When it comes to making the world a better place for animals (and humans) the task can seem overwhelming. Everywhere you look, there’s a sad story. Although it might not seem like it, many of those stories are a chance for a happy ending.
Thanks for Facebook and Twitter (and Instagram and Tumblr and so many other sites,) stories that once would’ve only reached a few people locally are now being read by animal-lovers around the world. And because of it, lost dogs and cats (and even teddy bears) are finding their way home, programs like Pup My Ride are able to organize volunteers nationwide to transport homeless pets to their forever homes, and people around the world are able to reach out to support the animals and people affected by global disasters.
As Ralph Waldo Emerson once wrote, “You cannot do a kindness too soon, for you never know how soon it will be too late.” Whether that kindness is volunteering locally in a very hands-on way, donating to a charity that can help animals nationally or even globally, or simply spreading the word in your community about animals in need, your act of kindness is literally only a click, call, or perhaps a short drive away. The most important thing is that we all get out there and do something. Every act of kindness counts, no matter the size, and, together, the amount of good we can do for animals (and for each other) is limitless.
If you’d like a few ideas on how you can make the world a little brighter for animals, here’s a short list:
- Volunteer at a local rescue or sanctuary: Your community shelters and sanctuaries need you! Sign up to walk the dogs, pet the cats, or get really hands-on and clean animal living areas monthly, weekly, or daily. Most non-profits rely on volunteers so that they can use the money that would be spent on employee labor to help the animals. If you’d like to help out but you don’t feel like you work well with animals, you can always offer to work in the front office or at animal fairs. There are probably more opportunities than you realize. Just give your favorite shelter a call or shoot them an email or message on Facebook to see how you can help.
- Volunteer your talents: – Even if you can’t volunteer your time or money to a local shelter, you can still support them by offering to donate your skills. Photography, marketing, writing, accounting, and even office skills like filing are needed. Groups like VolunteerMatch connect charities with the volunteers who need them. Volunteer a few hours a week, a month, or a day. You can also find volunteer wish lists posted on some larger organization’s websites that allow you to volunteer from home or from your neighborhood.
- Donate: Don’t knock monetary donations. Sometimes your time is at a premium. Donating a few dollars when you are able can make a big difference. You may even want to set up a monthly donation, and be sure to check with your employer to see if they match charitable contributions. You may be able to double the amount of your donation.
Many animal groups also have wish lists that range from pet food and toys to cleaning supplies to gently-used towels and carriers. These items are huge help to animal aid organizations.
- Spread the word: It might seem like a small thing, but a like or a share can save an animal’s life. Consider devoting a few posts or tweets each week to messages of hope. Share that pic of a cute pup looking for a home on Facebook. Retweet your favorite animal charities’ fundraising messages. And ask your friends to do the same!
- Volun-cation: Consider using your vacation time as a way to help animals. Many larger sanctuaries like Best Friends Animal Society welcome visitors who are willing to volunteer. You can stay on site and offer to help out for a few days, a week, or more. Or you can stay closer to home and simply volunteer a day or a week during your time off to your local shelter. Kitten season and winter are always a busy time at shelters and sanctuaries.
- Start your own shelter/sanctuary: Look for opportunities to help the feral and community critters near you. Stray animals are everywhere once you take the time to look – including unsupported feral cat colonies. Proving food and water and shelter (especially in winter,) can be the difference between life and death for some animals. And access to neutering and health care can change a struggling colony into a safe space for animals. You may even be able to find homes for some feral kitties as barn cats – or as pets. Your local pet community center will be able to provide you with more information on how you can help – and let you know about local laws. And there are national organizations that also offer help like Alley Cat Allies.
- Make caring a community project: If you do find a feral colony in need, consider enlisting likeminded co-workers or neighbors to help. Taking care of a colony is very hard work and it helps to have support – even if that’s just others donating food, transportation for animals that need neutering or health care, or repairing shelters seasonally. You can bond over your love of animals and your commitment to caring for others. Community projects that embrace kindness are a great way for children to learn to respect animals and work with others.
- Wild critters need love too: Most people think first of domestic animals like dogs and cats when they think about helping animals. But your local “critters,” including birds and bees, could use a helping hand too. There are simple ways you can support local wildlife like planting for bees and birds (and raccoons and ‘possums,) offering water with a bird bath or water basin, and choosing native plants that support local creatures.
You can turn your yard and garden into a sanctuary by providing nesting places for birds, partially burying terracotta pots for toads who need a little shade, and planting berry and seed-bearing plants. You’ll be helping yourself, as well as the critters. Birds and ‘possums decrease dangerous pest populations like ticks. Creating a thriving eco-system in your yard and garden, is helpful to everyone involved, as well as being a beautiful addition to your community.
- Shop kind: Even if you aren’t ready to become a vegan or even a vegetarian, consider skipping meat for a single meal or for one day a week. By doing so you’ll be reducing the number of animals who suffer as part of the meat and dairy industry. You can also support local farms that you know allow their animals a free-range lifestyle and companies who promote ethical treatment of animals and their employees. Steer away from companies who aren’t upfront about how they treat animals or people. Companies with a commitment to ethics usually include it on their website and are more than willing to tell consumers about their practices.
Know that even small acts of kindness do change the world. It may seem, sometimes, that small acts of kindness don’t make much of a dent, but they really, really do. Every act of kindness counts – no matter the size. As Margaret Mead wrote many years ago, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it's the only thing that ever has.”