How You Can Help Your Local Animal Shelter This Holiday Season

Spread a little holiday cheer — and get a few tail wags while you’re at it.

Fostering pets can be a rewarding experience during the holidays. By: jeffreyww

Not everyone has a huge family to spend time with during the holiday season. For those who don’t, the holidays can be more depressing than they are delightful.

Fellow animal lovers, we have a solution that lets you have a great holiday while also helping animals in need: Donate some time to your local animal shelter or rescue.

I know what you’re thinking — you’re just going to spend the whole time scooping poop. I won’t lie: It’s a necessary task, but there are many ways to help out. To get an idea of what we “regular Joes” can do to help, I headed down to the Brewster MSPCA and spoke with one of the shelter workers.

Cleaning Kennels and Outdoor Areas

While not the most glamorous part of volunteering at a shelter, cleaning kennels and play areas is a must. Many shelter pets have been abandoned or never had a home, so a spick-and-span space will create an environment that welcomes both animals and humans.

How the kennels are cleaned really depends on the shelter’s setup. Some facilities have outdoor areas for each kennel and some don’t. You’ll likely be disinfecting, rinsing and organizing the kennels.

Small Animal Care

Shelters don’t just care for dogs and cats — there are often other animals, such as rabbits, ferrets, birds and mice, to take care of as well.

These guys need clean cages, food, water and some love. If you aren’t comfortable working around dogs and/or cats but like smaller pets, this could be a match made in volunteer heaven for you.

Grooming and Bathing

Animals can get pretty dirty, so volunteer bathers give baths to shelter dogs and cats — and have fun doing it.

They may also groom the animals. Cats and dogs with a lot of fur need daily grooming, but this is difficult for shelter employees to do simply because there’s so much other stuff to do.

Some shelters house a wide variety of animals, including gerbils and birds. By: pictographic


Animals who don’t do well in a shelter environment may thrive in a home. If you can open your doors to a foster dog or cat, you’ll be performing a vital role in the animal’s well-being.

Fostering can take as little as a week or as long as a few months. It mostly comes down to why the animals are being fostered. Are they in need of a home? Do they have an injury from which they are recovering?

Don’t worry — if you foster, the shelter will tell you about the animals’ needs (and be eternally grateful). As the shelter worker explained to me, “We’re always short on fosters; they’re always needed.”

Be warned, though: Fostering can be emotionally difficult. It’s hard to let go of animals you’ve been caring for, but the wonderful feeling you get by helping them find their forever home overrides the sadness you may experience.

Don’t Miss: The Emotional Highs and Lows of Cat Rescue

Walk the Dog

If there are dogs, you know they’ve got to be walked.

You can volunteer simply to come by for a couple hours and walk the dogs. You can even engage the dogs in a little outdoor play if the weather permits. This is a great volunteer activity all the way around — the dogs get walked, and you get to play with dogs. How can you lose?

Did you know that the Animal Humane Society logged an inspiring 119,007 volunteer hours in 2013?:

No Time? No Problem.

If you are short on time, donate some needed items. Many shelters have a wish list set up online.

For example, the Brewster MSPCA has a donation wish list on paper, as well as an wish list, and participates in Amazon’s “Smile” program — which allows you to donate proceeds to your charity just by shopping.

“The only thing we don’t accept as donations are pillows,” explained the shelter worker. “Especially down pillows — you can imagine what this place looks like if they explode!”

Check out your local shelter or rescue’s website for links and information about volunteering, give them a call, or head down there in person to learn more about the many ways you can help. You’ll be glad you did.

Melissa Smith

View posts by Melissa Smith
Melissa Smith, discussions manager for Petful, has been researching and writing about pet behaviors for several years. A longtime pet lover, she lives in Massachusetts with her teenage son, their cat Harrison and the spirit of their German shepherd named Gypsy. Melissa is pursuing a bachelor’s degree in multimedia design and hopes to adopt as many needy animals as she can.

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