I live in a single-dog household. My dog, Lulu, helped me reach that decision by leaving tattered bits of green suede shoes strewn across the bedroom floor. When she decided to embrace religion by consuming chapters of my Bible, I took it as a sign and my decision was final. But tales of doggy destruction pale in comparison to the fun we have together. At nine years old, Lulu still embraces her inner puppy and finds new ways to teach me about unconditional love.
She also has inspired me to pay it forward, helping other people and pets find a love connection. Although 2.7 million adoptable pets languish in U.S. shelters each year, each pup we foster and every dog photo that I “share” on Facebook chips away at seemingly insurmountable numbers. If you want to help pets -– without adopting another fur kid -– pet rescue experts offer a few action items to get started in your community.
Rescue organizations relieve overcrowding at animal shelters by placing pets in foster homes, where they learn basic obedience and meet prospective families at adoption fairs or other events. These nonprofits typically rely on a small network of volunteers to handle everything from foster care to marketing, and they need a helping hand.
“We need a lot of people for pet transports,” says Dianne DaLee, president of Atlanta Boxer Rescue, which places about 200 dogs in forever homes each year. “Getting dogs to and from vets, shelters, and training facilities is a big need.”
To volunteer, find a rescue organization in your community and register to join the transport committee. Petfinder.org and Volunteer Match are great resources to begin your search. When the need for pet transport arises, volunteers receive email updates. If you are available, grab the keys and go score some karma points. Otherwise, wait for the next email request.
I live in Atlanta, where each October, Atlanta Boxer Rescue holds a daylong music festival called Boxerstock, which helps fund veterinary expenses for rescued pooches. The event includes everything from agility competitions and bounce houses to musical performances and pet-friendly vendors. It’s a massive undertaking that requires dozens of volunteers to collect tickets, secure sponsors and wrangle Boxers in costumes for contests.
Caring for hundreds of adoptable animals requires a lot of linens, says Jennifer Eddy, Development Director for Lifeline Animal Project, a rescue organization that manages two of the largest county shelters in Georgia. Volunteers can pay it forward for pets simply by donating used blankets, sheets and towels to their local animal control agency.
You can also turn trash into treasure, as Eddy says newspapers are highly valuable at animal shelters. Consider making a monthly deposit of old reading material.
In 2006, the Humane Society of the United States launched a Pets For Life program that provides education, training tools and vaccinations in underserved communities. It’s a fun, day-long project that begins well before the sun rises on Atlanta’s west side. Rachel Thompson, manager of Pets For Life Atlanta, says shot clinics require at least 60 volunteers to assist with crowd control, pet food distribution, and registration. It’s a great way to help hundreds of pets at one time. Schedule a team-building exercise for coworkers and search for Pets For Life volunteer locations or check pet event listings in your area to find an organization that holds shot clinics.
In addition to people power, pet organizations have a constant need for pet supplies. To keep shelves stocked, many groups maintain online wish lists that link directly to shopping sites such as Amazon.com. Lifeline’s wish list includes cat toys, dog treats and laundry detergent. At Pets For Life Atlanta, tax-deductible donations of vaccinations are in high demand. A series of vaccinations –- rabies, distemper and parvo -– costs about $150. Crates also rank high on the wish list for pet organizations. If your pet has outgrown a crate or two, shelters can still put it to good use. “We are assisting our clients now to adopt shelter pets,” Thompson says. “Crate training is our best option to keep pets in their new homes.”
One major difference between animal shelters and rescue organizations is the vetting process for prospective families. To reduce the possibility of pets returning to shelters, reputable rescue organizations take more time evaluating adoption applications to find a good fit. Often that evaluation process involves conducting a home visit with prospective families.
A few years ago, Lulu and I fostered a sweet little Pit mix named Hooch for an organization called Rescue Me Animal Project. When we first met, the pooch shrank at the sight of his own shadow, but Lulu quickly taught Hooch the joys of playing fetch and slipping out of even the most secure wire crates. As his foster mom, I got to review applications and select his forever home. After visiting two really awesome households, it was clear that one family would be a better fit for Hooch. They were so friendly that I wanted to don a dog costume and stay there myself.
Conducting home visits requires time as well as thorough knowledge of the dog’s personality and lifestyle needs. To volunteer in this capacity, connect with a local rescue group and familiarize yourself with the needs of each adoptable pet. It’s a more time-consuming way to pay it forward, but I will always cherish the moment that Hooch made a love connection with his forever family.
Exposure is what gets pets adopted, fueling the increase in Facebook pages for rescues and shelters. But there’s nothing like making a face-to-snout connection, which is why so many organizations set up shop outside local PetSmart and Petco stores. Eddy also encourages pet lovers to set up their own adoption events. If your neighborhood hosts block parties, fall festivals other gatherings, invite the local rescue group to set up a table with adoptable animals.
“This is one of our biggest needs: finding more opportunities for the animals to be exposed to the public,” Eddy says. You may just help make a love connection.
Have you helped in any of these ways or others? Let us know in the comments!
About the author: Morieka Johnson lives in Atlanta with her husband, two stepdaughters, and a high-energy pooch named Lulu who inspires them to live each day to the fullest. She enjoys writing about dog health, toys, training and anything else that prevents Lulu from eating her shoes. Morieka shares more of their exploits on www.SoulPup.com.
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