Most of us are aware of the pet overpopulation problem in the United States and many other countries. In most places, the local municipal animal shelter is at the forefront of the effort to combat pet overpopulation. Today, the global economic slowdown has businesses, non-profit organizations and governments everywhere cutting back. Given these abiding issues, many of us are wondering what, besides paying our local taxes or making a charitable donation, we can do to help our local animal shelter.

Volunteer

The one thing many of us have in abundance these days is time. Consider spending a few hours a week helping at your local shelter. You’re probably thinking that all volunteers do is clean kennels and cages, but that’s not true. In many shelters, volunteers also take phone calls and emails, check-in customers and feed and exercise the animals. In some areas, municipal shelters now use home workers to return phone calls, which is a great opportunity for the mobility impaired.

The benefits of volunteering are twofold, the shelter and its animals benefit from the volunteer’s time, energy and work. The volunteer benefits by doing something positive for someone else and by virtue of their exposure to the animals. Studies show spending time with animals has positive health effects on humans.

Donate

In the US as well as many other countries, animal shelters (both municipal and private) qualify as charities and donations to charities are often tax deductible. In many places, donations are not limited to money but items such as cars, appliances and even donations of dog food and cat toys qualify. In some places, donations of time are valid charitable donations (see above section on volunteering). Laws and rules are often complicated and vary widely from place to place. Consult with a tax professional in your area.

Educate

A very simple thing many of us overlook whenever we try to support a cause is, talk to your friends! With the current technology explosion, word of mouth alone now supports entire industries. Please don’t underestimate the power you have to effect change in your area by your everyday interactions. If you adopted a pet from a particular shelter, and had a good or bad experience, post it on your favorite social media site, text or email it to your entire address book and post reviews on customer response websites.

Participate

Municipal shelters and other pet rescue organizations, both civil and private, sometimes hold pet adoption events and meet & greet events for local pet owners. Attending these events are excellent opportunities to network with pet owners in your area and to find new and unique ways for you to serve your local animal organizations. If you own a business, consider sponsoring a similar event. If you have a large commercial or residential property, consider hosting a similar event.

Clearly, local animal shelters have a greater need for community support than ever before. Individual community members who wish to help support their local animal shelter clearly have many opportunities to do so. To find a US shelter near you, visit the ASPCA (http://www.aspca.org/adoption/shelters/).

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