Ready to reduce animal homelessness? Let’s begin!
Thank you for volunteering to prevent suffering and save lives. These are your step-by-step instructions for getting your program underway and off to a good start.
Identify Your Local Resources
You’ll need to equip yourself with some vital information before you start your work. The following are some basics that you need to know:
- The names, locations, and hours of your local animal shelters. Become very familiar with the shelters’ admission, adoption, and euthanasia policies and procedures.
- Any low-cost spay/neuter and veterinary services available in your city or county. Get the lowdown on prices and services available, any qualification criteria, and the program schedule. Your local animal shelter (call there first) and SpayUSA (1-800-248-SPAY) should be able to refer you to existing programs and participating veterinarians.
- The names, locations, and hours of your local veterinary practices (both daytime and after-hours emergency clinics). Animals need help around the clock, so save these numbers in your phone.
- Information about volunteer groups that might already be working to improve the lives of animals and/or provide low-income area residents with spay/neuter services. If such groups exist in your area, would you be more productive joining them, or is there a valuable service that they aren’t providing (such as transportation to and from the surgery) that you could offer?
- Information about local news outlets. Keep the telephone numbers of your local newspapers and TV stations handy—you never know when a story in the media could help you help animals. Keep an eye out for animal-friendly stories, and jot down the reporter’s name, telephone number, and e-mail address. When you’re ready, invite him or her to join you on a field trip.
Identify Your Target Areas
Chances are that you already know where your time could best be spent. Have you driven through neighborhoods before, thinking, “I wish I could do something for the animals around here”? Well, you can! If you need help finding areas in need, check out the following suggestions:
- Your local animal shelter might help, especially if it tracks (as many do) the zip codes with the highest incidence of stray and/or surrendered animals.
- If a low-cost spay/neuter program exists in your community, ask which areas it has found to be in direst need. It’s likely to have a list.
- Create flyers detailing the assistance you can offer (feel free to use our sample), and distribute and post them at churches, dollar stores, social services offices, grocery stores, mobile home parks, and public housing complexes.
It’s Tool Time!
Helping animals is vital. It takes compassion, dedication, determination, and skill—as well as a few tools of the trade (but nothing too fancy!). To be ready, you’ll need the following:
- Dog and cat food and treats: Dogs love vegan treats from v-dog, available at v-dog.com.
- Water: Keep clean drinking water in gallon jugs—or even a brand-new 5-gallon gas can—so that you can provide “backyard dogs” with fresh water, especially during weather extremes. Use a permanent marker to write “WATER ONLY” on both sides of the can.
- Leashes for dogs of different sizes: It’s a good idea to have at least one 6-foot slip leash that you can loop around the neck of a dog of any size.
- Carriers: Keep with you one or two small carriers, one medium-size one, and—if it will fit in your vehicle—one large enough to hold a Labrador-size dog. You’ll need these items to transport animals safely.
- Towels and blankets: Always line carriers with clean, cozy bedding. Many of the animals you’ll help will never have known the comfort of lying on something soft. You don’t have to spend any money—try calling around to hotel chains to take advantage of used bedding that they plan to discard, organize a towel and blanket drive at work, network with your local gym, or pop into a thrift shop.
- A humane box trap for capturing homeless cats: You may be able to lease one from your local animal shelter, but it’s best to have your own. Cat traps are humane, easy to use, and inexpensive. They typically cost about $40 to $50 and are available online or at most hardware and feed-and-seed stores.
- Your camera phone: A picture is worth a thousand words. Document your progress with “before” and “after” photos, which will be important when you share your efforts on social media, talk with media outlets about your services, and ask individuals and businesses for donations to support your work. And should you discover a neglectful situation, photos are an absolute must!
- Animal-care supplies: Flea prevention and flystrike ointment, such as Flys-Off, go a long way toward alleviating intense itching caused by fleas and flies, who incessantly torment chained or penned dogs during warm weather. In the winter, straw bedding keeps “backyard dogs” warm and dry. (Don’t use blankets, because they stay wet.) Keep grooming supplies on hand, as well, to cut off matted fur, trim overgrown nails, wipe goopy eyes, and clean dirty ears.
- Toys: Chained and penned dogs spend much of their days and nights watching the grass grow. Nothing brightens their lives like a toy to keep them busy. Dollar stores usually have a range of dog toys to choose from, but remember that your canine clients won’t be picky. Ask friends, family members, and coworkers to donate used or new dog toys, and then take photos of the dogs with the toys and ask for more. Make sure that all toys are safe and sturdy so that they will last—used toys shouldn’t be too frayed or chewed up. Consider hosting a toy drive at your workplace or creating an Amazon wish list—or do both.
- Information about first aid for companion animals: Check out this page.
- Basic cleaning, office, and household implements: Keep a can opener, washable utensils, paper plates, paper towels, disinfectant spray, hand sanitizer, a basic first-aid kit, a flashlight with extra batteries, safety gloves, and a couple of pairs of washable gloves on hand. Don’t forget pens and paper for taking notes and filling out forms.
- Forms and informational materials: Pack the paperwork! You’ll need surgery consent forms (if you can’t get them from your local veterinary and spay/neuter clinics, we can help), animal surrender forms, adoption applications and contracts, flyers with details of your services (that you can print out on brightly colored paper), and literature about the benefits of spaying and neutering, the dangers of keeping dogs on chains, basic animal care, and more. Visit PETALiterature.com for literature about companion animals.
Does this sound challenging? We promise you that the rewards will be far greater than you can imagine. Once you start making a difference, you won’t be able to stop—and animals will be safer and happier for it.
Your next step? Get out there!