How to Help a Shelter, Even If You Can’t Adopt

Clear the Shelters

Maybe you’ve already got two golden retrievers, or you’re allergic to cats or you’re not sure you’re ready for a new pet.

Your neighborhood animal shelter — and its assortment of dogs and cats — can still use your help.

Here are ways to help animals in need, even if you can’t adopt:

1. Volunteer. A shelter needs people to walk and bathe dogs, help with the feedings, serve as adoption counselors and do lots of other jobs necessary to keep the rescues going. At South Florida’s Humane Society of Broward County, for example, volunteers caring for the dogs and cats awaiting adoption do everything from scooping poop to assisting with the spaying and neutering, especially if they have a medical background, said Mary Steffen, the senior vice president of operations.

“They come here for their animal fix,” she said.

2. Foster. If you’ve got room for some temporary furry visitors, shelters want to hear from you. The Muttville Senior Dog Rescue in San Francisco has about 80 dogs at a time, but room for only 30 at the shelter.

“We literary cannot save lives if we do not have foster homes,” said Sherri Franklin, the founder and executive director of the rescue organization, which takes dogs 7 years and older.

Franklin says the animals stay from six weeks to three months. Failed fosters — those who decide to keep their four-legged guests — are welcome too.

“That’s the only kind of failure we like,” she said.

3. Donate. Non-profit animal rescues rely on donations to operate. Check websites to find out how you can give to a particular shelter — whether directly, through neighborhood thrift stores, or with a percentage of your purchase while shopping online through programs such as AmazonSmile. Shelter officials say you should make sure your donation is going where you want it to — whether to a national organization or to a local one — and not assume the money will trickle down.

For shelters participating in this year’s Clear the Shelters initiative, you can donate directly to those individual organizations through Fund the Shelters. A list of shelters, sorted by state, is available here

Look for “wish lists” on websites, which cover everything from towels and wash cloths to food and nail clippers to larger, more expensive items. The Animal Rescue League of Boston, with shelters in Boston, Brewster and Dedham, publishes its lists through Amazon.com. Or if you have the needed items at home, you can drop those off at the shelters, said the marketing manager, Lisa Graham.

4. Socialize. Host benefits or help out at adoption days and other events. Shelter supporters organize happy hours, golf outings, dog walks and other gatherings to raise funds. Other volunteers design newsletters and websites, collect items for auctions and promote adoptions on social media.

“Social media is a big part of our rescue,” Franklin said. 

She recently posted a photo of a Pomeranian as part of a plea for help in transporting six dogs from Los Angeles to San Francisco.

“I posted it on Facebook and I got 75 responses within two hours of people wanting to help,” she said.

Help in attending — and throwing — fundraisers and benefits is also key. Famous Fido Rescue in Chicago, for example, held a fundraiser on Aug. 23, 2015 for a new headquarters, a 10,000-square-foot building. In addition to space for the animals, a counselor to help struggling owners keep their pets and a station to micro-chip animals, the new building was also set to include a rescue store, a pet-supply store that directed its profits back to the animals.

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