It's less than a week till Christmas!
Whilst we're all busy ordering turkeys, buying presents, and decorating our houses, we should spend a moment to think of those less fortunate than ourselves, and our furry friends.
Did you know that animal shelters see a rise in the amount of pets abandoned or handed into to shelters over the Christmas period?
This is due to a variety of reasons. Sometimes puppies and kittens bred to be Christmas gifts that are left unsold end up on the doorstep of the rescue centres, sometimes families struggling to support themselves have to hand in their beloved pets. For whatever reason, the animal shelters struggle to provide for all those in their care every year.
But we can help make a difference. Whether you're able to lend a helping hand, or provide some much needed food, blankets or toys, here is a list of ideas for you to help your local shelters.
Just like with every other job, people who work at the shelters full time need time off over Christmas to visit their loved ones and family. This leaves many shelters operating on skeleton crews. With lots of dogs and cats to care for, with feeding, walking, rehabilitation sessions and training, this means that shelter pets will get less human contact than normal over this period, which could cause increased stress for their pets.
Talk to your local shelter and see if they would like some extra helping hands over the holiday season. This could involve anything from helping walk the dogs, or playing with puppies, down to the less pleasant but essential jobs, like cleaning out the kennels. I'm sure they'll appreciate it, and even if they're all signed up with volunteers, they'll definitely appreciate the gesture.
Think for a minute how much your pet eats on a daily basis? Imagine if you had to times that by 250!
That's how many animals some shelters like RSPCA Southridge can be caring for at any one time. And many shelters are much, much larger than this! Feeding all these mouths is expensive. If you can afford to, buy a few extra tins of wet food, or bags of dry food and take them down to your local rescue centre. Even if you can only afford to donate one meal for one animal, remember every little action helps make these less fortunate dogs and cats have a happier life.
Blankets and Towels
Winter get's cold - fact. If you have any old-but-still-in-good-condition blankets lying around the house, stick them in the wash and bring them down to your local rescue centre. Towels are great too! Both can be used as bedding for pets, to line the bottoms of cages and crates, and of course, to towel off cats and dogs after a wash.
Again, if you're a cat owner, think how often you have to change cat litter, and that's probably just for one or two cats. Shelters go throw bags and bags of litter. Every day. This is another great thing to donate to shelters, even if it doesn't seem like the most glamorous of donations!
Unfortunately, a lot of the pets at rescue centres and shelters won't get much one-on-one time. This is why donating toys is great, it gives the dogs and cats stimulation when they are in their kennel or crate.
Anything from cuddly toys, to balls, squeaky toys, to rope toys. One of the best types of toy to give though, are food dispensing toys that make the cats or dogs work for their food. This increases stimulation, prevents pets from eating all their food in 2 seconds flat, and especially for cats, helps them to exercise their natural hunting abilities.
The Best Way to Help
The best way to help any shelter or rescue centre though is to make a long term commitment to them. We all want to do some good and help others at Christmas time when we are in the festive mood. However, come January, when shelters often get an influx of no longer wanted 'present pets', the donations and volunteers tend to stop coming in.
Sign up to give a set amount of time each week or month, bring in regular donations, or commit to monthly financial donations at your local shelter. All of these options will be a massive help to both the staff, and cats and dogs in the shelters.
Fostering is great! Firstly, it gets dogs and cats out of the shelter and rescue centre, meaning there are more resources available to help other animals. Secondly, it helps reduces the animals stress levels by giving them a calm, homely environment to settle down in. And thirdly, it helps the shelters to truly get to know a dog or cats personality, how they behave in a home environment, and how they get along with other pets, children, and family members. This gives rescue shelters a better insight into how a dog or cat will fit into a new home, and help to find each pet the perfect forever family.
Talk to your local shelter about becoming a foster family. Most shelters are always on the look out for suitable fosters, and whilst you will have to undergo checks to ensure you're suitable, capable and experienced enough to handle foster pets, it's a really rewarding experience.
However, you should only foster if you have a lot of experience with dogs or cats. Fostering is hard work, and you must be prepared for foster dogs and cats to display behavioural problems. Your local shelter will be able to assess your suitability.
Adopt if you're committed
Shelters and rescue centres can only help so many pets. They don't have unlimited resources and need the public to help by adopting pets. This allows them to take in more vulnerable animals and give them the love and care they need.
However, you should only ever adopt a pet if you are ready to, if you have really considered the time and financial commitments, and if your family and home are suitable for the pet. Remember, a dog is for life not just for Christmas.
After the Christmas period, when most shelters won't adopt any pets out, have a long serious think about whether you can offer a shelter pet a loving, stable, forever home. If you can, go to your local shelter and meet the staff, discuss your family lifestyle and let them help you find a suitable cat or dog to fit your family. Be open-minded and remember that senior cats and dogs have a lot of love to give too, and may be better behaved than a new born puppy.
- Grace Nolan, 20/12/16