Resource Guide

Who This Guide is For

This guide is for shelter and rescue professionals, volunteers, and advocates —anyone who is working to help homeless dogs and the heroes who fight for them. We hope it will provide ideas and inspiration to help save even more lives.

Why We Created This Guide

Several times a year we travel on ‘shelter tours’ to visit shelters and rescues in our southern states to learn more and build our network. Through these tours and our shelter/rescue liaisons, we learn about new ideas for fundraising, volunteer and foster
programs, shelter protocols, enrichment tools, community engagement, advocacy, and so many other ways shelters and rescues are saving lives.

We have volunteers with extensive experience in nonprofits who research and gather grant opportunities, donation programs, and other organizations offering assistance for shelters and rescues.

This guide puts all of that knowledge and information in one place easily accessible for shelters/rescue professionals, volunteers, and advocates, giving them more tools to save lives.

NOTE: Note this is a “living” document. New ideas and programs will be added and on the website in real time. If you have a great idea that isn’t already here—please share it with us!

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Advocacy for Change for Homeless Dogs in your Community

Here are just a few strategies to engage local elected officials for change in your community. Provide this information on your website if you can. Better yet, start an animal advocacy group in your community and engage your community.

Basic Three Steps – Research, Educate, and Propose

Research – Research the problem. Is it lack of an animal shelter? A poorly run existing shelter? An underfunded municipal shelter? Find out what the problem(s) are. Be armed with facts and figures. Do your homework. Research the laws. So many of them are old and outdated. What is the local ordinance for shelter for dogs kept outside? What are the leash laws? Are animal abusers being prosecuted? Perhaps an education program is needed that prevention is better than cure for heartworm monthly preventatives. Encourage accountability.

Educate – Invite a local elected official to coffee to discuss the situation. Local elected officials could be the sheriff or county commissioners.

Discuss the problems. For example – strays, lack of a safe environment for children because of strays, safety issues for drivers with strays, abuse of strays is unhealthy for the animal and those who do it are not safe for the community. Show community support for change.

Propose Solution(s) – Involve others. Have more than one proposal. Insist on better use of your taxpayer dollars. Show the positive impact to the local community if strays are humanely housed and adopted.  Euthanasia is not the answer. Preventing more strays and proper care of pets is. Identifying a problem is quite easy to do.  Deciding to be part of the solution makes change much more possible.

So many of the problems are because of lack of affordable and accessible spay and neuter. “Clear the shelter” programs are proven to be adversely effective as many of the dogs become street dogs. Strays will continue to have unwanted puppies. Encourage the community to fence their dogs.

Just get started. Even starting with one small change can be the impetus for more change. For more information on how to successfully advocate for change, see

FREE resources for animal advocates – No need to reinvent the wheel.

Become an Animal Advocate

  1. Inform yourself. The first step to becoming an animal advocate is to get informed. Research animal welfare issues that affect the area you live in and choose one or two to support. These issues may include overpopulation, sterilization, feral cats, dog fighting, neglect and abuse or access to veterinary care. In addition, be sure to investigate the state and federal laws that affect the issues you are most interested in supporting. The Humane Society offers abundant information on animal welfare legislation.
  2. Get to know local organizations. Next, get to know any local organizations that work towards the cause of your choice. Reach out to such organizations. Call or email them and if possible, visit their headquarters. Find out how they work, what kind of support they need and how you can get involved.
  3. Volunteer. One of the best ways to get to know the needs of your community is to do some hands-on work at your local animal shelter or humane society. Sign up as a volunteer. Not only will you gain a better understanding of the issues and challenges you want to support, you’ll gain valuable experience that could help you become a paid advocate later on.
  4. Organize fundraisers. You can help raise funds for your cause by organizing a fundraiser. It could be as simple as a community bake sale or you could organize something more complex, such as a walk-a-thon.
  5. Spread the word. There are hundreds of ways to spread the word about your cause. You can post updates on your social media pages or create a dedicated social media account or blog to keep your community up to date. You can also volunteer to speak at community events, schools or libraries. Keeping literature related to your cause is another way to help spread the word and inform others about what they can do to help.

Here is our interview with Candas Bennett, a passionate and successful advocate for animals in south Georgia:

Community Outreach and Education

We envision a future where animal shelters are viewed as a community resource and are supported as such. Successful shelters work to help their community see them as belonging to the entire community. They set hours to make it easy for the public to be a part of the shelter’s work, engaging them as volunteers, and offering assistance with training issues, financial struggles, and any problems that could lead to an owner-surrendered animal.

