11/06/2011 10:51 am ET | Updated Jan 06, 2012

Making A Difference: The World of Giving -- National Animal Shelter Appreciation Week

Animal shelters are an important part of any community. This year, November 6 - 11, is National Animal Shelter Appreciation Week. It started in 1996 based on a great idea from the Capital Humane Society located in Lincoln Nebraska and now has gone national always occurring during the first full week of November. The National Animal Shelter Appreciation week has a twofold focus. First, it is dedicated to promoting and acknowledging the valuable role animal shelters have in our communities. Second is its focus to raise the public's awareness of animal welfare issues as well as the services provided by animal shelters.

The Humane Society of the United States does amazing work especially in parts of the United States that have displaced animals due to natural disasters. Nowadays, however, their work goes further due to the economy and its impact. Many people have had to let their animals go often turning them into a shelter or in some cases, simply releasing them into the world because they do not have the financial resources to keep them. This is where animal shelters and rescues can be of immense value.

The Espanola Valley Humane Society located in New Mexico just north of Santa Fe has a mission, " improve the quality of life of companion animals in the Espanola Valley." Their goal is to find every dog and cat in their care a "happy and loving home." And no one is turned away or judged for the decisions they have to make.

The Huron Humane Society located in northeastern Michigan offers a variety of services to its animals including full veterinary services for all the animals in their care. They make sure the animals are checked out and healthy especially before adoption which is the animal service of which most of us are aware. As you might suspect, it is important to find loving homes for animals. Some say it is a critical component of their care. When you think about getting (or giving) a pet to someone check out your local humane or animal shelter first. Check out the The Shelter Pet Project / Adopt a Pet website. It was created as an effort to help place homeless and stray animals. Their mission as the website tagline says is, "A person is the best thing to happen to a shelter pet. Be that person." They are connected to animals located in thousands of animal shelters and rescue facilities throughout the country many of which offer temporary placement until a new family is found for the animal.

The Santa Fe Animal Shelter and Humane Society accepts more than 10,000 lost, stray, injured or abandoned animals each year relying for the majority of their funding from private donors such as individual, companies and foundation. They offer humane education programs through local schools teaching children how to respect and car for all living creatures. As their website states, "...we work for change in the lives of our companion animals and to end the suffering of all animals."

Spaying and neutering is another issue in the animal world. According to the website, "The Humane Society of the United States is committed to supporting efforts to reduce the population of stray and unwanted companion animals." Overpopulation of animals, especially stray dogs and cats, can be reduced if they are spayed or neutered.

PAWS Chicago - Pets Are Worth Saving - was founded in 1997. At that time, more than 800 homeless dogs and cats were being killed every week in Chicago. In that year, 42,561 deaths occurred. PAWS Chicago was founded to raise awareness of this practice and stop it through high profile events and public awareness campaigns. Since 1997 the number of "kills" has dropped by 50% but as they say, there is much work still to be done.

Many reading this will ask how they can help? Here are five (5) recommendations and tips you can do that will Make A Difference (M.A.D.):

1. Consider adopting an animal from an animal shelter or humane society facility. A simple search on the Internet with the words "animal shelter" plus the geographic area will usually take you directly to options available in your area.
2. Consider becoming a volunteer at an animal shelter. If you have a love for animals but either your lifestyle or your living situation does not allow you to have a pet of your own, become a volunteer at an animal shelter or humane society. They always need people to walk the dogs and pet the cats to name a few things almost anyone could provide
3. Make a financial donation to an animal shelter. They are always in need of funding to keep the animals in their care safe.
4. Have your animal spayed or neutered to reduce the unwanted animal population.
5. Take up a "pet food" drive for your local animal shelter. Ask the local animal shelter what it needs then work with your friends, family, neighbors, colleagues and others to secure what is needed.

Bonus Tip: Take a senior citizen with you to the animal shelter; see how their faces light up at the idea of spending a day helping the animals.

There are many ways to help the animals in our community. One of the best is by working with your local animal shelter or humane society. Through becoming a volunteer, donor, board member or simply an advocate, you will be helping some of those in your community who are the most vulnerable. Animals can often be overlooked in the stress and busy-ness of our daily lives. Take a moment to remember the animals. Then determine how your plan of action. Whatever it is, you will be Making A Difference (M.A.D)! What will you do to be M.A.D. for the animals in your community?