by Jacqueline Vaughn. 

Your heart breaks when you see photographs of animals in need. You’re already at your legal (or spousal) limit of dogs or cats. Fostering isn’t an option because your pet wants your complete attention. You’ve maxed out your credit cards and there’s no loose change left in the sofa cushions.
Even if you can’t adopt, foster, volunteer regularly, or donate, there are many ways you can support your local animal shelter or rescue group. It just takes some creativity, some time, and a desire to make a difference.

1. Socialize Pets. Shelter staff rely on volunteers to give the one-on-one time that can turn feral into friendly. Dog walkers are a key to dog socialization to get canines out of kennels and keep their need to sniff active. Some facilities allow you to just drop in when you have time to walk a dog, others have specific hours. (Sedona City Council member Bill Chisholm and his wife Kim both walk dogs for the Humane Society of Sedona—time they dedicate each week to an animal and to each other.) It’s even easier for cats. Curious cats don’t need fancy toys—a box makes for a great game of hide-and-seek. Shy felines might take a while, but just being around a human is a start. Pet kitties, throw a small wad of paper their way, or just to sit with them. Children can help socialize animals, too. Many shelters allow kids to read to a dog or cat from outside the kennel, an activity that benefits both the reader and the audience.

2. Be a Jack (or Jackie) of All Trades. With some basic carpentry skills, you can whip up a carpet-covered cat tree with hidey holes and perches. Maybe you can repair just about anything: a broken latch on a crate, replace all the old light bulbs with LEDs. Many facilities that have a van or car could benefit from someone who knows when the oil needs changing, or tire air pressure adjusted. Facilities have the same problems we do—toilets, faucets, electrical outlets that don’t work. Projects for handy retirees may be time sensitive, but may not require a regular commitment.

3. Be Creative. If you’re into arts and crafts, or graphic design, there are a myriad of ways you can help. While a wall-size mural might be more than you can handle, perhaps someone can start the design and you can find a team of painters to fill in the rest. Have you seen those bandanas or vests that read “Adopt me”? If you can sew, this would be a project you can do at home. Does your favorite rescue need a logo or a flier? Can you make animal balloons or do face painting for an event?

4. Workout for Your Muscles. Many hands make light work of spreading gravel on a dog run, pulling weeds, and planting a bed of perennials, pressure washing sidewalks, and adding fencing. For more experienced volunteers, a roof may need patching, a skylight needs scrubbing, or agility equipment needs repainting? Find companies that encourage their employees to take on a community service project and may even pay for the supplies. Ask where you work, or your service club. A Flagstaff Eagle Scout as part of his final project assisted a local shelter by building donation bins and soliciting pet food and supplies.

5. Write & photograph. Ever wonder why so many shelters don’t tell adoptees more about an animal in need of a home? Maybe no one has the time or expertise to write up more than “just the facts, ma’am” for a dog or cat profile. Or take a photo that doesn’t make pets look like they’re in jail cells. You don’t need a professional setup to show a pet’s personality. Hang up a solid color sheet, bring a few props (baskets for puppies or kittens, a seasonal toy) and find a wrangler to get the animal’s attention while you use your cell phone camera. Use your writer-ly skills to create profiles for social media, a group’s website, fliers, advertisements, and press releases that tell potential adopters that one dog likes belly rubs and playing fetch, while another just requires a short walk and a place to cuddle. Profiles help potential adopters make a perfect match.

6. Be a Gleaner. No matter how small your community, there are resources that rescues and shelters can use if only someone would ask. Does a hotel or motel have used towels or excess cleaning supplies or equipment they no longer use? Can you talk to the manager of your local grocery store and ask if they would donate dented or recently expired cans of pet food, broken bags of dry food, cat litter, or treats? If you’re a Craigslist watcher, can you look for items such as unwanted dog kennels or crates, fencing, bedding, or igloo doghouses? Discover a great deal for supplies, such as Wal-Mart sales on fleece blankets perfect for puppies and kittens? Have a tennis-playing friend who might donate used balls. One shelter received a supply of pee pads when a local medical center realized it had too many of the pads used on patient beds. That same shelter received Nitrile gloves when a doctor’s office ordered too many. Who do you know, and how can they help? Check with your shelter first!

7. Become a Transporter. Rescues and shelters need people with vehicles, small ones or vans or trucks, to get animals from point A to point B. Give a rescued pet a ride to a veterinarian’s office to be spayed or neutered. Transport an animal to a community where chances of being adopted are better. In addition to working directly with your local shelter or rescue, there are opportunities to drive a “leg” of a relay transport passing through your community or state. Kindred Hearts Transport Connection is one of the largest transport groups, that move animals throughout the US and into Canada where they are rescued or adopted. Susan Sabala-Foreman, who retired from Northern Arizona University and lives in Mountainaire, often enlists her husband Dirch as her co-pilot on local transports they drive between Holbrook and Flagstaff or Flagstaff and Sedona. “Finding drivers willing to drive along the I-40 toward Holbrook is difficult,” she says, “but the rewards of getting an animal to safety or a new home is well worth the miles.”

8. Celebrate in Style. Instead of getting more “stuff,” ask your friends to bring a gift of an item needed by a shelter or rescue to your party. Most groups post a “Wish List” on Amazon.com, their website, or Facebook page, so you can purchase exactly what they need and have it delivered. For children, consider how meaningful it might be to ask partygoers to bring a leash, collar, or cat toy instead of an item that will be broken or forgotten. The birthday child can help deliver the gifts to the shelter in person to see how they will be used. Before you invite food donations, ask the shelter what particular brands they prefer. For adult parties, ask your friends to celebrate with you by bringing paper towels, copy paper, jars of peanut butter or baby food, or puppy or kitten milk replacement. Then at your gathering, tell them how these items are used and how they will help.

9. Laundry. Shelters and rescues need a lot of pet beds, towels, blankets, toys washed each day. Larger facilities use commercial washers and dryers, but it still takes work to sort, wash, dry, and again sort. It also takes detergent, bleach, and brooms and dustpans. And when a washer or dryer breaks down, the smell from day-old pee, poop, hairballs, and food is pretty overwhelming. Volunteer to help with the laundry (gloves recommended), or some facilities will welcome you to take a big load home. Pick up laundry supplies BOGO-one for your own household and one for the shelter or rescue.

10. Use Technology. WoofTrax (www.wooftrax.com) is a way to walk a dog and raise funds at the same time. Download their free app onto your smart phone. Each time you walk for your selected organization with Wooftrax helps, the amount is based on the number of individuals walking at least once a week on their behalf. If you don’t have a dog, use the WoofTrax app to walk a shelter dog, in memory of a dog, or choose the “Walk with (virtual dog) Cassie” option if you walk alone.

That’s only ten! You can think of many, many more: Yard sales, bake sales, “percent of sales” days at a local business—there’s no end to ideas. Talk with the shelter or rescue staff and ask want they need most and to be sure food and supplies fit their needs. Whether it’s help at events or stuffing envelopes, it all matters.