When it comes to saving the lives of stray dogs and cats and shelter animals, many people think the only way to help out is through volunteering at the local pound or animal rescue. While volunteering is a great way to make a difference, it’s just the tip of the iceberg! There are many ways to help shelter animals beyond walking dogs, cleaning cages, and socializing the animals. Here are five creative ways to make a difference in homeless pets’ lives.

1. Learn about the local shelters in your area and what their needs are. Some shelters might be all set when it comes to financial donations, but could use help caring for the dogs and cats; others might be struggling with overcrowding issues as a result of limited capacity and space. Figure out where your contributions would be most valuable and where your skills are needed most. Here are some things you can do to make a huge difference:

  • Photography – Whether you have your own darkroom or are an Instagram aficionado, shelters and rescue organizations can benefit immensely from those who know how to capture the cuteness and personalities of dogs and cats who are up for adoption.
  • Tech / Social Media – Got computer skills? Help your local shelter revamp its website by lending your graphic design, coding, or writing skills. Most pet adoption organizations could use a hand when it comes to maintaining their website, social media outreach, or newsletter efforts. With all the work that goes into caring for animals, shelters often struggle to keep their online presence up-to-date.
  • Transportation – Shelters and rescue groups often need volunteers to transport dogs and cats to wherever their destination may be. Sometimes it’s a two-hour road trip; other times it’s just a quick trip to the vet. For shelters located in cities like New York, where the main mode of transportation is bus or train, volunteers who have access to a car are especially valuable!
  • Professional skills: Animal shelters often need accountants with nonprofit experience to help them crunch numbers and keep their books in order. Attorneys can help rescue groups stay on top of legal forms and contracts; carpenters can help shelters make structural renovations to their facilities.
  • Caregiving, walking, socializing pets – Shelters are non-profit. This means they rely on donations of both time and money. No shelter can afford to hire full-time staff to care for and walk every single animal, and that is where volunteers can step in! Volunteers can help socialize the animals, spend time with them, walk dogs, clean their cages.  Homeless animals can always use a little TLC.

2. Foster someone’s future pet. Ask your parents to help you foster a homeless dog or cat. Most animal shelters and rescue organizations have limited space in their facilities. So many animals need a safe, temporary place to hang out before finding their forever home, or while they recover from an illness or injury. Being in a family home is also advantageous for puppies and kittens who need a quiet place to grow and socialize. If you can commit your time and resources to fostering an animal, you’ll be helping two animals—the one for whom you provide a temporary home and another shelter animal who will get a space at the shelter.

3. Donate pet supplies / food / household items – Every shelter has a wishlist of items, whether it’s pet food, toys, bedding, litter, crates, or cleaning supplies. Pick up a couple items next time you’re shopping to drop off at the shelter. Donate towels and sheets you don’t use anymore, or gently-used leashes and collars your own pet has outgrown.

4. Speak Up – Educate your friends, family, and members of your local community about how important it is to spay and neuter dogs and cats. Explain why it’s better to adopt a rescue pet than to patronize a pet store or breeder. There are so many adorable dogs and cats living at shelters who need loving homes!

5. Support pet-friendly businesses – A number of well-known companies participate in initiatives to support animal rescue organizations, including Amazon, Subaru, Bissell, CLIF Bar, IKEA, Ben & Jerry’s, and Lush Cosmetics — just to name a few.