She was my fur kid. But the world looked at Lulu and saw something much different. To others, she was a Pit Bull, a menace, and an unnecessary addition to our neighborhood. I wish more people had a chance to experience the unconditional love that comes at the end of a leash. Lulu was my friend and confidant for a decade. Together, we worked to shatter stereotypes.
Lulu helped foster dogs shed their shyness, embrace play time, and find forever homes. She also helped me understand the transformative power of cuddle time. She’s no longer with us. But I celebrate her memory in large and small ways. She’s on my mind each time I “Like” photos of shelter pets and their new families on my Facebook feed. Although I daydream about having more space – and more time – for additional fur kids, in reality I struggle keeping up with two teens, a husband, and a puppy. Instead, I continue looking for ways to pay it forward without adopting another pet.
With the holiday season in full swing, I wanted to offer a few suggestions for paying it in forward in ways that can make a big difference for pets in your community.
Follow your local county shelter, favorite breed rescue group, or humane society, and share adoptable pets on your social networks. While I certainly don’t recommend overloading friends and family with sad tales, an occasional “share” may help a dog or cat find her forever family.
Most of us rely on smartphone calendars to stay up to date, but there’s something nice about having a good old-fashioned print calendar in the house, particularly if you need help coordinating multiple schedules. Calendars also make fun gifts for pet lovers.
Thanks to Lulu, I’ll always be partial to the Unexpected Pit Bull calendar, which donates 100 percent of its proceeds to animal welfare organizations across the country. Thanks to the amazing family photos and the heartwarming adoption stories, I eagerly look forward to each new month. If Pit Bulls aren’t your thing, find out if your favorite breed rescue offers a pet calendar — or help them create one.
Rescue organizations pull dogs and cats from local shelters and house them with a network of volunteers who provide homes. Each foster home means there’s room for another dog at a shelter. But these volunteers need a break, too, particularly during the holidays. Contact your favorite local rescue group and offer to serve as a holiday or short-term foster parent. There may be an application process, so check the website for information.
In 2013, I joined forces with friend Lauren Janis, owner of Big Daddy Biscuits, to host an annual dog festival in our neighborhood. Now in its third year, Dogtoberfest in EAV is a family-friendly event that has grown into a tradition for East Atlanta pet lovers. My stepchildren look forward to volunteering at the Halloween costume contest, and I’ve even had coworkers join the cause, helping us raise thousands of dollars for local pet-rescue organizations.
The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals is the country’s oldest humane society and distributes millions of dollars to organizations across the country. Support its work by hosting your own Team ASPCA virtual fundraising campaign in lieu of receiving birthday gifts. It’s a great initiative for kids who want to pay it forward. Newlyweds who already have the basics are also starting online donation drives to avoid getting yet another toaster.
Most shelters operate with very lean budgets, which leave little room for creature comforts. Contact a local shelter in your community and ask what items it needs most, then add those items to your grocery list. The shelter in my community always needs dish and laundry detergent, as well as bleach, paper towels, dry dog food, cat litter, towels, and blankets.
Many organizations have even created wish lists on Amazon, which makes it easier to pay it forward while shopping for yourself. To access an organization’s wish list, hover over the “Your Lists” drop-down and select “Find a Wish List or Registry,” then search by name. Additionally, if you shop through Amazon Smile, the company donates 0.5 percent of eligible purchases to the charity of your choice.
If you have children, enlist them in the effort to help pets. Adopt a local shelter or rescue organization and then host occasional donation drives — at the kids’ school or in your neighborhood — to collect items such as gently used leashes and collars, towels, cleaning supplies, even pet food. It’s also a great community outreach project for offices.
Whenever someone asks me how to gain work experience, my No. 1 recommendation is to volunteer. It’s a fun, easy way to network and to enhance your resume while giving back. A few years ago, I was ready for a career change and volunteered for an organization called Ahimsa House, which helps people and pets escape domestic violence together.
Managing the group’s Facebook page gave me valuable experience cultivating a brand on social media, a skill that serves me well in my current profession. Since most pet-focused nonprofits rely on a skeleton crew of volunteers, your ability to increase their Instagram presence, design posters, or even produce short promotional videos will be greatly appreciated.
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About the author: Morieka Johnson lives in metro Atlanta with her husband, two stepdaughters, and a high-energy puppy. She enjoys writing about dog health, toys, and training. Morieka shares more of their exploits on www.SoulPup.com.