They've been given up to shelters or abandoned in parks. Some have wandered away from their homes and failed to find their way back. Still, others were born unwanted and unloved. These are America's homeless pets, and it's estimated that there may be as many as 70 million homeless dogs and cats living in the United States. Of these, approximately 6.3 million will end up in shelters.
If you're an animal lover, you probably want to save them all. Of course, that's impossible for one person to accomplish. So, where do you start? One of the best ways is to adopt a pet from a shelter or rescue. It may be just one animal, but to paraphrase a famous saying — helping one homeless creature might not change the world, but it could change the world for that dog or cat.
Fostering is a good option if you can't commit to adopting a pet permanently. Many animals can't handle the loud and chaotic shelter environment and would benefit from living in a quiet home, even if it's only temporarily. Shelters also need foster pet parents during the winter months because their kennels typically have concrete floors, which are easy to clean but can be very uncomfortable for temperature-sensitive cats and dogs.
Not able to foster or adopt? No worries. Here are five other ways you can help homeless cats and dogs:
1. Volunteer your time
Many shelters and rescues depend on the kindness of volunteers to help their operations run smoothly. Although the needs of each shelter will vary, the following are some common volunteer roles available in most shelters and rescues:
Sitting with, talking to, and petting cats
Feeding and watering
Kennel and cage cleaning
Transportation for homeless animals to and from the rescue/shelter and for medical care
General office work
Of course, you should also ask an organization if they have other suggestions for how to help homeless pets in their care. For example, if you are a licensed veterinarian, a rescue may ask if you can help with physical examinations of new homeless dogs and cats.
2. Donate money to a rescue, shelter, or charity for homeless pets
Most rescues survive on tight budgets that barely cover the basic needs of the homeless pets in their care — such as housing and food. Then there are the veterinarian bills, which can quickly escalate into thousands of dollars. For example, it can cost an average of $500 to $2000 to treat a puppy that is sick with parvovirus. Even worse, this virus is highly contagious, so it could quickly spread to other dogs in the rescue.
Shelters and rescues also spay and neuter all the homeless animals in their care before they give them up for adoption. It's easy to see how medical costs can quickly eat up a rescue or shelter's budget. That's why rescues, shelters, and charities always welcome your monetary donations to help homeless dogs and cats.
If your budget is tight, there are still ways you can help shelters or charities for homeless pets. For example, if you shop at Smile.amazon.com, Amazon will donate 0.5% of your eligible purchases to a charity of your choice at no additional cost to you. Some pet stores will also let you round up your purchases to an even dollar amount, and then they'll donate that extra money to a charity for you.
3. Create a fundraising event
One way to raise a substantial amount of money at once is by hosting a fundraising event for a shelter or rescue. Some shelters, for instance, will host auctions to raise money. Another popular fundraising idea is to host a race, such as a 10K or a 5K. Both are big events that require a lot of volunteers to:
Plan and organize the event
Find donations for prizes and auction items
Get publicity for the fundraiser
4. Donate items
Shelters and rescues are often in need of donated items. Although you should check with the organization first, many accept the following items:
Unopened bags of food or treats
Clean blankets, sheets, and towels
Raised dog beds
New toys or ones in good condition
Leashes, collars, and harnesses
5. Help at adoption events
Adoption events are typically held away at high-traffic businesses, such as pet stores or local fairs. They're an excellent way to showcase pets in need of a home and familiarize the public with the shelter and its mission. These types of events do, however, require quite a bit of work and organization. Volunteers are needed to secure a location and publicize the event. In addition, each pet will typically require a handler who can stay with them during the event, and who can also transport them to and from the offsite location.
Prevention is key
Every time you volunteer your time or donate money to a rescue or shelter, you are helping homeless pets to have better lives. However, there is one more important step you can take to combat the problem of homeless animals — and that is prevention. Puppies and kittens are adorable, but with 70 million animals already in need of a forever home, it just doesn't make sense to bring more little ones into the world. That's why it is so important to spay and neuter your pets.
Lizz Caputo is a Content Strategist at Figo, animal enthusiast, and owner of a rescued senior American Bully. Her hobbies include checking out new restaurants in her area, boxing, and petting dogs of all shapes and sizes.