Find ways to invite the public into your building for positive reasons and if you can’t get the public to come in, go to them.

Actively Recruit Volunteers

A strong volunteer program is critical to the success of any shelter. Many volunteers want to help walk dogs, or play with pups and kittens. Have a list ready for age-appropriate and skill-appropriate tasks for anyone who wants to volunteer, where the volunteer feels appreciated and the shelter gets its needs met. Some examples:

  • Youngsters can put the food enrichment items together. (The dogs don’t care if it doesn’t look pretty.)
  • Senior citizens can sit in an office and help socialize pups and kittens with just their presence (and not being knocked down.)

Refer to WWLDO’s Volunteer Programs and Practices for more information.

Ask for Help From Girls on the Run

Girls on the Run is a wonderful nonprofit that inspires girls to be leaders and to follow their dreams. Members are inspired to get involved in their communities and make a difference. Find out if there’s a local chapter near your shelter and then reach out to let them know how they can partner with the shelter to help homeless animals.

Back to School Giveaway

For shelters that run thrift shops a Back-to-School Giveaway is a great way to serve the community while making room for new stock in the shop.

Build Walking Trails or a Dog Park

If the shelter property has space adding walking trails or a dog park can be a wonderful way to attract visitors to the shelter. The shelter could invite the community to bring their dogs to puppy socialization or basic training and agility classes in the dog park. Anderson County P.A.W.S., SC, built a large paw-shaped dog park equipped with an amphitheater, and play areas, with plans to organize fun activities with dogs. Members of the public are also invited to take shelter dogs out for fun playdates in the park.

Cheatham County Animal Control overhauled its hiking trails by painting rocks and adding storyboards along the trails. Members of the public can use the trails for free as long as they take a shelter dog along for a walk. It’s been a huge success with members of the community coming to the shelter to walk the dogs three or four times a day. This is making a huge difference to the health and well-being of the dogs.

Contact Local Scout Leaders

Contact your local troop leaders and list your shelter as a place to earn service badges or potential Eagle scout projects. Have a ready list of how these groups can help your shelter like setting up a Free Little Library, making toys, collecting donations, building cat perches or Kuranda beds. Invite potential Eagle Scouts to take on a project for the shelter – building a story walk, a cattery, a garden, or other larger project.

Connect With a High School Photography Club

Invite members of the local high school photography club to your shelter to practice their skills. Who wouldn’t want to take pictures of the adorable dogs? Ask the students to share their pictures with you. Give them a tour or a short overview of your shelter. You can also ask if any of the students would like to volunteer to photograph dogs for posting on Petfinder and social media or for fundraiser photo shoots.

Expand Shelter Hours

The more flexible a shelter’s hours of operation the more people can visit and potentially adopt dogs. Expanding the hours to include evenings and weekends will make it easier for the public to visit and become engaged in their local shelter. Don’t be discouraged if you don’t see an increase in visitors and adoptions straight away. Over time, though, the expanded hours will start to pay off.

Find Creative Ways to Celebrate Anniversaries

Inviting the local community to celebrate shelter anniversaries is a great way to gain support for shelter animals. Many shelters do this by waiving or reducing adoption fees for a set amount of time in honor of a particular milestone. The Animal Harbor shelter, TN celebrated its 20th Anniversary by delivering 20 animal-welfare-related books to a local middle school. In addition to giving back to the community, the shelter hopes to influence local youth to be good stewards of animals. The shelter also published a 20th-anniversary informative graphic on its website’s Home Page, providing a quick look at major milestones.

Get Educated About the Local Pet Community

Spaying and neutering are the best ways to prevent pet overpopulation and relieve the pressure on overcrowded shelters and rescues. Education plays a big role in getting this done. A great first step is to understand why local pet owners don’t want to have their pets fixed. One great way of doing this is to post a Q&A on social media to get honest feedback from the public. Any myths surrounding spaying and neutering can be addressed in follow-up posts.

Get Help From Local Veterinarians

Reach out to local veterinarians to see if they would ask clients to donate boxes of flea and tick preventatives to benefit shelter animals.Pet owners understand the importance of preventatives for their own companions and this makes it easy for them to contribute to the health of homeless animals. The hospitals can then hold the supplies for the shelter to pick up.

