Many people reach out to the shelter each year looking for unique ways they can show their support. Oftentimes, these people are not in a position to adopt, but still want to make a difference. If you're looking for a way to help your local shelter but don't know where to begin, try the following.
Ask before you donate
People love to donate food, toys, treats, and pet beds to shelters, but that's often where the donations stop. As a result, we often have cabinets full of Milkbones and buckets full of tennis balls but not a single bag of cat litter. The less obvious and, let's face it, less "glamorous" items are the ones shelters need most. Cat litter, bleach, laundry detergent, trash bags, paper towels, and even dog leashes are a constant need but are rarely donated. Remember that "fancy" items, like decorative collars or gourmet food, aren't very useful. Ask your local shelter what their biggest needs are before making a donation. It may seem odd dropping off trash bags instead of treats, but trust me - your local shelter will be very grateful! It's also important to check in before dropping off large donations of blankets and towels to make sure the shelter has room to accommodate them. Remember that shelter's often use all available space for animals, not storage.
Think outside the shelter
Somebody recently donated several reams of copy paper to our shelter and you would've thought we just received a million dollars. Office supplies eat up a huge amount of a shelter's yearly budget (just think of how much paperwork we go through for each animal!) so donations of paper, stamps, or even office supply store gift cards are tremendously appreciated.
If you're not in a position to adopt, consider helping other people find a new pet by organizing an adoption event. Adoption events are a great opportunity for local shelters to spotlight their adoptable animals, especially ones that might not "show" well in the shelter due to stress. Adoption events are also great for potential adopters who may not be able to travel to the shelter to meet animals. As long as animals are welcome, adoption events can happen anywhere from pet supply stores to local fairs.
Donation drives can have a huge impact on shelters. A successful donation drive can save the shelter from needing to buy supplies for months. Much like making a donation on your own, it's always wise to check with a shelter first to find out what their biggest needs are so donors know ahead of time what to bring. Donation drives can also be very successful if held at pet supply stores so shoppers can pick up items to donate right then and there. Be sure to have shelter wish lists on hand to hand out to shoppers. The most successful fundraiser I've ever seen involved challenging supporters to stuff a school bus full of donations.
Hold your own fundraiser
There are countless fundraisers you can hold on your own to support the shelter. Most recently, a supporter of the shelter I work at organized a bicycle ride to benefit the animals and donated the registration fees to the shelter. Earlier this summer, two brothers made and sold bookmarks to their friends and family members and donated the proceeds. There are many options beyond bake sales and lemonade stands!
Spread the word
If you're not interested in holding your own fundraising event, consider helping your local shelter with the events they're already running. One of the easiest (and most appreciated!) ways to help out is to take a stack of flyers and post them around town to help advertise upcoming events and promotions. An even easier way to help spread the word is by sharing social media posts by your local shelter and encouraging your friends and family to do the same.
Giving your time is incredibly generous and makes a tremendous difference for animal shelters. Most shelters rely on volunteers to help with the day-to-day cleaning and socializing. Even if you are allergic to animals, there are many other ways you can volunteer your time, including helping with office work and assisting at special events. Just one hour of your time a week is truly appreciated. Be sure to check in with your local shelter about their volunteer policies and to learn about age requirements and the application process.
If you cannot adopt an animal, consider welcoming an animal into your home temporarily through foster care. Foster care often lasts several weeks and, more often than not, the foster animals are kittens that are too young for adoption. Occasionally, foster homes are needed for medical reasons, such as an animal recuperating from surgery. Returning foster animals after they've spent weeks or months in your home can be difficult, but it's important to remember that your actions helped save a life and there are many more animals that need your help!
This is just the tip of the ice burg. There are many more ways you can help your local shelters. You are limited only by your creativity!
Alaina Goodnough is the Promotions Coordinator at Cocheco Valley Humane Society in Dover, NH. She lives in Sanford, ME with two parrots, a cockatoo, a cat, a bearded dragon, and two dachshunds. She can be reached at CVHS at email@example.com. To learn more about Cocheco Valley Humane Society, go to www.cvhsonline.org or call 603-749-5322.