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What About the Animals?

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Times are tough. No doubt about it. As the financial crises deepens, everyone's looking to blame someone, and there's plenty of blame to go around -- the politicians, the bankers, the consumers who borrowed and bought beyond their means. But there's a very large and important part of our population that deserves no blame, yet will feel plenty of pain: the hundreds of thousands of pets who will be abandoned because people can't afford them; the millions of pets in shelters who won't be able to find loving homes.

Pets deserve every bit of love and attention and assistance we can give them. Because almost every pet returns that love unconditionally -- whether it's a dog happily licking your face when you return home from a grueling day, or a cat curling into your arms and purring reassuringly when you're feeling down, or a bird cheerfully chirping to drown out the gloom of the nightly news.

Pets are my passion. I was formerly CEO of the Meow Mix Company and am currently Top Cat at Zootoo.com, an online community of passionate pet lovers. Supporting animal shelters is my way of channeling my passion in a meaningful way to help the largest number of pets.

Do you know where your local animal shelter is? If so, you're in the minority. 70% of Americans have no idea because in many communities across the country, the shelter is on the wrong side of the tracks, out by the airport, next to the city dump. Out of sight, out of mind.

But not out of my mind. And hopefully, not out of yours. There are so many ways people can be helpful to shelters, ways that don't involve writing a check at a time when that can be a very painful exercise. For example, every community wants their schools to teach social responsibility and good citizenship. Shelters are desperate for volunteers to walk and play with the animals, to help clean and groom the pets. What better way for children to learn the values of charity and responsibility and kindness? Scouts, church groups, senior centers -- every community organization should be encouraged to pitch in.

Shelters are homes for animals, and they need many of the same things your home needs: food, cleaning and office supplies, paint and furniture, landscaping, and so on. If every local merchant or service provider were encouraged to donate even a little, it would quickly add up.

Every bit of community involvement helps. At Zootoo.com, we sponsor an annual Pet Shelter Makeover contest. Last year, over 1000 shelters participated, and just the increased visibility led to significant gains in volunteers, contributions, and most important, adoptions.

If you have ideas about how to help, I'd love to hear them. I promise to talk about the best ones in future blogs. Because we have to help the animals!

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