Are you looking for a new hobby or a chance to help animals in your community? Volunteering at an animal shelter or sanctuary is great if you have the time and abilities, but sometimes life gets in the way. If you’re a homebody or have kids and pets at home who need constant care and supervision, there are still plenty of ways to make a big difference in an animal’s life without leaving your home and garden.

It doesn’t take much time or money to get involved in animal activism, and you might discover a fun new hobby in the process. You can even get your kids involved and teach them lots of neat stuff about pets, wildlife, and how our ecosystem works — hands-on learning is the best, and few students get the chance to watch a garden grow or help build a bat box in school. Check out the activities below and feel good about making a difference!

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1. Knit Blankets and Sweaters for Rescue Animals

You can multitask with this one. Once you know how to knit (or sew, or crochet), you can do it while watching TV or socializing with friends. Shelters are always looking for bedding and sweaters to keep their animals comfy and warm. If you’re not handy with knitting needles, try something simple like this no-sew fleece blanket.

2. Plant Wildflowers

People might not consider wildflowers the prettiest plants, but our native animals would disagree. They attract desirable butterflies and bees, and night-blooming varieties draw moths and bats. By supporting bees, these flowers play a crucial role in pollinating fruits and vegetables that feed people and animals, and wildflower plants themselves provide hiding spots and habitats for wildlife, keeping their populations healthy. It’s just common sense — the health of an ecosystem starts from the bottom of the food chain.

3. Build a Bat Box

Tired of mosquitoes in your yard? Build a bat box to keep pesky insects at bay without harming the environment. Bats can catch 500 to 1,000 insects in one hour, and as a bonus, they pollinate too! (So combine this project with #2 for best results.) This page has a nice tutorial for building a shelter for bats to live and raise their young. The steps get a little involved, so try this model from Bat Conservation International if you’re looking for something simpler.

4. Create a Bird Sanctuary

I’ve never met anyone who doesn’t like to watch birds, and of course, our colorful native songbirds are more attractive than invasive sparrows. Create a bird sanctuary in your yard to support more of them! Planting wildflowers is a great first step to attract the insects that birds eat, and trees and shrubs provide habitat for the birds themselves. Add a source of fresh water such as a birdbath or pond (make sure to change standing water frequently so mosquitoes don’t breed in it), and use or make bird houses and feeders designed to keep non-native birds away. Last but not least, if you have a cat, make sure to keep him inside and ask your neighbors to do the same.

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5. Use Humane Pest Control

Bugs in the house can be a nuisance, but they play a valuable role in our ecosystem and all wildlife ultimately suffers without them. Pesticides can directly harm desirable wildlife such as native birds and bees, and the absence of insects in the food chain affects attractive birds, frogs, and other animals who rely on them for food. For starters, keep your home neat and clean to avoid drawing pests in the first place, and close holes in the walls with caulk to prevent entry. Herbs and spices work well to keep unwanted bugs away, much better than bug zappers that mostly kill harmless, non-pest beetles and pollinators. Try putting a line of cream of tartar, chili powder, dried peppermint, or paprika at the doorway to prevent ants from entering. The same trick with bay leaves will deter cockroaches, and a citronella candle will keep flying insects at a distance. If you do find a bug in your house, trap it under a glass jar, slide a paper under the jar, and release the little guy outside.

Image source: Paul Horner/Flickr