When animals are abandoned and neglected or people are no longer able to care for their pets, it’s shelters, rescue groups and sanctuaries who step in to help. The care provided goes beyond the basic needs of food and a place to sleep; animals often require vaccinations, medical care, spay/neuter surgery or grooming before they can be placed up for adoption. It’s a lot to take on, especially when large-scale rescue operations or an abundance of kittens during the warmer months can place an extra burden on shelters. Whether it’s a large shelter in a major city, a small municipal shelter or a foster-based rescue organization, these caring individuals continue dedicating their time to a physically and emotionally draining labor of love.

Even with the no-kill movement strongly moving forward in the United States, a staggering 2.4 million animals are still euthanized in shelters every year. That’s nearly one every 13 seconds simply because there are too any animals and not enough homes. It’s a lot of weight for shelters to carry on their shoulders. Luckily, there are easy ways we can help these heroes in their fight to put an end to pet homelessness.

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1. Volunteer

Organizations rely heavily on volunteers to assist with animal care and day-to-day operations. There’s never a shortage of things to do and opportunities are available for people of every skill set. Hands-on tasks can include taking dogs for a walk or run, helping with feeding and cleanup or working with shy animals who need a bit of extra help in the socialization department. If your preference is helping out behind the scenes, you can volunteer your services by assisting with fundraisers, outreach events or general office tasks. Get the entire family involved! Volunteering is a great way to help children learn about the importance of helping others.

5 Ways You Can Help Animals in SheltersKullez/Flickr

2. Foster

One easy way to help shelters is by opening up your home to foster an animal while they wait to be adopted. Being able to place animals in foster homes frees up room in shelters, allowing for more animals to be saved. And because the shelter environment can be stressful for some animals, causing them to shy away from prospective adopters, giving them a temporary place to stay can help increase their chances of finding a new home.

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Whether you’re looking for an energetic pup to join you on your morning run or a sweet cuddle buddy to join you on the sofa for those Netflix binges, the organization will help you find the perfect match for your lifestyle. Some programs even specialize in senior pets or those with special needs, giving you the opportunity to help animals who need a little extra TLC.

5 Ways You Can Help Animals in Sheltersmosaic36/Flickr

3. Donate

Organizations are always in need of money. The unfortunate misconception that shelters and rescues make a lot of money off adoption fees couldn’t be further from the truth; in a lot of cases, the adoption fees barely cover the expenses incurred getting the animal ready for adoption. The majority of shelters and rescues don’t receive state funding, so adoption fees and donations are they only way they can continue saving lives. Donations of food, cat litter, treats, and toys are also greatly appreciated. Consider putting together a small fundraiser to collect items for a shelter in your community.

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4. Share, Share, Share!

Social media is a powerful networking tool that has helped save animals from the euthanasia list, bringing the importance of adoption into the spotlight. Sharing adoption photos with friends and family in your community helps increase an animal’s visibility, making it easier for them to find homes. Social media is also a great way to spread the word about fundraising events for shelters.

5. Adopt!

The most important thing you can do to help animals in shelters is to adopt and encourage others to do the same. With so many animals already needing homes, there’s no reason to purchase from a breeder. Plus, the majority of those cute puppies you see in pet stores come from puppy mills. If you’re looking to add a pet to your family, head over to your local shelter, where you’ll find pets of every breed, age, shape, and size. The Shelter Pet Project has a great website that makes it easy to search online for adoptable pets in your area.

When you choose to adopt, you’re saving a life. These adorable before and after photos of recently adopted animals and this senior pup jumping for joy after four years in a shelter will put a smile on your face and convince you adoption is the only way to go.

Lead image source: Lisafern/Wikimedia Commons