People ask me all the time what they can do to help animals. "Consider veganism," I say to those who've not yet extended their compassion to animals grown for food. Yet whether we choose to eat some animals and revere others, or choose instead the path of least harm, plenty of people care deeply about animals and want to know what they can do "besides donate." So here ya go, folks: suggestions ranging from the easiest and most obvious to the more far-reaching.
- Share your time and talents. No matter the community in which you live, there's likely a dog and cat shelter in your region. Needs vary, but some typical needs are shelter cleaning, dog walking, web design, and assistance with mailings. Got a flip camera? Tweet a zillion times a day? Your shelter director might kiss your feet if you offer a few hours of your social media savvy. A caveat: "popping in" to a busy shelter is never a good idea! Check online for a volunteer application. If none exists, send an e-mail inquiry.
Want to help where the need is greatest? Find out whether other shelters or sanctuaries are in your area. Sanctuaries for wildlife, farm animals, horses, reptiles, or even exotic animals may be right in your back yard, and you can bet they have fewer volunteers than the local SPCA. Google "animal shelters" in your county, but be prepared to do a little more digging.
Enter YOU: the irrepressible, energetic, think-outside-the-box YOU. And here's what you do:
a. Make a list of the things you love to do. My list would include hiking, biking, reading, swimming, paddleboarding, writing. Yours might include cooking, kickboxing, knitting.
b. Say to yourself "I'm going to plan a ________-athon (fill in the blank with an activity from above) for ____________" (name of your favorite sanctuary or shelter.)
c. Feel completely overwhelmed and a little panic-stricken for 10 seconds. Then, take a slow, deep breath and say, "___________ (your name), you can do this." Because you can.
d. Set a challenging financial goal. David DiNicola, for instance, is raising $100,000 for CAS and Berkshire Humane Society by riding his Harley across the country this August.
e. Recruit a team of folks to help plan and promote your event. At minimum, you'll need a good logistics person and a good marketer.
f. Get busy, have fun, and congrats! Your public event will draw even more support for your favorite shelter, and you'll have gained skills and confidence that you can continue to use on behalf of your animal friends. Way to go!
Earthlings is a shattering documentary that depicts the war mankind wages on animals of all species; Michael Pollan's Dominion: The Power of Man, the Suffering of Animals, and the Call to Mercy is an equally powerful book. To learn what we're doing to billions of animals grown to feed humans, consider the films Death on a Factory Farm, Glass Walls, or read Jonathan Saffren Foer's Eating Animals. There are hundreds of resources for those ready to peer behind the veil.
It took me many years to understand that human beings have enslaved animals for our selfish purposes. Think food and entertainment -- racing, petting zoos, dog fighting, circuses. It took even more years to learn that animals are used for cruel and unnecessary product testing and contained, in the form of by-products, in thousands upon thousands of personal and home care products. The animals need for us to know the truth.
Every Sunday at noon at Catskill Animal Sanctuary, I give a two-hour tour. If you're in our region (we're just 90 miles from Manhattan in the mid-Hudson Valley), I hope you'll join us, for while I can encourage you that extending your circle of compassion to animals you've never met is the most meaningful way to offer your help, there's nothing quite like a scratchy cow kiss or the soft nudge of a pig snout on your cheek to seal the deal.