It’s Giving Tuesday! Help a puppy out!
I’m going to start off by saying this is not necessarily applicable to every animal shelter. Different shelters have different needs and different policies and procedures. Check with your local shelter to be sure what you donate won’t go to waste.
Please, don’t neglect your local public, open-admission, or animal control shelter. Those “high kill” shelters are the ones most in need of help. No shelter wants to have to euthanize animals, but when the number of animals drastically exceeds the resources available to care for them, it is an unfortunate reality. Providing your local shelter with more resources means helping them save more animals.
Blankets: Shelters ALWAYS need blankets. They get chewed up, contaminated, damaged by commercial laundry machines, etc. and frequently have to be thrown away for those reasons.
Polyester fleece throw blankets like the Ikea Krakris or these ones on Amazon are excellent - they’re cheap, warm, bleach-able, a good size, don’t stain easily, dry quickly and create less lint, and chewed ones can be easily cut down in to smaller sizes for cats or small dogs without being hemmed. You can also just buy fleece fabric at your fabric store and cut them up into different sizes if you prefer - you don’t have to sew the edges! If you’re trying to decide between a solid color or one with a pattern, get the patterned kind, it will hide muddy paw prints better. Some people like to cut and tie the edges of two blankets together, and while it is very cute, some animals see the fringe and think “TOY!” and start gnawing.
Flannel receiving blankets - these are great, too. We mostly use them for cats. Whether they’re the striped kind form the hospital or the cute printed ones, we’re glad to have them.
Please do not donate down comforters. Even with all the processing the feathers receive before being used to fill comforters, dogs still seem to be able to smell the “dead bird” smell and proceed to rip them apart and get millions of tiny feathers everywhere. This is a bitch to clean up. Give down comforters to homeless humans, instead.
Batting-filled comforters are OK, but some dogs also like to tear the stuffing out of them. Once they’re torn, we pretty much have to throw them out, since no one is going to sew them back together again.
Snuggies - we will accept Snuggies and Slankets. Sometimes we joke around with each other and dress up in them at work after hours, but mostly we just use them like regular fleece blankets.
Sheets and pillowcases - meh. We usually don’t have much use for these. Sometimes we’ll use them as cage covers, so if your thrift store doesn’t want them, we probably won’t say no.
Knit and crocheted blankets - please don’t. I get sad when I think of all the love and time and effort and skill put in to making beautiful afghans or blankets, only to have a pup completely unravel one of these in a matter of hours. Unless you’re going to wet felt the blanket, please save your wonderful hook and needle talents for dog sweaters, cat nests, and adorkable photo props. Get cute with it. Even if the shelter doesn’t put sweaters on their dogs, they may be able to pass them on to owners who need them for their pups. Cat nests are great for stressed out kitties - less stress means healthier cats - and make it safer and easier for staff to clean their cages. Also, if your local shelter has an annual raffle or auction fundraiser, your lovely projects for any species could be good items to donate.
Please keep the stuffed animals to a minimum. Again, they get torn up and the stuffing strewn all over the place, although small, beanie-baby sized ones can be good for kittens to snuggle with and for cute photos. If the cashier at Petsmart asks you if you’d like to donate one of their Luv-A-Pet stuffies to a local shelter, ask to donate money or treats instead - they give us the unsold ones anyways.
Treats: Greenies Pill Pockets and the Milk Bone version are one of the things we really need. Keeping animals healthy in shelters is extremely hard - there’s a whole new field of veterinary medicine dedicated to it. Making sure the animals take their antibiotics is an important part of keeping (mostly respiratory) illness at bay.
Dental treats are also a good idea. It helps our dogs get adopted when they don’t have stinky breath.
Zuke’s Minis are great training treats, and this flavor smells so good I have considered eating them.
For cats, L-Lysine treats can help manage breakouts of upper respiratory infections caused by Feline Viral Rhinotracheitis, a form of herpes. They also, apparently, taste amazeballs.
There’s always good old fashioned Milkbones, too. Really, you can’t go wrong with almost any treats, except for the ones from the dollar store.
Food: Yes, we will take your non-expired canned food! We use it for nursing moms, we use it to give medications, we use it for underweight and elderly animals.
If you have unopened prescription food, we’ll take that, too. We might not have an *immediate* need for, say, renal diet canned food, but it’s a good thing to have in stock when we do need it.
For other foods, your shelter may have a preferred brand, such as Purina or Pedigree. They may prefer you to donate only that kind, BUT, there are likely some shelter workers within them who stash specialty or high-quality food for when it’s needed. I’m one of them.
If your shelter gets a lot of small, elderly dogs, or receives dogs from puppy mill raids, Bil-Jac Small Breed formula has one distinct feature that is great for tiny dogs - instead of standard kibble, it’s a weird extruded pellet that crumbles easily and isn’t hard to crunch.
Canned Food - I like Merrick canned foods for animals that don’t have a good appetite or are malnourished. Cat and dog foods come in a bunch of tasty, funny flavors, and they even do seasonal flavors - such as a Mardi Gras gumbo.
Cleaning Supplies: ALWAYS plain chlorine bleach, ALWAYS liquid laundry soap. I’m not too picky about the brands here. Buy whatever is on sale.
Dish soap - original formula blue Dawn dish soap is my preferred brand. It’s cheap, easily available, and they use it to clean oiled birds.
Accelerated Hydrogen Peroxide is the wave of the future for disinfection in animal shelters. It’s more effective than bleach, requires no rinsing, and needs dramatically less contact time than other disinfectants. I love this stuff, but it is pricey
Microfiber cleaning cloths, scrubby wash cloths, and other cleaning rags are also always needed. Seriously, we’ll accept your used cotton wash cloths as long as you please launder them before donating. We even take those damn “butt-face” towels.
Bottle brushes - we use these to clean out Kongs and other toys as well as medical equipment, kitten bottles, etc.
Poop bags and dispensers - the poop never. ever. stops. ever.
Please do not donate Lysol, Pine Sol, Simple Green, Formula 409, etc. unless your shelter specifically asks for them. Some of the viruses that enter shelters are not easily killed by household cleaners, and our protocols and MSDS are not written with them in mind.
Talent: It’s OK if you can’t spend money on stuff to donate, or you’ve already purged all your stuff! Your shelter may need your specific skill set, including:
writing easy-to-understand literature for community outreach
drawing a kids’ comic or coloring book that teaches them how to treat animals humanely
taking better-quality photographs of shelter pets and circulating them on social media - A good or decent camera helps, but a phone camera will work, too.
marketing and/or public relations - want something really impressive to put on your PR resume? Public Relations volunteering for a “high kill” shelter - only slightly less vilified than Planned Parenthood!
If you wish to make monetary donations, your shelter may or may not accept them. But, there are a few great organizations that I can honestly say from experience do help local shelters on a grand scale:
ASPCA - www.ASPCA.org
The Humane Society of the United States - www.humanesociety.org
Alley Cat Allies (feral cats) - www.alleycatallies.org
Maddie’s Fund - www.maddiesfund.org
Now, time for me to get some dinner. Think I left something out? Have a question about specific items? Let me know!
Update for 2017:
I don’t really have any new products to add, but I still very much encourage you to donate or volunteer if you can. Have a blanket drive or dog food drive at your job. See if your employer will sponsor a local rescue’s fundraiser. Foster!