Dogs Shelters & Fostering

9 Ways to Help Shelter Dogs

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October is National Adopt a Dog Month and a wonderful excuse to celebrate your dogs with extra hugs, toys, and treats. After all, they are loyal best friends and awesome companions.

However, spare a thought for the thousands of dogs in shelters, patiently waiting for a forever home and a family to love. There are lots of ways to help them while they are in the care of others. Here are some suggestions to help you find your volunteering niche.

Get Ready for Take Off

One of the most rewarding ways you can help dogs is to get involved with initiatives that rescue pets from high-kill shelters and transport them to other parts of the country where it’s easier to find them loving forever homes. Pilots ‘n Paws is the go-to organization to arrange air transport for pets across state lines. This organization relies on private pilots who enjoy recreational flying and are willing to take doggie passengers on board to get them to a new home.

Pilots N Paws is the brainchild of longtime animal rescuer Debi Boies and her friend Jon Wehrenberg, a recreational pilot. Back in 2007, when Boies was trying to adopt a Doberman that had been used as bait in a dog-fighting ring in Florida, Wehrenberg offered to fly his own plane from his home in Knoxville to pick her up in South Carolina so that they could collect the dog and fly back again.

Today, millions of flight hours later, thousands of pets have found homes this way. Shelters sign up with the organization, and when they need help reach out to a willing pilot via the organization’s message board to set the flight plan in motion. Very often several flights are involved to get pets to their new families. This takes a lot of hands-on organization, from getting pets to the plane to vehicular transportation at the final destination. Both shelters requesting transportation for a pet and recreational pilots can sign up on the organization’s website.

Pony Express-Style Ground Transportation

Jump on board and volunteer on a rescue train. Shelters often need volunteer drivers to pick up pets and drive them to a destination. Depending on the trip, it can take several drivers, each driving a portion of the road trip. Helping to plot and plan a rescue train trip, as they have become known, can be a rewarding job, too. Specialized volunteers handling such missions frees other volunteers to handle a shelter’s hands-on day-to-day tasks. Check with your local shelter to find out if they have such a plan in place, or initiate one yourself.

Paying It Forward at the Vet’s Office

Very often pets are relinquished or, at worst, euthanized because their pet parents simply can’t afford to pay for life-saving treatments. If you are in a position to cover or contribute to costs of such surgeries, make yourself known to veterinary hospitals in your area so they can call on you at a moment’s notice and possibly save a life.

Register a Pet in Need on a Pet Crowdfunding Website

Pet-related crowd-funding platforms such as Cuddly and Waggle raise fund for pets in need of medical treatments. If you are working with a shelter, a great volunteer job would be setting up a profile for a pet on one of these sites that ask the public to donate to raise much-needed dollars. Often, such sites also have backers who will match public donations dollar for dollar. Check out and However, you don’t need to be working with a rescue group to make a personal donation on such sites.

Sponsor a Dog

House with a Heart in Gaithersburg, Maryland, is the home of Joe and Sher Polvinale, who turned their residence into a pet sanctuary for dogs of advanced age or disabilities. Such pets often have a hard time finding homes because they present unique challenges and potential expenses not usually associated with younger dogs available for adoption. Sponsoring a pet at a special place like this helps them to receive great medical attention along with lots of love and care. There are many other opportunities at shelters around the country to sponsor a dog and receive regular updates about your sponsored pooch. Check out Silver Streak Kennels as an example of retirement homes around the country. Local shelters are usually able to direct you to such sanctuaries in your area.

Doggie Fun Runs and Fashion Shows

Activities such as dog walks, fun runs, doggie fashion shows, and seasonal dress-up events like canine Halloween and Santa Paws pawties are great fund-raisers but need lots of helpers on hand and plenty of advance work. If you love planning events, this could be your special niche.

Art Walkies

There is nothing more endearing than children’s art, and pets are popular subjects. Consider teaming up with a local school to plan an art exhibition to raise funds, along with a contest for the best art, which ultimately can be used to create a monthly or page-a-day calendar sold to raise funds. And remember, pets can paint, too, using their paws and non-toxic paints to create fun masterpieces.

Downward Dog Yoga

Team up with a yoga studio to host a special event where people and their dogs are invited to learn some basic relaxation positions and have fun. If held in a public park with lots of space, the more the merrier. Just spread the word. If you enjoy yoga, this would be a dream volunteering arrangement.

Become a Foster Mom or Dad

Fostering a dog is a wonderful opportunity for that pooch to learn social skills and thrive around people. Shelters provide all you need while the dog is in your care and are available to answer questions and offer any help you may need along the way. If there is already a dog in your home, fostering is an opportunity to see how your pooch will handle possibly having a playmate on a permanent basis.

And, if you don’t already have a dog, it’s a great way to see whether a dog can blend well with your current lifestyle and become a new family member. All around, it’s a win-win.

This article was reviewed/edited by board-certified veterinary behaviorist Dr. Kenneth Martin and/or veterinary technician specialist in behavior Debbie Martin, LVT.

Sandy Robins is an award-winning pet lifestyle journalist and author of For the Love of Cats, Fabulous Felines: Health and Beauty Secrets for the Pampered Cat, The Original Cat Bible, and Making the Most of All Nine Lives: The Extraordinary Life of Buffy The Cat.

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