As far back as the mid-1800s, people in the United States rallied to the plight of animals. In 1866, Henry Bergh founded the ASPCA (American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals), the first North American-based humane society. Nearly 150 years later, the ASPCA remains a fighting force for helping animal victims of cruelty and assisting pets and pet parents through adoptions and animal shelter assistance.
The ASPCA estimates there are nearly 14,000 animal shelters in America, and there are innumerable pet rescue organizations as well. From Rez Dawg Rescue, which focuses on helping homeless dogs on Native American reservations, to Kitty Keepers, a cat rescue organization based in Havre, Montana, from large sanctuaries like Best Friends in Utah to smaller, all-volunteer-based rescues like Western Border Collie Rescue, these organizations help the mutts and the breeds as well as provide sanctuary for horses, goats, sheep, rabbits, and other creatures.
October is National Adopt a Shelter Dog Month, a time in which rescues and animal shelters bring greater awareness to the number of homeless dogs (Adopt a Shelter Cat Month takes place in June, and Adopt a Senior Pet Month is next month – November: more on that in another post!). Pets benefit people in many ways. In addition to wonderful companionship, many hold jobs as service and therapy dogs as well as K9 and search and rescue dogs. Pets provide people with mental and physical health benefits as well: did you know that a pet can lower your blood pressure, possibly helping you live longer? Some studies show that pet owners, especially those with dogs, have a reduced risk of heart disease and therefore, live longer. Dogs help us exercise physically so blood pressure and bad cholesterol levels can be lowered by owning a dog. Pet owners are less likely to suffer from depression and to be calmer and more relaxed than people who don’t have pets.
So, how about adopting a dog this month? You’ll be healthier, mentally and physically! And, you may save a life. Approximately 3 to 4 million dogs and cats are euthanized every year because not enough people adopt them and because people don’t spay and neuter their own pets, creating an over-abundance of animals.
But, what if you can’t adopt? Perhaps your lifestyle or housing situation doesn’t allow for a dog (or cat) at this time … or someone in your household is allergic to animals. There are still many ways you can help pets in need, whether at your local shelter/rescue or even via one of the larger, national organizations.
- Support/Help at events.
- Donate money and/or supplies.
- Educate others/Be an advocate.
- Encourage spay/neuter.
- Report cruelty/neglect.
Foster families are needed by nearly every rescue and by many humane societies and shelters. This is a way you can bring an animal into your home temporarily as it waits its permanent home, helping it to not have to live in a cage while it awaits its forever family. Fosters are volunteers and are often reimbursed for food and vet care. Foster families make amazing impacts on pets in need!
If you can’t foster, there are many other volunteer opportunities. One that I particularly enjoy is transporting: bringing pets into foster care or taking them to their forever homes. I’ve been blessed to help transport dogs through the state of Wyoming, and sometimes into Montana, Colorado, and South Dakota. It usually means a trek of two to three hours, but sometimes much further, especially if I’m traveling to or from my parents’ in Montana. If you enjoy traveling, why not help a dog or cat get where it needs to go? This is one of my favorite ways to help and volunteer!
You can also volunteer with fundraising events or go to your local shelter to socialize the animals: walking and playing with dogs and/or brushing and playing with cats. Interacting with volunteers, perhaps even being obedience trained by volunteers, keeps the animals be more socialized and therefore be more adoptable.
Rescues and non—profit humane societies always need funds and they always need supplies, such as pet food, treats, cat litter, laundry soap, and other cleaning supplies. Contact your local rescue or shelter and see what their current needs are. Perhaps even run a supply donation drive in your neighborhood, church, school, or club and get more people in your community involved.
