What Do Animal Shelters Need the Most?
The Evanston, Ill., municipal animal shelter is so reliant on donations of funds, food and supplies that its fundraising arm has started an online wish list asking for items. On that list are cotton rope toys, fleece throws for kennels, food and treats, and then some items you might not consider when donating to an animal shelter.
“No. 1 on our list is cleaning supplies,” says Megan Lutz, vice president of publicity for C.A.R.E. for the Evanston Animal Shelter. “Bleach, paper towels, liquid laundry detergent, dish soap, those are things we use constantly day in and day out. When people can pick up an extra 12-pack of paper towels or an extra jug of bleach, we love that. It saves us from having to run out to the store.”
1 . Food Donations to an Animal Shelter
Like the San Francisco Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SFSPCA), many shelters are taking to the Web to list their needs. Often, these needs will include pet food donations. The SFSPCA lists some items that you would expect to find, such as any brand of unopened dry or canned pet food and dog treats. But some unexpected food items show up on the lists too, including jars of turkey and chicken baby food. These are for sick dogs or dogs that have trouble eating.
“Shelters never want to say no, but donations can be difficult to manage,” says Kimberley Intino, a certified animal welfare administrator and the director of shelter services for the Humane Society of the United States. “My suggestion would be to double-check the shelter’s Web site or news site, or wherever they post their wish list, beforehand.”
Each Shelter Has its Own Food Donation Policies
Here are some general guidelines:
High-Quality Pet Foods
Shelters usually appreciate high-quality foods to best meet the nutritional needs of the dogs in their care. “The more recognizable the brand of a food, the better,” says Intino. “These tend to be more expensive, but they also tend to be higher in quality.”
Dry or Canned Pet Food?
Most shelters tend to feed their dogs dry food because it is easier, cleaner and doesn’t give off as much odor. But all shelters will also have canned food on hand to supplement feeding, particularly for sick or injured pets, or those with missing teeth or dental problems.
Watch Pet Food Expiration Dates
“The longest amount of time before the expiration date, the better,” says Intino. A bag of dry food you just opened and found that your dog doesn’t like may be useful too, so check with your shelter.
2. Animal Shelter Essential Supplies
In Evanston, the shelter also needs office supplies, such as copy paper, stamps and Sharpie markers. “When we open a can of food, we mark the date on it before we put it in the fridge,” explains Lutz. “If a person knows a shelter shops at a particular store, you can always give a gift card or gift certificate as well,” says Intino.
A shelter may even desire gently used pet supplies you already have, such as a training crate, a ceramic bowl, or a collar and leash. In Evanston, the shelter operates a crate loaner program for adopted dogs. The new owners get their deposit back when they return the crate. Old ceramic bowls, while too breakable for the shelter environment, can be sold at the shelter’s annual flea market to raise money.
But perhaps the best reason of all to remember homeless animals during the coming holiday season is that donating to a shelter may help save a life and possibly unite potential families with a loving pet.
3. Donate Money to Your Local Animal Shelter
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? Jennifer Lu, communications manager at the San Francisco SPCA, 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.
4. 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.
5. Foster a Dog From an Animal Shelter
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.”
How Can I Help Shelter Pets?
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. Lu 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.”
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.”
Helping Animal Shelters During the Holidays
Did you know that animal shelters often have holiday wish lists?
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 Your Local Animal Shelter
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.”
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.
How Does Social Media Help Animals?
Scrolling down the Facebook wall of Let’s Adopt! (USA) is a virtual stroll down doggie death row. The posts are a last-ditch effort to save shelter dogs that are scheduled to be euthanized. But they’re also a prime example of how social media is transforming the process of rescuing and adopting animals.
“We started as a simple Facebook group in order to find homes for my rescues,” says Let’s Adopt! founder Viktor Larkhill. “Less than four years later, the group has expanded into a truly global network, with growing communities not only in Turkey (where it started), but also in Indonesia, Bulgaria, Germany, France, USA, Canada and Australia. All of this, and in such a short period of time, would have been impossible without social media in general and Facebook in particular.”
Let’s Adopt! is a national effort; however, since animal rescue is usually a local phenomenon, most other social “petworks” are local. For instance, Urgent PART 2 on Facebook and Twitter only posts info about dogs in New York City shelters.
“I get the euth list every night from Animal Care & Control (AC&C) and post it on Facebook,” says Kay Smith, a New York City animal activist who runs the page. She started using social media after she discovered AC&C put out a daily list of animals to be euthanized within 24 hours. There were so many dogs on the list (she estimates the daily average to be 15 to 20) that she felt overwhelmed by her inability to save them all. So she just posted the list to Facebook, and a movement was born.
Smith also agrees that social media has taken her efforts to a level she never could have achieved offline. She and Larkhill attribute this to a handful of areas where social media gives them a boost:
- Speed – With the click of a button, Smith can post the entire to-be-destroyed list to her network.
- Specificity – With a picture and a bio for every dog, they’re more than an idea of a dog in a shelter; they’re personalized, with faces and stories to tell.
- Amplification – Says Smith: “I post the list, and if somebody with 500 friends clicks to share it, all those other people see it. And if four of those people click ‘Share,’ it could go to 2,000 more people, and it just snowballs.”
- Convenience – Going to the shelter is an event, but logging on to Facebook or Twitter to window-shop is a cinch. Smith wonders if it can sometimes be too easy and lead to owners who aren’t ready for a rescue dog. But Larkhill says the Net can also help those matters thanks to one community.
- Community – Social networks can help rescuers better get to know the people they’re playing matchmaker for. “It has enabled us to build an unprecedented level of trust with our community,” says Larkhill. “By looking at someone’s profile, we can tell a lot about someone. Used correctly, Facebook provides us a deep insight into people’s personality.”
Online Dog Rescue/Adoption Resources
Other national projects that have a social media presence include The Shelter Pet Project, Pets911 and Adopt-a-Pet.com. Aside from Twitter and Facebook feeds, they also have searchable websites that are a pet-seeker’s answer to online dating.
Beyond that, Smith suggests looking for local activists and organizations in your city and recommends always going to the shelter to visit dogs before making a commitment. If you’re not able to adopt, you can still get involved. Find out if your local shelter has a social media presence or if someone advocates for the dogs there. If not, start your own Facebook page for them. “I believe the potential has only just begun to be tapped,” says Larkhill. “As the level of connections increases, the power of the network increases.”