12 Ways to Save Dogs and Cats in Shelters

Saving the life of a dog or cat is easier than you think. “You can do it!” Every day, we say those four magical words to people around the country who want to help animals in need but are unsure of their abilities. With some friendly encouragement and guidance, you’ll be amazed at what you can accomplish.

Helping to save pets in animal shelters

Each of us can help to Save Them All. In fact, that’s what it’s going to take — every person reading this resource committing to do just a little bit to reach this goal. Sure, many of us think we can’t make a difference for one reason or another, but the truth is that no matter how little time, money or experience you have, you can still save an animal’s life. It’s easy, and makes you feel good, too.

The following are some simple ways in which you can make a huge impact. It’s time to do all we can to save the lives of homeless animals. They’re counting on us — and we know you can do it!

Questions and answers about how to save pets

1. I’ve never done rescue work before. I know more about spreadsheets than I do about saving homeless pets, but I’d like to volunteer and still make an impact. Is that possible?

Professional skills can be an invaluable contribution for an animal welfare organization. Most rescue groups need volunteers who can help with a variety of professional services, such as public relations, graphic design, photography, marketing, project management — and even creating spreadsheets. By taking what you’ve learned about spreadsheets and using it to help homeless pets, you can save a lot of lives. To find rescue groups in your area, go to the Best Friends Network.

2. As much as I wish I could volunteer at a shelter, I just don’t have the time. Are there quick ways to help?

If you can spare two minutes, then yes. You can save animals by joining the Best Friends Legislative Action Center and helping to change your state, city and county laws. “The animals need our voice to create a time when no pets are killed in shelters simply because they lack safe places to call home,” says Ledy VanKavage, senior legislative attorney for Best Friends. All you have to do is sign up to receive alerts about issues and ordinances affecting pets in your locale. “When you get an alert,” Ledy says, “you’ll get a chance to personalize an email to your elected officials on the issue. It can really make a difference and save lives, and takes just a couple of minutes.”

3. I started feeding a family of feral cats in my backyard. Is there some other way to help them?

The best way to help feral or stray cats (we call them community cats) is to do trap-neuter-return (TNR). Spaying or neutering the cats will make them healthier and happier, and it also humanely reduces the community cat population by preventing them from giving birth to future generations of homeless kittens. Check with your local shelter or rescue group about borrowing trapping equipment and to find low-cost or free spay/neuter services. For lots more information about TNR, visit our community cats page.

4. I’m not sure I’m cut out to be a volunteer. Is there another way I can help the no-kill movement?

You can make an immediate and direct impact by adopting a pet from a shelter; you can even adopt a rescued purebred. To find a new furry family member and save a life, check out Petfinder.

Another great way to help is to make a donation to Best Friends or a partner in the Best Friends Network. Donations allow shelters and rescue groups to increase adoptions, promote spay/neuter, create lifesaving programs, educate the public about animal welfare issues, and much more. Besides gifts of cash, there are lots of other ways to provide financial support, such as donating stock or real estate, or including a bequest in your will. You can also make a donation in the form of supplies, equipment, treats or toys.

5. My wife and I can’t adopt a pet right now, but we still want to give hands-on help to animals in need. Is there a volunteer opportunity that’s right for us?

If you miss happy wagging tails or head bumps but can’t commit to adoption, you can get your fix — and help save lives — by fostering homeless animals. In shelters, every time a dog or cat goes to a foster home, it opens up a spot in the shelter for another pet in need. Most rescue groups lack a facility to house and rehabilitate rescued animals, so the number of homeless pets they can save is directly linked to the number of foster families they have as volunteers. Go to the Best Friends Network to find an organization in your area where you can serve as a foster parent.

6. My finances are tight. I want to donate to the local rescue group but I don’t think I can swing it.

You’re in luck: There are lots of ways to provide financial assistance without giving a donation. For example, you can use search engines and online shopping sites, such as Good Search and Adopt a Shelter, that will donate a portion of their revenue to the rescue group of your choice. You can also volunteer with a local group to help with their fundraising efforts, such as by staffing their booth at an event or walking in their annual dog walk.

