Over six million animals end up in shelters every year in the U.S., according to the ASPCA. They also estimate that over four million shelter animals are adopted each year and just over 800,000 are returned to owners. This means that there are nearly two million shelter animals don't find homes. And with so many animals still in need of their forever families each year, shelters continue to be overwhelmed. Although we can't solve the problem completely (unfortunately), we can all do a little something to support them. Here are 9 ways to help animal shelters and rescues.
Adoption is one of the best ways to help shelters! Especially because some have reduced the number of staff and volunteers, putting them under more stress than normal. Adopting a dog will help take an animal off the staff's hands and open a space for one in need. Most shelters post available dogs online, so you can check them out before going in. Make sure to email or call in advance, as some shelters only offer visits by appointment. You may also be able to schedule a virtual meet-and-greet first with many shelters if you're not local.
Along the same lines, fostering an animal is a great way to help shelters. Shelters often get requests for taking in sick pets or animals, more of which has happened the last several years with Covid. Again, email or call in advance to arrange your foster. You may just end up giving that animal a forever home, as fostering sometimes turns into adopting.
3. Sponsor Adoption Or Other Fees
Sponsoring a pet's adoption fee means that you pay the typical fee now, so someone can adopt them at no cost in the future. When an adoption fee is already paid, it makes it easier for animals to be adopted. Other fees you can sponsor include spaying, neutering and other medical bills.
4. Donate Support Or Supplies
Donations are always helpful for shelters. Contact them or visit their website to see what they need most. Some shelters will prefer cash support, while others may be in need of supplies like food, beds, blankets and toys.
Pro Tip: Ask the shelter how you can help. Every shelter's needs are different and some may be low on supplies, while others could use cash donations.
Volunteering is another great way to help animal shelters. There are your typical or standard and hands-on volunteer roles - such as cleaning kennels, feeding the animals and filling water bowls or spending time with them by providing walks, training, socialization, companionship and playtime. But many shelters also need volunteers for reception, adoption assistance, customer service, following up with the references of potential adopters, answering questions, fundraising and event planning. How many roles there are usually depends on the size of the shelter, as many smaller ones may ask their volunteers to do multiple tasks.
You can also volunteer virtually or in other ways, beyond the standard roles, using your particular skills and hobbies. For instance, you may be able to help with social media, web and graphic design, photography, writing newsletters or emails, accounting and bookkeeping, IT or tech support, legal assistance and beyond. If your talents are more on the crafty and handy side, you can make bandanas and toys, build supplies (like cat climbers or dog beds) or help with repairs. Ask the shelter how you can volunteer and suggest some ideas based on your preferences and skills!
“Clear the Shelter” campaigns are when shelters use social media to try to get their animals into homes as fast as possible. These homes could be either foster or adoptive ones, but both will help reduce the stress shelters are experiencing. Sharing the campaign on social media or with friends and family will increase exposure, as well as the chances of getting animals adopted.
8. Keep Your Own Pets Safe
Keeping your own dog safe will reduce the chance that he or she gets lost and ends up at an already stressed shelter. Make sure your dog is wearing a collar with identification tags or is microchipped and keep him or her on a leash when you go out.
9. Try Not To Surrender A Pet
Sometimes things don't work out with a pet. Usually, the solution is to re-home the animal or surrender them to a shelter. But it's best to try to work it out with your pet, if possible. If not, see if there's a friend, family member or someone on social media who could help. That could mean anything - from providing a new home to pitching in on food and supplies to helping with training or walking your dog and beyond.