Many animals are put to sleep in shelters across England each year, simply because there are no homes for them to go to. The RSPCA only re-homes one in three pets it rescues, and organisations like Dogwatch rescue ‘death row poundies’, especially for breeds that are difficult to adopt, due to poor media coverage. The law says that councils must pay to kennel ‘found dogs’ for 7 days to enable people to locate them. After that they can be re-homed but if no-one comes forward, by law the animals can be put to sleep (happens a lot in Wales, which often has to try find homes over the border).
Many UK shelters rescue dogs from abroad, often from countries where dog welfare is not a priority You can find dogs to adopt by entering your postcode at Pet Adoption. The site is a bit messy, but the best national resource of one blanket place, to find homes for furry friends.
So what can we do to help, other than adopt friends and ensure they are spayed and/or neutered, to avoid over-breeding? Not buying pets from shops is a good start to avoid puppy mills. What else can we do collectively to help? Here are a few ideas:
Help Your Local Animal Shelter
- Oldies Club is a national charity that adopts out senior dogs (and some cats). They welcome foster volunteers (so dogs don’t have to live in shelters while waiting for forever homes) and transport volunteers (to take golden oldies to final resting homes, before Dog Heaven).
- Volunteer to walk dogs at shelters. Charities like Cinnamon Trust and PAPAS have volunteers to walk dogs of elderly and disabled people (and also welcome volunteers to house animals if their members have to go into hospital, this takes pressure off local shelters). But often dogs in shelters have no spare volunteers to walk them. Dogs that are tired and calm, are more likely to be adopted.
- Read to shelter dogs. A recent study found that animals calm down significantly, if they hear a nice human voice (especially if from abused homes). Research in the US found that when dogs were exposed to people reading audio books, this calmed them down more than ‘relaxing dog music’. If you don’t have time to volunteer, donate unused audio books (and cassette players) for shelter managers to play outside their cells. In Missouri, Shelter Buddies Reading Program helps stressed dogs (children read from outside windows).
Communities Helping Animal Shelters
- Most animal shelters have a ‘wish list’ of things like newspapers, towels, leashes and safe toys. If sadly your dog or cat has died (and you are not looking to immediately adopt again), why not donate beds and other items to help shelter animals? Many types of human medical equipment is legally allowed to be used for animals, so if you work in medicine, contact your shelter to see how you could help.
- Get involved in community initiatives, to help find lost pets. You could join Petwatch or set up a local branch of PawBoost or NextDoor to post info on lost/found pets.
- Shelters often take in animals from domestic abuse situations. See how to help stop domestic abuse to find organisations that need volunteers to foster pets (in different areas) while victims sort their lives out. Find info to set up a local branch.
- If you are running out of ideas on how to fund your animal shelter, read Funds to the Rescue. This book has 101 ideas.
- Could your small business help local animal shelters? In the US, Grounds and Hounds Coffee donates 20% of profits to local rescues. Also in the US, Healthy Paws Pet Insurance gives cash grants to pet adoption programs, for every free quote.
Use Skills to Help Animal Shelters
- If you have graphic design skills, you could use free software like Canva to give a brand makeover for your local shelter (just type ‘animal shelter’ to find pretty free templates).
- One great idea to help animal shelters would be for a company and web designer to get together, to create a good national resource to find pets to adopt: in the US, Amy Luwis (who wrote this book to keep your dog safe) co-founded Adopt a Pet, which is the country’s largest online pet adoption resource, funded by commercial companies and donors. Take a look, we need something like that here. Because it’s funded by ‘big business’ (a compromise worth taking), it’s well run: people can register to volunteer online and get notified of pets (by breed & area).
- If you’re a builder or ‘man who can do stuff’, most shelters benefit from free repairs or building new outhouses and secured runs.
- Volunteer your healing skills. Watch this amazing video of an animal Reiki healer, who calms down all the barking dogs in a shelter within an hour. Sad but true, pet parents are more likely to adopt dogs that look happy and calm.
- Snuggles Project is a worldwide effort, to bring warm soft snuggly blankets to shelter animals. This is especially good for older animals, so they don’t have to sleep on cold hard floors. If you’re good at knitting or crochet, download free patterns to donate to member shelters. Or just donate locally.
- If you are a photographer, offer to take photos of pets looking for new homes. Many people search for potential pets online, and although done with good heart, a lot of pet photos are awful with poor lighting and not reflecting the personality of each animal. Check out these amazing before/after photos, which resulted in a huge uptake of adoptions. The wonderfully talented photographer at Scotland’s Mutley’s Snaps takes 12 photos of happy adopted staffies for a calendar to show these dogs in a different light. In California, one town takes photos of local dogs for a calendar, profits help pet rescue.
- There are hundreds of pet adoption shelters in England. Find local ones by entering your postcode at Association of Dogs & Cats Homes.
Earth Friends: Pet Protection is a children’s book about four friends, who want to make the world a better place. Emily loves animals, but comes from a big family with no room for pets. So she decides to help at the local animal rescue centre instead. When it comes under threat, can Emily and her friends make sure the animals don’t end up homeless? How small changes make a big difference.