October can be a scary month. We all run the risk of tiny ghouls and goblins knocking on our door, threatening to smother our windows in yolk unless we surrender our Snickers. For humans, these October spooks are confined mostly to Halloween weekend, and it’s all in good fun. But for the 70 million homeless dogs and cats in the United States, October can be genuinely terrifying. Winter is just around the corner, and life on the streets isn’t getting any cozier.
Only 6.5 million of those homeless cats and dogs find their way into a shelter every year. But the ending isn’t always happy for those 6.5 million, as nearly 1.5 million are euthanized due to limited space in our shelters. This is why the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) dubbed October “Adopt a Shelter Dog Month” way back in 1981. For 38 years, it’s been an event to raise awareness for our homeless four-legged friends and, more importantly, make fewer of them homeless.
So how can you celebrate? The most direct and obvious way to toot your party horn is to adopt a homeless dog. If everyone adopted just one cat or dog in need of a home, well, there’d be no more dogs and cats in need of homes. But while not everyone is in a position to adopt a pet, everyone can do a little something this month to help rescue dogs and the shelters who give them warm beds and three squares. Here are some ideas.
Adopt a shelter dog
If you can adopt a dog, we strongly urge you to hit your local rescue shelter, humane society or even the pound. Purebred and papered puppies are great, but you can find great pups of all shapes and sizes (and breeds) at the local shelter, and you might just save a life by visiting there first. Just be sure you’re prepared to adopt. Having a dog is a full-time gig, and you need to know exactly what you’re getting into. If your home and life isn’t prepared for your new buddy, it’s not fair to either of you. If you’ve done your research and you’re sure you’re ready, you and your new partner can celebrate this month with pride for years to come. Be prepared for an adoption fee; most rescues are nonprofits, and they rely on fees and donations to stay up and running. Adoption fees can run in the hundreds of dollars, but they also generally cover health care and the dog’s first round of shots.
Foster a dog (or three!)
If you’re not ready for a long-term commitment, you can celebrate Adopt a Shelter Dog Month by fostering a pooch while he or she waits for a forever home. Fostering a dog helps in several ways. First, it lets you dip your toe in the adoption waters. Whether you’re taking care of a pet for the first time or testing the compatibility of a foster with your current pack, fostering can tell you a lot about yourself as a potential pet owner. Second, fostering gives a homeless dog some much needed love. Third, and maybe most importantly, it frees up a space at the shelter. With so many homeless dogs out there and only around 14,000 shelters in the U.S., space is extremely limited. Even just temporarily offering your home to a shelter resident can make a world of difference to a number of dogs. (And you might end up being the forever home anyway!)
Volunteer at a shelter
While many shelters do have part- and full-time employees, a lot rescue shelters run exclusively on volunteer work. Most shelters will take any help they can get because that help is sorely needed. The Animal Humane Society reported in 2016 that AHS volunteers alone offered 175,000 hours of service to shelters. Check your shelter’s website for information about volunteering, but it never hurts to reach out directly. Virtually any task may be available, and they’re all a big help. Walking the dogs, keeping the cats occupied, cleaning up kennels; there’s a never-ending supply of work. You can even help in a more professional capacity like running social media. Find out your local shelter’s needs and do what you can. The workers and pets will thank you for it.
Animal shelters are nonprofit organizations, and that means that donations are the tails that wag the dogs. Most shelters face a number of upfront costs every time a dog walks through the doors. At the very least, every pet is examined by a veterinarian (who often volunteers time). Dogs often arrive with various ailments and need vaccines and heartworm medication, spaying or neutering, etc. Hundreds of dollars are spent, even if the veterinarian is donating time. Cash donations pay for the bulk of this care, though adoption fees do cover some costs.
Your donation doesn’t have to be in monetary form. Every sort of supply is needed, from food to pee pads to scratching posts. For maximum impact, ask the shelter what they need most.
Sometimes, the biggest thing your town’s homeless animals need is a little awareness. Both the ASPCA and Animal Humane Society offer fact sheets, stats and other numbers that you can share on social media or otherwise. Both organizations also offer tips on how to advocate on their behalf. But it doesn’t have to be that complicated; by telling others about the need in your community, you increase the chances of homeless dogs getting help and homes. Share your shelter’s adopt-a-dog posts on your social media. Start a blog. Send emails. Hang up posters (ask permission first!). Every set of eyes on an adoptable dog might be a new set of eyes.
Organize a drive
Perhaps the most effective way to celebrate this month is to organize a drive on behalf of the local shelter. A well-thought-out drive accomplishes a number of things at once. It raises funds and supplies. It raises awareness. It gets others involved. You can do it at school, at the office or, in many cases, at the shelter. Get your friends, family, co-workers and fellow students involved. You’ll be shocked at how willing people are to celebrate the world’s literal underdogs. All they need is a little nudge.
We could make a strong argument that every month should be Adopt a Shelter Dog Month, but for now we’ll focus on October. While everyone is looking forward to tricks and treats, it’s not too tricky to treat a few dogs to happy homes.