Earlier this year, we completed the largest transport of dogs we’ve ever undertaken. (You probably remember the Beaglemania that ensued after a court approved the transfer of 3,776 beagles from a breeding facility that supplied dogs to animal testing laboratories.) It took us 58 days, hundreds of staff and volunteers, and the commitment of over 120 shelter and rescue partners to find a loving home for every dog.
When you hear about thousands of beagles spared from a life of animal testing or the rescue of hundreds of dogs from dogfighting in South Carolina, you often see our Animal Rescue Team in action, assisting law enforcement when requested and providing temporary and safe housing for animals in need. This incredible team stands ready to deploy at a moment’s notice to some of the most difficult scenarios to save animals, but they can’t do it alone.
The Humane Society of the United States isn’t an adoption center, and we couldn’t rescue animals from cruelty cases or disasters without the support of hundreds of local shelters and rescues across the country that take in cats, dogs, rabbits, horses and the occasional guinea pig from our response efforts. When able, they take in these animals in addition to the many homeless pets already in their care.
One of the pillars of our work is building a stronger animal protection movement, and this holiday season, we’re asking you to see animal welfare not from the vantage point of any single organization but rather as a collaboration of thousands of local, regional and national organizations working together to help animals. We quite literally cannot do some of what we do without your local shelter, and they can’t do what they do without you.
Here are six ways to help your local shelter or rescue group this holiday season:
- Donate funds: If you’re able to, consider a donation to a local shelter, rescue, spay/neuter clinic, veterinary fund for owned pets, or trap-neuter-return program for community cats.
- Donate items: Most of the ~13,000 shelters and rescues in the U.S. maintain a wish list on their website or social media pages. Choosing items from a wish list ensures that the in-kind donations you send will be of immediate benefit to the animals in their care. If your local organization has a pet food pantry, consider grabbing a bag of cat or dog food each time you shop and dropping it off to help families in your community feed their pets.
- Volunteer: If the COVID-19 pandemic wasn’t stressful enough on your local shelter, the staffing crisis that is impacting many sectors of our society combined with a severe shortage of veterinarians and veterinary technicians has created the perfect storm of burnout and exhaustion. Signing up for one hour a week to help care for animals, serve on a fundraising committee, or transporting community cats to the vet clinic to be spayed or neutered is needed now more than ever.
- Help a family in need: Through our partnership with Maddie’s Fund and the Ad Council, you may have seen new calls to action to help animals by helping your community. We know that the majority of animals entering local shelters are there because their families can’t find pet-friendly housing or access veterinary care. These are complex but solvable issues. Consider providing temporary foster care for a pet whose family needs a few months to look for housing, is being deployed for the military or is anticipating a stay at a hospital; this helps to keep one fewer animal out of your local shelter.
- Help get lost pets back home: What’s one statistic in animal sheltering that hasn’t changed much in decades? Reunification of lost cats and dogs with their families. While adoption rates have trended upward and surrender rates have decreased with the addition of programs like low-cost spay/neuter programs, when a lost pet arrives a local shelter, they often have less than a 15% chance of being reunited with their family. More and more local shelters are focusing resources and time on changing this statistic. Volunteering to hang posters, look through lost pet reports, or volunteering to be a lost pet detective for your local shelter can make an enormous difference.
- Adopt or foster a shelter pet: While the rates of fostering and adoption increased early in the pandemic, they tapered off and have been steadily declining over the past nine months. Your local shelter or rescue is likely very full this time of year and it’s not necessarily because more pets are coming in but rather that not enough are finding homes quickly. This holiday season, consider bringing home a senior cat or a dog awaiting a medical procedure for the short or long term. Some local organizations offer slumber party fostering with a commitment of only a night or two: you learn a lot about a dog, details that help find their future family, the dog gets a break from the shelter environment, and the staff have one less kennel to clean for a few days.
As the days grow shorter and we hang lights to celebrate the end of the year, thousands of beagles who had been destined for painful experimentations in laboratories will be curling up on laps in loving homes. And the dedicated people who made these happy endings possible, who run animal shelters and rescues across the country, will be venturing out even during the holidays, when everyone else is sleeping in or gathering around the tree, to open kennels, dispense food, water, treats and affectionate head pats and ear scratches to the animals still waiting for homes.
It’s nothing short of a miracle that we human beings can come together to make the world a kinder, more loving place for animals. So, thank you for being a part of this incredible movement.
Follow Kitty Block on Twitter @HSUSKittyBlock.