "I try to spread awareness to all my customers that there are wonderful pets that need adoption at the shelter, since I can't take them all home with me."

Katrina Victim Finally Reunited With His Dog

When New Orleans homeless advocate Jessie J. Pullins was forced to evacuate the Big Easy in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, he followed orders from city officials and left his 3-year-old black Labrador retriever mix, JJ, enclosed in a room in his home with plenty of food and water. Pullins had been through hurricanes before. He left for Baton Rouge assuming he’d be back in a couple of days.

In the aftermath of the broken levees, two days became weeks as residents were prohibited from returning to their city. Worried tremendously about his best friend, Pullins took some comfort in reports that volunteers were going house to house to rescue pets.

Missing Dog
By the time Pullins made it back to his ravaged home, the note that rescuers had left on his door had been blurred beyond readability by the floodwater. Pullins drove through the city in search of his pet to no avail. “At that point, he lost hope,” says Steve Dye, the man who would become Pullins’ attorney in his fight to reclaim his dog from the California family that eventually adopted him.

Problems Begin to Mount
Thousands of pets were left alone in New Orleans when residents like Pullins fled four years ago. Rescuers worked tirelessly to save the animals, sending the pets to nearby shelters, which quickly became overcrowded. Undeterred, the volunteers began airlifting dogs to other cities and states. JJ was among them, eventually winding up at a California shelter.

After Cesar Milan, better known as the Dog Whisperer, featured JJ on an episode about Katrina dogs, word got back to Pullins that his pet was on the West Coast. But by the time he found the shelter that had taken in JJ, the dog had already been adopted. The shelter owner did not wish to reveal JJ’s new whereabouts.

Legal Help
“That’s when I got a call,” says Dye, whose California-based office, Schnader Attorneys at Law, had done pro bono work for another Katrina family. “At first it seemed like a stretch to take a case about a dog, but Jessie had lost so much because of the storm, and in the midst of trying to rebuild his life, I realized if he could just have his dog back, it would help him so much.”

“I thought, ‘How hard could this be? I’ll make a couple of phone calls,’” remembers Dye. Although the shelter owner was resistant to providing contact information for JJ’s new owners, a year after contacting Dye, Pullins finally got the name of the family who had adopted his pet.

One Dog, Two Owners?
JJ’s new family had no idea that the canine they had grown to love was a Katrina dog. Once they learned the circumstances that landed JJ at their local shelter, they agreed to return him to Pullins. However, one of the owners soon had a change of heart, moving away and taking JJ along.

Once again, JJ’s location was unknown. Through additional efforts on the attorney’s part, the animal was found. Katrina was such an unusual tragedy that there was no precedent for something like this, and so a trial was set to resolve the issue. But just as the trial was about to begin, the new owner returned JJ voluntarily.

Back to New Orleans
Pullins and JJ had what Dye describes as “a very happy reunion” at the New Orleans airport in June. “Jessie called afterward and told me it was as if JJ had never been gone,” says Dye. JJ seemed to feel the same way, jumping all over his beloved owner the moment he saw him, covering him with the kisses of a long-lost friend now found.

Advantages of Adopting an Adult Dog

When my husband and I were newly married, we adopted an 8-week-old German shepherd. Max required just about as much work as raising a child, given the housebreaking, training, socializing and deterring her from chewing anything in sight.

Several years later, Max grew to be a wonderful family dog. At the age of 12, however, she passed away. We eventually adopted an older dog, a 10-month-old beagle from a medical research lab. She had never been outside before, but she took to housebreaking and other training like a fish takes to water.

The Puppy Myth
As I learned, adopting an older dog has many advantages. "There's a fairly well-ingrained myth that you have to get a puppy in order to train and develop a solid relationship. It's simply not true," says Pat Miller, a certified professional dog trainer and behavioral consultant with Peaceable Paws LLC in Fairplay, Md. Of the five dogs Miller now has, three were adopted between 6 and 7 months old, one at 5 months and one at 8 years of age.

Puppy Versus Adult
While puppies are cuddly, and many grow up to become wonderful companions, prospective pet owners sometimes forget the trouble involved with raising a canine from infancy, and they overlook the countless mature dogs awaiting adoption from shelters and rescue organizations. Here are the advantages adult dogs have over puppies when it comes to adoption:

  • Housebreaking Older dogs are often house-trained. If not, they are at least able to learn quickly. Puppies, on the other hand, are too young to be able to physically “hold it” for very long. You have to take them outside every hour -- often in the middle of the night -- and you still must clean up puddles.
  • Training Mature dogs frequently come pre-trained not to chew furniture or clothing. They also may know basic commands, such as “sit,” “stay” and “down.” "They know how to walk on a leash and a lot of the other basic things that puppies haven't learned yet," says Adam Goldfarb, director of the Pets at Risk program of the Humane Society of the United States.
  • Energy level Adult dogs tend to be calmer. With puppies and adolescent dogs, energy level is more of an issue. Many adolescent and young adult dogs wind up in shelters because their families weren't prepared for such a high-energy pet.
  • Socialization Older dogs are apt to be more socialized, and therefore, they usually handle people, other pets, cars and noises better than puppies.
  • Temperament and size With older dogs, you have a better idea of who they are, how they act and what they'll look like. With purebred puppies, you can make an educated guess by observing the dog's parents. With mixed breeds, however, you may not know the parents. In addition, paw size is an inexact measure of full-grown size.
  • Spaying or neutering An adult dog has likely been fixed already, taking the responsibility off you.

Questions to Ask When Adopting an Older Dog
Sometimes, adopting an adult dog may have a few downsides. Pre-owned dogs can come with baggage. "If you're adopting a dog from a hoarder, puppy mill or other home where he wasn't well-socialized, you may be facing significant behavioral challenges, such as neophobia (fear of new things), fear-related aggression and general shyness,” says Miller. A dog kept in unclean conditions may also be more difficult to house-train. Dogs may end up in shelters or with rescue groups because of health and/or behavioral problems.

What to ask a shelter or rescue group before adopting:

  • Do they have any history on the dog? Do they keep information about how and where the dog was found if it’s a stray? Why did its previous owners surrender it?
  • Are there any behavioral issues? How has the dog behaved at the shelter? Is it a high-energy dog, or is it happy sitting around all day?
  • Are there any health concerns? Has the dog been treated for anything while at the shelter or rescue center?
  • What type of home do they think is best for this dog? Has the dog ever lived with children or other pets? Could you arrange a meeting between the dog and your children or pets before adopting?
For our family, an added reason to adopt an older canine was that we knew we were giving a loving home to a dog that was going to be harder to adopt out. For others, the reason can be even more compelling: You may be saving the dog from euthanasia. As Miller says, "You can feel really good knowing you are saving a life.”