Sunday, July 19, 2009

Ways to Help Your Local Shelter

Those of us that love animals tend to already have a lot of them. We always want to do more, but often it seems like we don't have the space or the money to take in another dog or cat in need. But there are other ways in which folks can help make the lives of shelter animals a bit brighter, and although they may not have the glamour of sweeping in to rescue a pet from certain doom, they are all important and necessary to keeping the animals happy and comfortable, no matter what the final outcome is.

1. Come play with us!

Your local shelter or humane society needs volunteers to walk, feed, groom and socialize the animals. Being cooped up in a cage for hours on end can make even the nicest pet grouchy, territorial and untrusting. Don't worry - you can do it at your own pace and only with the animals you are comfortable with. Even just sitting with them in their kennels or on a leash in the lobby can make a lonely dog or cat feel loved and hopeful. It also gives you the chance to talk about these pets to prospective owners as they come in. This is a great volunteering opportunity for anyone, from college kids to seniors. Contact your local animal services or Humane Society for information on volunteer classes.

Gordo, Morgan and Sophie resting after playtime.

2. Toys, Towels and Blankets!

We always seem to be in dire need of clean towels and blankets. Even with the washing machine running nonstop all day, there never seems to be enough to deal with the constant messes and spills that crop up. Keeping our friends' kennels clean and pleasant is important, and keeping warm blankets available for the sick, injured, very young and very old is also critical. Puppies, kittens, and many small breeds of dog have a difficult time maintaining body heat on a concrete floor, and with young and small animals alike, it may only be a couple of hours before a warm, clean blanket has become a soggy, smelly mess in need of laundering.

New or gently used baby blankets, towels, pet-safe toys (cotton-filled rather than polyfiber-filled), dog-safe rubber balls, cat toys, grooming brushes, clippers, leashes, collars, etc, can often be found at garage sales and thrift stores. Toys may not seem like critical items until you see a small puppy, newly separated from its littermates, snuggle up to a stuffed Spongebob Squarepants doll for comfort. We've also seen quiet, stoic dogs spring to life when a ball or frisbee is tossed across the play yard.

Check with your local shelter before bringing in any edible items, please. Some shelters may be under contract with specific pet food companies to provide only that brand's food. Treats are usually welcomed, although certain items (such as rawhide chews, which can clog plumbing) may be politely discouraged.

3. Spread the word!

It's a constant struggle against the bad and inaccurate information being circulated about animal shelters and the people who work there. Get to know what's really going on, get involved in helping, and help spread the word on the wonderful animals that need homes. Got a website? Twitter account? Flickr page? Help find these guys and gals new homes. And always remember that we are trying to be ambassadors and role-models for these animals; everything we say and do should reflect kindness and dignity, the things they need most from us.

Just as importantly, educate yourself. Help fight the tide of misinformation and ignorance regarding breeds, behaviour, animal services, and the dog trade. Discourage buying from puppy mills and disreputable breeders. Get to know the legitimate breeders in your area. Read up on behaviour, communication, training and care for animals. In addition, try and encourage others to do the same.

If cruelty, overpopulation, neglect, ignorance, fear and bad "parenting" are diseases, education and knowledge are the best vaccines.

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