Help bring awareness of pet overpopulation and pet ownership responsibility by learning more about the issues of puppy mills, spay/neuter, and pet ownership – then share what you’ve learned! Be an advocate for the animals who have no voice of their own but whose pictures are worth a thousand words. Work with your local rescue/shelter/humane society to help them educate children and adults in your community. You can also be an advocate on social media using hashtags on Twitter and Facebook #NoKill, #AdoptAPet, #SaveThemAll, #NoMoreHomelessPets, and other relevant monikers. You can also work with your state legislators to change and update laws that better protect animals and punish those who exploit and hurt them.
Report Animal Cruelty and Neglect
Remember the Michael Vick dog fighting case? That’s just one of thousands of abuse cases, and of course one of the most publicized. But, animal cruelty happens constantly, even in the smallest of towns and by the smallest of people. Children who abuse animals often grow up to hurt people; there is strong evidence to show that serial killers start off as animal abusers. We can nip both in the bud by stepping forward and reporting to the appropriate authorities any time we witness an animal neglected or being mistreated. This is also opportunity to change laws to better protect pets and hold those abusers accountable. Protecting pets often also protects people, maybe even children who also suffer at the hands of adult abusers.
Pet overpopulation is a big problem. For every one puppy or kitten that finds a home, many others die because each litter adds 4 to 6 more to the population. Fixing the pet helps to fix the problem. Support low-cost spay/neuter clinics, encourage your friends and family to alter their animals, and if you have pets at home, get them spayed/neutered. Having that surgery done to your pets should be the responsible owner’s priority, to not add to the overwhelming number of animals that are killed in shelters every year.
Be A Hero!
There are innumerable ways we can make a difference in the lives of dogs, cats, horses, and other creatures. As a faith-filled person, I believe God’s word that says, “God made the wild animals according to their kinds, the livestock according to their kinds, and all the creatures that move along the ground according to their kinds. And God saw that it was good” (Genesis 1:25). If the Creator calls it good, how can we humans exploit, abuse, mis-use, mis-treat, and call that creation invalid and invaluable? It is our responsibility as people of this planet to care for it and the living things upon it, to rescue and help those who rely upon our care.
There are many great pet organizations who need and rely upon volunteers, donors, and other advocates; unless one wins the lottery or is in someway a multi-billionaire, it’s hard to donate funds to all of them. So, consider what I’m doing: choose a few in which you can help most. I’ve chosen one in my community (the Casper Humane Society), three regional (Black Dog Animal Rescue, English Springer Spaniel Rescue and Big Dogs Huge Paws – the two later have a national reach but have a Rocky Mountain base/chapter), and two national, which also happen to be regional (Best Friends Animal Sanctuary and National Mill Dog Rescue) … and I occasionally donate to the national ASPCA. Because my books are about dogs, I donate a percentage of proceeds to these groups throughout the year as well as consider additional donations part of my tithe to the Creator God. That’s how I do monetary donations, but then I also transport for whomever whenever I can, take part in special events as I can, and advocate/educate on behalf of them all as often as I can – such as now.
It doesn’t take much to make a difference, therefore, I encourage you to be a hero: become part of the pet rescue movement in whatever way you can.
#NoKill! #AdoptAPet! #NoMoreHomelessPets!
Gayle M. Irwin is writer, author and speaker. She is the author of several inspiring dog books for children and adults, including Sage’s Big Adventure, Walking in Trust: Lessons Learned with My Blind Dog, and Devotions for Dog Lovers: Paws-ing for Time with God. She is also a contributing writer to five editions of Chicken Soup for the Soul, including the latest dog book The Dog Did What?, released August 19, 2014. She also writes for WREN (Wyoming Rural Electric Network), Crossroads, Creation Illustrated, and Our Town Casper magazines, as well as for the Casper Journal, River Press, and Douglas Budget newspapers. She’s also authored a guidebook for owners of blind dogs, available on Kindle. She has a passion for pets and volunteers for and donates a percentage of her writing revenues to several animal welfare organizations. Her speaking engagements include presentations for children and adults about the lessons people can learn from pets. Visit her website at www.gaylemirwin.com.