Five Ways to Help Local Homeless Animals When Adoption is Not An Option

Many people think animal rescue mostly involves adopting homeless animals. But while the 3.2 million shelter adoptions taking place each year are a critical part of helping these vulnerable animals survive and thrive, that’s certainly not the only way to make a lifesaving difference.

Animal welfare organizations, for example, take many different approaches depending on their reach and resources, including relocating animals to places where their chances for adoption are higher, rehabilitating victims of cruelty and neglect to make them more adoptable, and helping low-income pet owners keep their pets by making veterinary services more affordable and accessible.

But individuals and entire communities can also impact at-risk animals in ways that don’t require a permanent commitment, so please consider and share some of the wide-ranging ideas below to help animals in need.


Fostering animals – working with local shelters to take these animals into your home and care for them on a temporary basis – serves many goals. It eases the animal care burden on shelters, helps socialize young animals, protects animals from potential diseases and stress, and exposes them to new networks of potential adopters. Fostering is also a good way to try out pet ownership without the life-long commitment.

Fostering is especially important during kitten season, the annual high-breeding period that runs through spring and summer, and even individual impact could be huge. We estimate that one foster home could potentially save 20 kitten lives over the course of a single season.

Each shelter may have unique fostering procedures and expectations, so ask about their programs in advance to ensure a good match for your situation.


If you have free time during the week or weekend, ask your shelter how you can help. Meaningful support can include anything from walking and reading to animals to cleaning cages and helping with office work, social media, and adoption drives. Many shelters need help with adoption events they host on weekends. Children above a certain age can also volunteer their time individually or as part of community organizations – animals will always appreciate extra affection.

Donating Supplies

Whether your local shelter is large or small, staff there will appreciate contributions of vital supplies including food, towels, toys, blankets, newspapers, and crates. Call ahead (and check their social media sites) to discover what items are most in demand so you’re offering the greatest assistance given their specific and seasonal needs.

Advocating for Animals

According to a survey we recently published, local animal shelters and rescue groups are increasing their use of social media to promote their animals and mission, and seeing higher levels of community support as a result. You too can also harness your own platforms to be an effective advocate for animals, shelters, and animal welfare issues.

Take inspiration from this month’s designation as Adopt a Shelter Dog Month and find a dog (or cat) available for adoption at your local shelter (it may already be one of the more than 500 groups participating in our #FindYourFido national campaign). Act as his or her publicist by posting photos, descriptions, and videos.

You can also learn about key local, state, and federal animal welfare issues and legislation by visiting our ASPCA Advocacy Center, where you’ll find ways to support measures that help at-risk animals survive and thrive, as well as fight actions and proposals that put them in further jeopardy. There may even be important animal welfare proposals on the ballot in your district during the election on November 6.

Financial Support

Because caring for homeless animals can quickly drain a shelter’s limited resources, local shelters rely on their communities for financial support. You can help by donating funds, hosting a funding drive, or turning celebrations and events into charitable opportunities for local animals. Many people support local shelters and animal welfare organizations by asking for donations in lieu of birthday or other gifts.

Local and national organizations serve very different purposes and have different capabilities, so investigate each and offer support in a way that has the most meaning to you.

The Bottom Line

Approximately 6.5 million companion animals enter U.S. animal shelters nationwide every year, of whom approximately 1.5 million are euthanized. That number is thankfully dropping, but at-risk animals in your community still need your help. Every act of fostering, volunteering, advocacy, and support can make a difference, so whether adoption is in the realm of possibility or out of the question, I hope you connect with a commitment that’s right for you and best for an animal in need.

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