Another great way to help: Donate your unused items, services and airline miles for rescue groups’ auctions. For shelters and groups that hold rummage sale fundraisers, you can donate unwanted gifts and all that used stuff in the back of your closet that you’ve been meaning to get rid of anyway. Your trash may be another person’s treasure, and these donations can garner much-needed cash for shelters and the homeless pets they help.

7. Puppy mills need to be put out of business for good, but what can I do to help make that happen?

There are so many things you can do:

  • Adopt your pets and encourage your friends and family to adopt pets. Most people don’t realize that they’re unknowingly supporting the puppy mill industry when they purchase animals from pet stores or buy a puppy online.
  • Talk with the owners of pet stores that sell puppies and ask them to feature homeless pets for adoption instead. If the store chooses not to do so, you can organize peaceful demonstrations in front of the shop and write letters to the owners of the building.
  • Add an advocacy message in the signature line of your email to help educate people about the issue, such as: “Help stop puppy mills. Don’t buy — adopt.”
  • Convince your local government to ban the sale of animals in pet stores. “You can attend a supervisors’ meeting or city council meeting and ask the legislative body to pass stricter laws for pet stores and dog breeders,” suggests Elizabeth Oreck, national manager of Best Friends’ puppy mill initiatives. “You can also write or call your city, county, state and federal officials and ask them to take the issue seriously. Your voice matters and you can make a difference.”

Learn more about puppy mills and support the introduction of laws to regulate pet stores and puppy mills by joining the Best Friends Legislative Action Center.

8. I have a full house and can’t adopt another animal, but I still want to help. What do you suggest?

There are countless ways that you can get involved, such as volunteering with a local group to do trap-neuter-return for community cats, spending time with animals at a shelter to help them become more adoptable, or volunteering to help out at an adoption or fundraising event for one of our Best Friends Network partners.

9. I’m 15 years old and want to help animals get adopted, but I don’t drive yet. Is there anything I can do from home to help?

You can use your social networking skills to promote adoptable animals. Ask your favorite local rescue organization if you can help with their Facebook, Instagram or Twitter efforts, or simply share their posts to encourage your friends to adopt. 

10. I want more people in my community to spay or neuter their pets, but I have no idea how to convince them.

First, try to understand the reasons why they’re not spaying or neutering, such as cost, cultural issues or myths about the effects of spay/neuter. Then, address those issues directly with fliers, through letters to the editor of your local newspaper, and even with bumper stickers on your car.

Once you’ve educated people about the benefits of spay/neuter and convinced them that it helps reduce the number of homeless animals, provide them with ways to find free or low-cost spay/neuter services. You can send them to SpayUSA, a nationwide referral network for affordable spay and neuter services. To promote spay/neuter of community cats, go to the website of Alley Cat Allies and check out their resources.  

11. I worry that if I help a homeless dog or cat, I’ll fall in love and end up keeping him or her.

Well, that wouldn’t be so bad, would it? But if you can’t adopt and you want to help without getting attached, don’t worry. You can still save lives by volunteering as an advocate for the animals. Volunteers are always needed for community outreach efforts, such as teaching children humane ways, advocating on behalf of pit-bull-type dogs and speaking up to protect community cats. Contact your local shelter or rescue group and ask how you can help in this capacity.

12. I only have an hour here and there to spare, so would it even make sense for me to try to volunteer with a local rescue group?

Absolutely. Many organizations have volunteering opportunities for the time-impaired. For example, you could join a team to help feed community cats (which can take as little time as 15 minutes once or twice a week) or you could walk dogs at a shelter for an hour or two. Even answering hotline calls and emails for a rescue group can be a huge help, and (bonus!) you can do that in your pajamas.