Many people would love to help shelter animals, but find it challenging to actually get to the shelter. With our years of experience volunteering in shelters, we have compiled a list of ideas of how you (together with your family, friends, coworkers or even your class if you are a teacher) can make life much more pleasant for shelter animals. None of these projects require spending time at the shelter—other than just to drop off the fruits of your efforts!
Hand2Paw youth stuffing Kongs for Shelter Dogs
Make Bars, Treats and Toys
For people, 24 hours never seems long enough to get everything you need to get done in a day. For dogs and cats trapped in small kennels and cages in shelters, those hours seem endless. They need something to keep their minds engaged, and the choices are limited.
Most dogs love to chew, so frozen bars can be very useful in entertaining them. They also provide an alternative to Kongs or puzzle toys when opening the kennel door is not an option. For example, after a dog arrives at the shelter, it can often be days before the behavior staff can evaluate her. In addition, most states require quarantine of dogs who have bitten a human to ensure the dog does not display signs of rabies. These waiting periods provide an especially challenging time to provide any type of stimulation for the dog. Volunteers are generally not allowed to handle dogs who have not been evaluated by staff or who are serving a bite hold. This means that the dogs, even those that are house trained may get no breaks at all from their kennels.
Frozen bars that volunteers can slide under the kennel door can be a godsend for these dogs. The bars can be made at home by boiling chicken and rice and using waxed paper to make bars about the size of your hand. The bars are then frozen and can occupy a dog for much longer than unfrozen treats.
Cats also can go long periods without mental stimulation, and they especially appreciate busy boxes. There are many ways to make a busy box. You can tie small toys to short lengths of cord and suspend them from the top of a shoe box. You can also cut window flaps in the box at various heights. Trying to declutter? Get rid of your mismatched socks by stuffing some catnip in them, tying a knot and dropping them at the shelter. What could be easier?
Coordinate a Linen Drive
Every shelter goes through mountains of linens—particularly towels and blankets—for bedding in kennels and cages. You probably know people who would benefit from cleaning out their linen closet. Put them together with shelters for a win-win!
Do it with a few friends. Pick a spot (or more than one) to put a collection box. It can be a place of business like a pet supply store, your church or workplace. Make a poster showing shelter dogs—maybe one on the floor of his kennel and one on a comfy blanket—and give people a time frame to drop off donations. Ask all of your friends to promote it on social media.
Write Bios and Make Ads
Every shelter needs help promoting their animals for adoption. That help can take many forms. You can talk to your friends and family about adopting. You can help out at offsite adoption events. But, if you can’t attend events, you can provide a tremendous help by drafting bios of the dogs and cats, making posters to share or even drafting a Craigslist ad (with permission, of course).
Volunteers who go to the shelter take photos and video and can provide you with some description of the animal’s personality and you use your creative talents to make that information into an ad for the animal. This is a task that it is tough for staff to get to, and a catchy bio can really help get an animal out the door and into a home.
Talk to Your Friends About Not Buying
Many people who tell us they are dog lovers still think about what breed of puppy they want when it’s time to add a new pet to the family. Whether is the attraction of a puppy, the thought that they need to do all the training from scratch or the belief that, if they go to a breeder, they can be more certain of the personality of the dog, many people unwittingly encourage overbreeding and condemn a shelter dog to die by choosing to buy a puppy rather than going to a shelter or rescue.
You can help save the life of a shelter dog by telling your friends all the advantages of adopting a dog past the puppy stage. Especially if they adopt from a rescue that has dogs in foster homes, they can be much more certain of the personality of the dog and whether he gets along with other dogs, cats or children. They also have the satisfaction of knowing that they contributed to the solution rather than the problem.
Use Social Media (Smartly)
Okay, this may be a little controversial but we are going to put it out there: a lot of people try to help shelter animals by sharing them on social media. It saves a lot of animals, but some methods are better than others.
Liking a photo of the shelter animal is not terribly helpful. Comments like “somebody please save him” are even less helpful. What is helpful? Sharing detailed positive bios of available animals. Joining Facebook groups for your town or neighborhood and, when someone posts about where to get a puppy, comment with a friendly note listing specific addresses for your local shelters and linking to their page of adoptable animals.
If you have time to check out their animals and find something close to what the people are looking for, even better. Be the connector that leads people to the animals that really need them, and they will probably find one they love that fits right into their family.