Wednesday, March 31, 2010

How you can help homeless animals

Jo-Anne Dixon, D.V.M., is executive director/medical director of the Animal Shelter of the Wood River Valley, near Hailey.


The demand on animal shelter services has risen exponentially during the past two years as private donations have declined. As so many families face the realities of job loss, their greatest issue becomes housing. People without jobs have a hard time feeding and housing their families, much less their family pet. Animals with loving owners are being left at shelters because people feel they have no option.

We operate an open-admission, no-kill shelter. When people in our community face the heart-wrenching decision of surrendering their family pet, they can be assured that their pet will not be euthanized because of lack of space. We will find it a suitable home, however long it takes.

But just like the people who are one paycheck away from disaster, we too are fearful that the current economic climate will jeopardize our ability to remain a no-kill shelter. As a private nonprofit, we depend almost exclusively on private donations.

So what is the No. 1 thing people can do to help their local shelter or rescue group?

It's simple: Make sure all your pets are spayed or neutered.

Four to 6 million healthy, adoptable pets are euthanized each year in this country because they don't have homes. We are not going to "shelter" our way out of the problem. No number of shelters can keep up with the ability of animals to reproduce. Do your part to stop the cycle of pet overpopulation—spay and neuter your pets. We offer several no-cost spay/neuter clinics each month.

Second, when you are looking for a pet, adopt a shelter animal. Adopting saves lives; it's as simple as that.

Third, donate.

If you can't donate money, donate your skill. It is not the animals' fault that they are homeless. We as a society have created this situation, so we must work together to correct it.

Volunteering can be one of the most worthwhile and rewarding experiences you can have. There are hundreds of ways, ranging from walking dogs to stamping envelopes. You also can provide your special skill. If you are a graphic designer, offer to help design a poster. If you are a social-networking guru, offer to help shelter staff use these new communication tools. If you have room, foster a shelter pet to help make space for others.

Also, think outside the box. In these tough economic times, people losing their homes are forced to move into rentals. Unfortunately, many rentals do not allow pets, so people find that their only choice is to surrender their pet. If you have a rental property, consider allowing pets.

If you have a birthday, ask your friends to donate in your honor to the animal shelter instead of buying a gift. When giving a gift to a loved one, make a donation to the animal shelter in their or their favorite pet's name.

Other types of donations are needed, too, including dog and cat toys and treats, clean towels and blankets, bleach and cleaners, and office supplies. Often, animal shelters also run thrift stores as a way to generate income. We operate the Barkin' Basement in Hailey. Our shelter also has a summer auction to help raise money. Consider donating goods and services or use of vacation properties as auction items.

Again, there are many ways to support your local animal shelter. Every little bit helps.

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