Bring Joy to Your Local Shelter

No matter how hard the staff and volunteers work at your local shelter to make it festive…

…shelters are still not joyous places during the winter season. Granted, every time a pet is adopted to a new home people cheer but as long as there are pets still residing in the shelter, some joy will be missing. Thankfully, there are a number of things we can each do to help the dogs, cats, ferrets, rabbits, and other pets in local shelters.

Towels and Blankets

A stack of used (but clean and bleached) towels are always happily accepted donations. Regular sized towels, beach towels, and wash cloths are all used on a regular basis; wash cloths to spot clean pets or to wash down surfaces; regular towels to dry pets after a bath; and beach towels to use as bedding in a cage.

Soft, fluffy fleece blankets are wonderful for cats. Cats are sensitive to the touch of materials and the fleece appeals to them. Plus, fleece is warm which is especially important for kittens. You can buy pre-hemmed fleece blankets or a more cost effective way is to buy fleece material and cut it to small blanket sizes before bringing it to the shelter. A four foot by four foot section of material is perfect.

Other blankets that are sturdy and easy to wash and dry will also be welcome. They can be used in kennel runs for short haired dogs, older dogs, or in with caged pets.

Parties Can Benefit

Are you hosting a holiday party that usually has a gift exchange? Instead of sending people home with a gift they’ll never use or appreciate, have everyone bring a gift for the shelter. Your party guests could bring blankets, dog treats, cat toys, food bowls, dog beds, cat beds, or, of course, cash. Call your local shelter and find out what’s on their wish list. You can add that to your party invitation.

They could bring all the items to your party and you could bring them to the shelter or better yet, if held during shelter hours, everyone could convoy to the shelter with the gifts. Who knows, someone might then go home with a new pet!

Walk, Pet, and Cuddle

Sometimes the best donation you can give a shelter is that of your time. A few hours here and there can do wonders for the pets in the shelter.

Dogs love to go for walks, play ball, or chase a toy. If the shelter will allow it, take one dog out at a time and walk him, play with him, brush him, or if he needs it, give him a bath.

Cats often don’t do well in a shelter situation. It’s loud, unsettling, and a cat who isn’t used to this kind of a situation will be stressed. This leads to a lessened immune system or worse yet, the cat will appear unfriendly when potential adopters walk past and the cat will eventually be labeled unadoptable. However, if you can make friends with a cat or two, pet each of them, brush them, or if you’re lucky, get them to play, the cat could adapt to her situation better. Plus, she will then look at people stopping to see her as potential playmates instead of as scary people.

Ferrets, rabbits, birds, and other pets need to be able to relate well to people, too, if they’re going to have any chance of being adopted. If you have experience with any of these pets, let the shelter know and perhaps you can spend time with these pets.

Senior pets and kittens often have the most difficult time in a shelter. Elderly pets who have lost their home are confused, may have some health challenges, and sometimes give up hope. Kittens may be frightened, overwhelmed, and often get sick. Any time you can spend with these pets is well worth it.

Spend Time Reading Out Loud

Several articles have been shared on social media about some children who go to their local shelter to read to dogs. The articles say that the dogs calm down while the kids are reading and it helps keep the dogs socialized to people. This is true but you know what? This isn’t limited to kids; you can do this, too.

Grab a book that will sound good read out loud, bring a chair, and read to some dogs; or sit in the cat room while cats and kittens climb all over you. Half an hour here and there will do you and the pets a great deal of good.

Foster During the Winter

As I mentioned elderly pets and kittens have the most difficult time in a shelter situation. (Puppies tend to be more adaptable and often get adopted right away.) If you have some time during the holidays, and have some space, talk to your shelter about fostering either an older dog or cat, or a litter of kittens.

Each will take some time, a quiet place in your home, and will cause a disruption in your normal routine. The pet might need some veterinary care, need a bath, or be de-fleaed, so think about this carefully before volunteering. But if it sounds like something you’d be willing to consider, ask which pets might be best served by getting out of the shelter for a couple of weeks and see what they say.

Don’t Forget the Staff and Volunteers

Shelter staff and volunteers are often the most under appreciated people around. They clean kennels, empty litterboxes, handle rowdy dogs and scared cats. They take in stray or unwanted pets and bear the abuse when an animal is euthanized. It’s hard work. Plus, animals need to be cared for every single day; there are no days off.

A plate of homemade cookies, a pan of warm brownies, a case of soda, or a box of candy would all be welcome.

Meet the Author: Liz Palika, CDT, CABC

Liz Palika is a Certified Dog Trainer and Certified Animal Behavior Consultant as well as the founder and co-owner of Kindred Spirits Dog Training in northern San Diego county. Liz is also the founder of Love on a Leash therapy dogs; her dog, Bones, goes on visits on a regular basis. A prolific writer, Liz is also the author of more than 80 books. Many of her works have been nominated or won awards from a variety of organizations, including Dog Writers Association of America, San Diego Book Awards, the ASPCA, and others. Liz shares her home with three English Shepherds: Bones, Hero, and Seven, as well as one confident and bossy orange tabby cat, Kirk. To relax from work, or to take work on the road, Liz and her crew travel the West and PNW in their RV. If you see an RV on the road named "Travelin' Dogs", honk and say hi!

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