Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Want to help a shelter pet? Consider a virtual foster program!

Liam the pug is ready to volunteer
Every year some 7.6 million animals enter shelters in the United States. Of those animals, some 2.7 million are adopted. And, some 2.7 million are euthanized.

Those statistics come directly from the ASPCA, and they are a little depressing. Turning them around means getting involved, either directly or indirectly, with community animal shelters. But often, when I talk to people about shelter volunteer programs, I hear the same sorts of sentences:
  • "I don't have time to commit to a regular volunteer program."
  • "I don't have room in my home for another pet. If I volunteer, I'll take one home."
  • "My heart will break if I see animals in cages, and I can't do anything about it."
  • "I don't have spare money to give to an animal shelter."
These are all very valid reasons for avoiding some of the stickier parts of volunteer programs. If you can't commit to a regular shift, it doesn't make sense to sign up to volunteer. Same goes for overcrowding. If you can't take a pet in, you shouldn't.

But there is one thing almost every single person out there could do to help a shelter pet. I'm calling it "virtual fostering."

Liam the pug is ready to take notes
Liam is ready to get started.
As a virtual foster, you'll walk into the shelter and pick just one animal for your special project. You'll find out how old the animal is, where it came from, what its life was like before and what kind of home will be best for it in the future. You'll spend a little time with the pet and get your own impressions, but the paperwork from the shelter (or a quick interview with the staff) should give you the background you'll need.

Then you'll take a few photographs of the pet with your cell phone or camera. You don't need to do anything fancy with the photos. Just a quick snap of the pet should do the trick. Here's one I took of a shelter kitten as an example.

Athena the shelter kitten takes a beautiful photo
Isn't she adorable? And she was adopted.
With your notes and your snaps, you're ready to do the important part of this project. You'll share this animal's story on all of your social networks. You could write up a blog post, send out a Tweet, write a Facebook post or share the snap on Instagram. The idea is to help spread the word about the pet's need for a home, and the awesome things that pet can deliver.

Sinead is ready to write a pet social media post
Sinead likes privacy when she's writing.
You can share a story just once, or you could keep on talking about that pet until it is adopted. And you could write about pets all the time, or just do it now and again when you have the time to spend on the project. Either would work.

The great thing about this? You'll be directly involved with linking a pet with a family that can take that pet. This work is far from depressing. You'll see successes for yourself. Plus, there's no financial commitment involved, and you don't have to take a pet home yourself. And, you can do this foster work on your own time, as it fits into your own schedule.

And as you get going, you'll find that the work gets easier. And there are plenty of resources that can help. If your shelter is full of black pets, for example, this blog post can help you take great snaps.

And if you can't think of what to say or how to organize it, this SlideShare I put together may help.

I believe in this project (clearly), and I'd love to help you to get started. Shoot me a note in the comments with your ideas, and I'll help. And you can follow the cat blog I write for Willamette Humane Society, too, so you can see how I put this plan into action in my own community.

While we may not be able to take home every shelter pet, and we may not be able to throw tons of money at every shelter, I hope I've helped inspire you to help in a small way in your communities. Together, we really can make a difference.


  1. Excellent post! Will share :)

    Purrs xx
    Athena and Marie

  2. This is a wonderful idea and a viable option for everyone with a social media account! Thanks for sharing.