Admit it: We’ve all been caught day-dreaming about how our life goal is to “own a farm for rescue animals” or “have a mansion to save all those kitties I see on Facebook who need homes.” While these are quite noble statements, most of us aren’t able to run away and start that revolutionary cause, but we can certainly do our part to collectively help local cats living in animal shelters.
After recognizing that I can’t just sit around and wish for a better world, I began volunteering at my local animal shelter, PAWS (Philadelphia Animal Welfare Society). I remember being detoured by friends and family members, warning me that it might be sad to see the influx of animals in that situation. That couldn’t have been further from the truth. I met so many incredible individuals, who are truly heroes, helping save and rehabilitate homeless cats and dogs on an everyday basis. Volunteering at PAWS is still to this day one of the most positive experiences in my life.
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I quickly got into the swing of things at the shelter, everything from daily cat care, walking dogs and even volunteering to manage their Twitter account. I finally realized that the only way to feel better about homeless cats is to get out there and do as much as I could at the shelter, help get cats into forever homes, which in turn, helps make room for more cats coming in off the street. I’d chronicle my experiences at PAWS on social media, sending out photos of cats I met throughout the day and dogs I’d take to adoptable events. My friends and colleagues quickly started asking me how they could get more involved, while some were allergic to cats and dogs, but still wanted to help from afar. Here are some tips I often share:
Animal shelters are nothing without their dedicated staff of volunteers. Here’s where you draw your hero card, help fluffy kitties and get to make friends with fellow volunteers who love cats just as much (or perhaps even more) as you do! I got started volunteering by doing “cat care” which includes the various dirty work of cleaning cages and litter, but the final result of feeding, helping with grooming and petting these cats at the end of the shift makes you feel like a million bucks. You also get to learn A LOT about cats, medically and behaviorally, which proves to be extremely useful in a cat lover’s life. The collective force of volunteers runs the shelter and ensures that the cats are getting the best care while getting ready to find their forever homes. And as for my allergy prone friends who still want to make a difference? You can! Animal shelters always need admin help in house and remotely. Lending your graphic design, social media, web design, photography or grant writing skills will directly support shelter staff and aid in swift adoptions. This can also be an excellent resume building opportunity — professional and philanthropic bonus points! Ask your local shelter where your unique talents can be of most assistance
This is like baby-sitters club, but for cats, giving you the opportunity to take care of cats without the long-term commitment! Foster parents are some of the most celebrated figures in the animal rescue community. When you temporarily foster a cat, not only are you helping acclimate her to a home life, you are making space for another needy cat to enter the shelter. Fostering provides a smooth transition for the cat, where you can allow a stimulating environment and cultivate good behavior. The best part? You can foster kittens like this:
(Photo by Jeannine D. at PAWS)
Many foster parents act as advocates for their cats, setting up a dedicated Facebook page or Instagram account to help promote them, like Zero the cat.
One of my favorite organizations that always looks for foster parents is PACT (People + Animals = Companions Together). PACT is a non-profit that provides emergency support for pets of military members and families who are deployed overseas. This is a beautiful thing: You can take care of a soldier’s beloved cat, ensuring that their pet is well taken care until their return. Check out their national listings for cats and dogs who need foster care or follow them on Twitter.
3.) Donate to Animal Shelters
There are so many ways you can donate to animal shelters. Remember, every dollar adds up quickly, so no contribution is too small:
– Direct monetary donations to your favorite local shelter via their website are always appreciated. Some shelters allow you to donate in memory or celebration of a favorite pet, which is a wonderful way to honor a cat’s legacy — by helping one in need.
– Many animal shelters have an Amazon Wishlist, where you can easily purchase items they need while you do your own shopping online. You don’t have to worry about dropping items off or shipping, as Amazon ships those wishlist items directly to the shelter.
-Clean out your closet & raise money for the shelter through eBay. List your items through the eBay for Charity page, pick your favorite local shelter and a portion of your proceeds goes to them. Easy!
-Hold a donation drive at work or school. This is a meaningful way to boost employee or student moral! My friend Kat Buckley found great success setting up a donation drive for PAWS in her office. Ask your shelter which supplies they need the most, or visit the donation portion of their website
(Photo: Kat Buckley visiting an adoptable kitty at PAWS while dropping off her office donations)
-Who needs more birthday or anniversary presents? At your next party or event, ask your guests to bring the most needed items by the shelter, or to write a check to your shelter of choice. Prove that you love cats more than these awesome kids who are leading the way in animal rescue philanthropy.
4.) Advocacy (On and Offline)
Social media is a powerful tool within animal rescue, as a fellow volunteer recently dubbed it, The Power of Shares. I use Twitter daily to tweet about urgent pets in Philadelphia. I source from posts on Philly Urgents Facebook Page, and tweet courtesy posts as a signal boost to draw a larger audience, and hopefully connect these pets with a lifesaving pull from the shelter. I connect with Twitter influencers, everyone from news personalities, bloggers and local entrepreneurs with a large following, and who are passionate about animals. I always tell my followers to retweet and share, because you never know who on your network can help save a life. Offline, flex your PR muscles as a volunteer at adoptable events. Many shelters have events to promote their mission and adoptable animals through fun charity events at bars, stores and public parks. Be a rep for your favorite cat or kitten at the shelter, and provide more information for attendees. Your day will be made when you see a shelter cat in loving arms, and know that you were a big part of the reason she has a forever home.
Here’s how you can find a shelter to help near you:
BestFriends.org (Utah, Los Angeles, NYC)
BestFriends.org (Find a Network Partner in your area)