Madison Bradley was one of those children whose heart raced at the sight of any animal. But as a child with allergies, furry encounters meant a fit of sneezing, sniffing, and dripping eyes. Reluctantly, the Boston youth admired from a distance, until a scout meeting left her with new inspiration.
“My troop wanted to help our local shelter, but we weren’t old enough to come on site. So we had a bake sale, and raised a couple of hundred dollars,” she recalls.
That good feeling stayed with the young animal lover, and over the years, she looked for other ways she could reach out from afar.
“I held a food collection at school a couple of times, and a car wash,” says Madison, now in her 20s. “My favorite was in high school. For a community service project, I arranged to have some shelter dogs visit during our big football game, to get some exposure. I just loved watching the dogs get all that love.”
It’s heartbreaking for a parent to deny a child’s pleas for a cat or dog. For whatever the reason animals might be off limits — allergies, family dynamics, rental agreements — you can still foster your child’s love for animals. Here are some ways that children of any age can feel close to animals, without actually living with them.
Even the youngest of children can hold a penny drive, whether they simply collect change at home or take part in an organized effort. At The SPCA in Tampa, they’re often approached by teachers or organizations looking for ways their students can raise funds.
“We’ve paired up with a local credit union, which has a penny counting machine,” says Nora Hawkins, managing director at the shelter. “They supply plastic bags, with their logo on it. The children fill the bags and bring them to the credit union, who sends us a check.”
Animal care organizations are always in need of towels and linens. These items are used as bedding, after baths, to clean muddy feet, or to help comfort an ill or frightened animal. Your child can be in charge of collecting towels, blankets, and sheets as they get discarded from your own family, or the child can even extend the efforts to the neighborhood or community.
Food, treat, and toy drives are common efforts that usually result in at least a trunkload of goods. While these items are helpful, shelters often are in need of less-glamorous items: office supplies, cleaning products, and postage materials. Before launching a collection, ask the shelter you aim to help what it needs most.
“Many shelters have a wish list available that contains things that help their budget — paper towels, bleach,” says Hawkins.
While your child may not find it exciting to collect envelopes or cleaning supplies, the experience can be an early lesson in budgeting; money saved from your donated items allows the shelter to spend its money on the animals.
Animal care organizations want their human visitors to feel welcome and comfortable, so that the visitors will relax and take their time meeting available pets. One way to help with this is to offer to beautify the grounds. If your family has a green thumb, consider helping to plant flowers or rake leaves. If you’re not a gardener, you could donate seasonal decorations or artwork.
Shelter staff members are often pulled in many directions, so if you have a teenager who is good with computers, talking on the phone, or organizing things, there are tasks that can be done from home: screening prospective adopters, organizing files, and arranging funding or medical care. Social media skills can also be put to good use by broadcasting updates of available dogs and cats, upcoming events, or needed items.
Animals always need a voice, and children or teens are perfect. Next time your younger children need a topic for a school project, suggest an animal rights issue: spay/neuter programs, breed equality, or puppy mills. Teens in need of a community service project could launch a website or social media campaign to raise awareness.
If you can’t think of a way to volunteer, stop and reflect on what your child is good at. These talents can often be put to use; for example, in the Tampa Bay area, some dogs are more comfortable today, thanks to the woodworking skills of some helpful young men.
“In Florida, we have regulations about providing an adequate shelter to the animals, so a few Boy Scouts made beautiful dog houses, which we were able to give out,” says Hawkins. “We’ve also had scouts made things like wooden lean-tos and agility equipment.”
A natural or human-made disaster affects animals and animal care organizations. When a crisis occurs, suggest your child lead a relief effort. Possibilities include basic fundraising and a more organized effort, such as a dance-a-thon or basketball shootout. Be sure to investigate the proper avenue for sending the funds to the affected area.
“Almost every day is some kind of holiday — National Cat Day, Hairball Awareness Day, Take your Dog to Work Day,” says Hawkins. Do an Internet search on animal holidays, and see what shows up, and let a holiday be a springboard for an idea.
While they may not be able to snuggle up on their couch with a furry critter, doing good for animals can satisfy a child’s longing and provide an early taste of the rewards of philanthropy.
Read more about the bond between humans and dogs on Dogster: