Our faithful pets give us so much—comic relief, an adoring face at the door, unconditional love.
In this special issue, we’ve rounded up dozens of ways to dish that love right back. Whether they’re ours to keep, ours to foster, or just a heart-tugging mug shot on an adoption website, there are easy ways to support our urban animals and the agencies that care for them.
After all, without credit cards, the razor-sharp instincts of their ancestors, or even opposable thumbs, our domesticated little devotees are counting on us––so let’s get started.
Give Your Home
The very best way to make a difference is to bring a critter home. But sidestep the pet shop, which likely relies on breeders, and head instead to a shelter or rescue agency.
According to the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA), nearly eight million dogs and cats end up in shelters each year, relinquished by their owners or found as strays. While many are adopted or returned home, millions more are euthanized. Choosing a shelter pet is an easy, affordable way to add to your family––while saving at least one life.
“By adopting a shelter dog,” said Ashley Cunningham, founder of Barks of Love, “you’re making space for another one to be saved.”
Find a list of local shelters, here and rescue agencies, here.
Once the adoption papers are signed, do your part to help control overpopulation by spaying or neutering your new pet, and vaccinate to stop the spread of icky diseases. (Find low-cost options here) Buy a collar and ID tag, and have your pet micro-chipped to make it easier for overburdened shelters to find you if he’s lost.
If you’re not ready for a lifelong commitment, you can still help out and share your home with a fluffy friend. With more pets than sleeping quarters, many no-kill rescue agencies are seeking foster families to provide loving, short-term homes for adoptable pets, too-little puppies and kittens, animals on the mend from surgery or an illness, or pets that could benefit from some TLC and social skills before they’re offered up for adoption.
Once you’re approved, the rescue agency will help you find a great match. “Almost anybody can foster,” including seniors, families with kids, full-time professionals and college students who miss their family pet, said Pups and Pals co-founder Valerie Burstein. “There’s a dog for every foster home.” (pupsandpals.net)
And don’t worry about a financial drain. “We take care of all the vet bills,” she said. “All you do is take care of the daily care and love.” Some rescues even spring for food and kitty litter.
If you’re up for a few more months of service, consider signing on with a group like Guardian Angels for Soldiers’ Pets, which finds temporary homes for the pets of service members, veterans and their families who are facing deployment, medical challenges or homelessness. Visit guardianangelsforsoldierspet.org.
Give Your Time
Train a Therapy or Service Dog
No matter how lousy your day has been, that pooch of yours is always able to nudge your mood in the right direction. Could he do the same for someone else?
Several Southland agencies are recruiting friendly canines like yours to visit children’s homes, hospitals, nursing and assisted-living facilities, rehab centers, libraries, schools—even colleges during final exams—as therapy dogs.
“We have more requests than we can fill,” said Josie Gavieres, who founded BARK Therapy Dogs in 2007 with her Labrador retriever, Groucho. Today, the volunteer organization dispatches more than 150 teams to sites throughout the Southland, specializing in pairing pooches with little ones learning to read. (One stubborn five-year-old’s grateful-and-amazed mom recently whispered to Gavieres, “He won’t read to us, but he’ll stay an hour and read to the dogs.”)
The in-demand agency is constantly recruiting all sizes, shapes and breeds of “well-socialized, friendly dogs who know their obedience commands and whose owners have control of their dog.” Find the eligibility requirements online (barkdogs.org), and then be prepared to love your new gig.
“It’s always great to make somebody smile,” Gavieres said, “but when we go out to teach these kids to read, we change their lives.”
Find more therapy-dog opportunities here.
If you have a knack for training, you can raise a puppy to become a service animal for blind or deaf people, kids and adults with developmental or physical disabilities, wounded veterans, insulin-dependent diabetics and other folks who could use canine assistance. You’ll spend about a year providing a happy and healthy home to your pup, shuttling him to classes and socializing him in public places before handing him off to his new companion.
Find service-dog agencies here.
Want to help a whole pack of pets? Roll up your sleeves! Most animal shelters and rescue agencies gratefully accept volunteers of all ages, including teens seeking service hours, as well as parent-accompanied kids. Sign up for an afternoon, or make it your new thing.
At the P.D. Pitchford Companion Animal Village in Long Beach, volunteers clean the kennels; hand out cozy blankets; bathe, walk and train the dogs; staff the off-site adoption events; and even pair up with the pets for read-aloud sessions.
“The benefits are huge for our animals,” said Long Beach Animal Services Volunteer Coordinator Kathy Roddy, who started as a volunteer herself. “They get socialization, freedom from the kennels and so much love from our volunteers.”
Find a list of local shelters, here and rescue agencies, here.
Plenty of dog parks and dog beaches are also springing up across the Southland (click here), and it takes work to keep them safe and clean.
Huntington Dog Beach (dogbeach.org) is now recruiting volunteers of all ages to act as Good Will Ambassadors, strolling the sand on weekends to welcome guests and remind them to play by the dog-beach rules. Stop by their weekend canopy or call (714) 841-8644. Ambassadors are also needed at Rosie’s Dog Beach in Belmont Shore. No experience is necessary; just email Justin@JustinRudd.com to enlist.
No matter how many volunteers they’re able to recruit, most agencies still rely on fundraising to cover everything from kitty litter to cancer treatments for senior pets.
And raising money is a lot more fun when you’re mingling with like-minded revelers at a community event. Check Petsguide’s calendar (petsguidemagazine.com) regularly for wine tastings, swanky Sunday brunches, holiday galas, casino nights, silent auctions, run/walks and other festivities, benefitting local animal charities. Your time and money will be well spent.
Give Your Skills
Helping a shelter isn’t limited to scooping poop (although we all know that’s key).
Put your homesteading skills to good use by pulling weeds, sanding and painting sheds, repairing kennels or organizing supply closets.
Or offer up your professional services (and boost your resume), pro bono. “Not everyone is able to handle the emotion of being around homeless pets,” Barks of Love’s Ashley Cunningham points out. “A lot goes on behind the scenes, and there are so many ways to help out.”
The Animal Assistance League of Orange County (aaloc.org), for instance, welcomes help with everything from event planning and fundraising to photographing and videotaping adoptable pets, marketing and outreach, and grant writing.
At Barks of Love (barksoflove.org), volunteers help seek out business sponsors, provide graphic design for flyers and posters, make crafts to sell at fundraising boutiques, and write clever online biographies for the adoptable dogs. Like many agencies, they also need drivers to pick up pets from shelters or private homes, or whisk them to vet appointments or pet fairs. “Transporting a dog to and from an event makes all the difference for that dog having a chance to be adopted,” Cunningham said.
Or help raise a new generation of pet lovers by joining the Friends of Long Beach Animals. The group provides free Humane Education lessons to kids throughout the Long Beach Unified School District, sharing the basics of loving pet care, safe behavior around animals and how we can help stop pet overpopulation. Sign up at friendsoflongbeachanimals.org.
Give Up the Goods
Keeping shelter pets happy, healthy and fed until they find their forever homes doesn’t come cheap. Most rescue agencies face big monthly bills for utilities, supplies and Costco-sized palettes of food, not to mention medical care.
Routine pre-adoption care for a typical healthy pet is $200 to $250. But as Colleen McCammon of the Animal Assistance League of Orange County points out, no-kill shelters often house rescue dogs and cats who’ve been severely neglected and abused, requiring animal behaviorists to help them feel more secure, trainers to teach them basic obedience, or care for lifelong medical issues.
“We are always struggling to raise the funds needed for vet care,” she said. “Cats with diabetes, dogs with cancer, and various orthopedic surgeries are all on our list this week. But our belief is that every life has value and, once under the safety net of AALOC, every dog or cat will be cared for.”
You can pitch in by pulling out your checkbook. Legitimate agencies (for rescue organizations, click here; and for pet assistance agencies, click here) welcome secure online donations in any amount—and in most cases donations are tax-deductible.
Give big by including a rescue agency in your estate planning or by organizing an in memoriam collection for a loved one. Set up easy payroll deductions through your employer’s charitable giving program, and see if they offer matching donations. Donate an old car, truck or RV. Become an agency “member,” or ask if you can sponsor a specific pet. Make your giving easy by patronizing stores, restaurants, websites and banks that donate a portion of your purchases to your favorite charities. Check out iGive.com, GoodDining.com, GoodSearch.com, GoodShop.com or AmazonSmile (smile.amazon.com).
An empty stomach is no fun, for humans or pets.
Charities like Rescue Bank collect tons of surplus pet food from manufacturers and retailers each year and deliver it to hungry shelter pets to keep them healthy, content and adoptable. You can help their efforts by donating cash online (rescuebank.org). Or buy your own food and treats from companies like BePawsitive (bepawsitive.com) and BOGO Bowl (bogobowl.com), and they’ll match your order with a delivery to a local shelter.
Even pets with homes can go hungry, when their owners are struggling to pay the electric bill. Drop off unopened packages of cat and dog food at Animalia pet shop (animaliapetspecialty.com) in Huntington Beach, and they’ll make sure it gets to low-income and homeless pet owners through the Orange County SPCA’s No Empty Bowls program (orangecountyspca.org). Look for pet-food-collection bins at local Petco stores, check with your local homeless shelter or food pantry to see if they collect pet food, or find out how to help the national Save Our Pets Food Bank (saveourpetsfoodbank.org).
Imagine spending your day sitting naked on bare cement. Without the caring donations of animal lovers, many shelter pets face that cold indignity.
On your next mega-trip to Target, pick up a few extra supplies and share your love with the dogs and cats at your neighborhood shelter. (Call first or check their website to see what they need.)
Or hand off your goods to Operation Blankets of Love (operationblanketsoflove.org).
After adopting her first dog at age 50, Eileen Smulson launched a campaign in 2008 to bring comfort to shelter pets. Since then, Operation Blankets of Love has collected more than two million items to keep homeless animals cozy, fed and entertained. “We’re like the American Red Cross for the animal rescue world,” she said.
With dozens of volunteers and 75 collection bins across Southern California (including PGHQ), Smulson estimates that she serves 1,500 pets per month at 35 drop sites from Kern County to Camp Pendleton, serving 500 rescue agencies, pet-foster families, pet-friendly homeless shelters, and Red Cross disaster shelters. Her donors have included everyone from the employees at Sony Pictures (they made pet toys!), to Girl Scout troops to quilting clubs to ordinary animal lovers like you.
“I get things that are shipped from all over the country,” Smulson said. “It’s humbling that we’ve touched so many hearts.”
Admit it—your heart’s been touched, too! If you’ve ever been adored by an animal, don’t miss your chance to give back.