By Victoria Elliott
The weather is colder, the nights get darker earlier and the bustle of the holiday season is all around. During the giving season, animal lovers may be wondering how they can care for the animals in their lives and help those without homes in local shelters, rescues or on the streets. There are a few gifts that you can give your own pets and those in need year-round.
Gift of time
Donating your time as a volunteer is one of the most valuable gifts you can give the animals at your local shelter or rescue.
Shelters and rescues operate on limited budgets and rely on volunteers. Don’t limit yourself to cleaning cages and changing litter if that isn’t appealing to you or you have other skills to offer.
Think about your skills: Are you a good photographer? Do you do web design? Can you offer tax advice? Are you interested in serving on a board? Do you like planning events or running fundraisers? Chances are that you have some skill or skills that a local shelter or rescue needs and would be overjoyed to put to use.
To volunteer and directly interact with animals at a shelter, you will likely be asked to complete some form of orientation or training. This is to protect both you and the animals in the shelter’s care.
Gift of money
Like most of us, you may be short on time. As you’re closing out your year-end finances, consider ending it with a donation to a local animal shelter or rescue. Donating to a 501c3 animal rescue is tax-deductible, and many companies offer matching programs that can double your impact. There is no such thing as a too small donation.
How will your money be used? Websites including Charity Navigator and GuideStar can provide in-depth evaluations of specific nonprofit shelters and rescues. Generally, your donation is going to go to the shelter, health and welfare of rescued animals. This includes rent or building costs, food, medicine, veterinary care and enrichment items like toys. But there are many more costs to think about: advertising, insurance, legal and tax costs.
Many shelters and rescues also incorporate community education programs into their budget. Programs educate locals on trap, neuter, return; kitten and puppy care; the importance of spaying and neutering; first aid for pets; and countless other topics of humane animal care.
Each budget item is critical to the animal it helps, and your gift can be the difference that allows a local shelter or rescue to save one more animal in need.
Gift of safety
Do you have pets of your own? Consider them when putting out your holiday décor.
The ASPCA website has a comprehensive list of toxic and non-toxic plants that you can consult before you bring live plants into your home. If you’re concerned that your pet may have ingested something toxic, the ASPCA offers a 24-hour Poison Control Center at 888426-4435.
Beyond plants, consider decorations like tinsel, ribbon and lights – and your pet’s inclination to explore these items. Keep your pets in mind as you choose the best spot for each decoration.
Gift of warmth
Do you have feral cats in your area? With the temperatures low, consider making a winter shelter.
Within an afternoon, you can create a do-it-yourself shelter with simple, cheap materials that will provide warm and dry shelter for feral and stray cats in your neighborhood. You need a storage bin – 54 gallon is recommended; Styrofoam to line the walls, floor and ceiling and straw, newspaper or a similar material for insulation.
Cut a doorway into the storage bin large enough for a cat to enter, line it with Styrofoam and add a bedding of insulating material. NeighborhoodCats has a variety of DIY shelter instructions. Your easy afternoon project could help save a life on a cold night.
Gift of a new home
If you’re in a place in your life where you can take in and provide for a new pet, the greatest gift you can give an animal in need is a loving home.
But in the excitement of the holidays, remember that a new pet is not a cute spur-of-the-moment present. Consider veterinary bills and travel and be realistic about your ability to care for an animal. Animals should not be given as gifts without the enthusiastic involvement and consent of the recipient.
Regardless of our circumstances, each of us has a gift that we can give to the animals in our lives and those in need. What gift will you give this year?
The writer is a volunteer with King Street Cats. For more information, go to www.kingstreetcats.org.