04/24/2013 01:57 pm ET | Updated Jun 24, 2013

Paw It Forward: Getting Pets Involved in Acts of Kindness

As I sat down to write this, I realized that Monday marks one week since the attack at the Boston Marathon, and my head spun a bit at how quickly everything unfolded in just seven days.

Amid the fear, confusion, disbelief and sadness that the events of last week created, the heart of the story revealed the bravery, kindness and compassion total strangers have for one another, and proved that nothing -- no matter how sinister or violent -- can destroy the fundamental goodness of people (and pets!).

Not more than a day or two after the bombings, specially trained therapy dogs from Lutheran Church Charities arrived in Boston to help comfort residents and relieve stress. These same dogs served the people of Newtown after the Sandy Hook Elementary school shooting, and they came to do what dogs do best: provide a soft muzzle and a silent shelter from the horrors we humans inflict on one another.

It is no coincidence that pets have become part of our national healing process; how many of us buried our faces in fur while watching the news unfold from our sofas? With that in mind, I got to thinking about how we pet parents can share our pets for others' benefit -- how we can, in our own small way, help others heal. You may not have a Certified Therapy Cat or Canine Good Citizen, but you and your pet can do a few simple things to help make the world just a little bit kinder.

Create Connections
Don't wait for a national tragedy to notice the people around you. Get out from behind Facebook and enjoy some face time with your neighbors, friends and family. Pets are the ultimate ice-breaker; know a friend who has been feeling down? Invite him to come along for a romp in the dog park. Have an elderly neighbor who keeps to herself? Bring your kitty over for a visit. Does one of your children seem especially upset by last week's events? Encourage him to write down his feelings and read them to the dog. It may sound silly, but spilling secrets to a pet can be easier than a parent -- after all, pets never judge!

Give Blood
When tragedies strike, many people turn to the Red Cross to donate blood. Did you know there are also veterinary blood banks for animals who are critically injured or ill? Usually associated with a University Veterinary Teaching Hospital, companion animal blood banks help save the lives of pets the way human blood banks provide the gift of life to people in an emergency. There aren't many risks associated with donating, but pets must meet specific requirements around their health status, weight, size, age, etc., and these specifications vary slightly between the banks. The demand for animal blood products has risen significantly in recent years due to advancements in veterinary medicine and the range of treatments now available. Next time you give blood, consider setting your pet up with an appointment to donate, too.

Get Involved
Whether raising funds for diabetes research or canine cancer, many charity walks now offer pet registration. If you really want to make a difference, why not pair up with your pet and collect donations for a cause you believe in? Better yet, join forces with some friends and their pets and form a walking team. Together, you can help make life a little better one step at a time.

Share the Love
Something as simple as a cute pet photo, or funny video, can go a long way toward brightening someone's day. Take some pics of your pets and post, post, post. Not only will you get a kick out of every "like" and "share" your pet gets, but interacting with your extended circle on social media can help lift everyone's spirits. And -- as in the case of Internet celebu-pet Lentil -- you never know when your mutt's mug might inspire something truly meaningful.

While these suggestions won't solve political problems, or heal everyone's pain, they can empower you to create whatever good you can in an increasingly uncertain world. As our thoughts stay with those affected by the bombings in Boston, responding to hate with love may be the best way to pay tribute to them -- and our best bet for a better future.

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