Hold a Walk a Shelter Dog Day

Advertise a day when people can visit your shelter and walk dogs. Make it a regular event and people will enjoy showing up and spending time with the dogs. Even if some people only have 15 minutes to spare, a 15-minute walk is better than no walk. Promote the event by posting photos of people hanging out with the shelter dogs on social media.

Host Children’s Programs

Offering a free children’s program (or any-age program) in the community at a library, church, rec center, or other gathering place, is a way for a shelter to give back. Maddie’s Fund offers Maddie’s Tail Wag, a collection of activities and coloring pages for kids in two different age categories: 6 and under and kids 7 through 10. While youngsters work on basics like shapes, colors, and numbers, Maddie and her cartoon friends help teach empathy and the benefits of animal companionship.

The books are available in English and Spanish and are free for animal welfare organizations and shelters. These booklets make a great addition to any humane education program. Hosting this program at the shelter provides an opportunity to show the public what is happening in the shelter, introduce them to adoptable dogs, and change the narrative. You can access WWLDO’s complete Kids 4 Paws program here.

Host a Pet Wellness and Awareness Day

A Pet Wellness and Awareness Day is a wonderful opportunity to serve the pet-owning community. Invite local pet businesses to set up booths at the event. Offer free or reduced vaccines and microchips and distribute free pet food to those in need. Partner with a local groomer to conduct workshops on nail-trimming and a trainer to offer introduction to agility or basic training classes. Invite the local radio station and other businesses to sponsor the event and/or join you to host. Be sure to promote the event on social media a few weeks in advance and ask followers to like and share.

Host a Picnic With Pooches Event

Invite the community and their well-behaved dogs to enjoy a Picnic with Pooches on the grounds of the shelter. The event can feature food, vendors, and dog obedience and agility demonstrations. Enlist volunteers to bring shelter dogs to the picnic and to help educate the public about shelter programs and how they can help homeless animals. Consider hosting a silent auction during the picnic as a way to raise funds and ask guests to bring donations of pet food and supplies for the shelter animals.

Introduce Staff and Volunteers to the Community

Social media offers a wonderful opportunity to introduce shelter staff, volunteers, and board members to supporters. A great way to do this is to post a collage of shelter staff and volunteers with their dogs. This can be followed with individual posts of each member and what inspired him/her to get involved with the shelter. It’s a great way to showcase the dedication of the shelter team and inspire others to get involved.

Make Connections at The Local Thrift Store

If your shelter isn’t lucky enough to have a dedicated thrift shop, but there is a charity shop in the community reach out and make a connection. Many thrift shops sponsor several local nonprofits and may be happy to add homeless animals to their list.  Be sure to ask if the shop gets donations of blankets or towels that aren’t suitable for sale in the shop but could be put to great use at the shelter.

Make the Shelter Easy to Find

Animal shelters are often hidden behind municipal buildings and are out of sight out of mind.  Posting bright colorful shelter signs around the neighborhood will remind people that animals need homes. Be sure the signs include the address and visiting hours.

Make the Shelter Inviting

The shelter needs to be a welcoming place to encourage people to visit meet the animals and participate in activities. Consider painting bright murals in the lobby. Make sure visitors are greeted and welcomed by happy friendly staff members or volunteers. It also helps to have a friendly dog greeter at the entrance.

Offer Pack Walks

Invite members of the public to take shelter dogs on group walks in the local park. Some shelters allow visitors to transport dogs in their own vehicles while others take the dogs in shelter vans and meet the volunteers in the park. These walks can be held on a regular basis and promoted on social media with catchy titles such as A Walk in the Park with Shelter Dogs or Sundays in the Park with Shelter Dogs. Be sure to assign a knowledgeable group leader to teach safety rules and monitor the walks. These outings give the dogs a welcome break from the shelter while offering wonderful exposure to potential adopters.

Organize School Visits

Contact local school principals and offer to bring a shelter pup or two to an assembly. Provide the principal with your contact information, shelter history, and what you plan to share with the students. Your presentation can help educate students about the important work that takes place at the shelter. Discuss how rescue dogs make wonderful loving companions and that many work as comfort dogs, service dogs, and police dogs. Talk about the importance of spaying/neutering and the commitment involved in caring for an animal companion.

Come prepared with your shelter wish list in case anyone asks. Invite adults and families to visit or volunteer at the shelter. If you can’t spare shelter staff to conduct these presentations ask a volunteer or two to represent the shelter.

Participate in Career Day

Career Days are held in elementary, middle, and high schools and offer a wonderful opportunity to teach students about careers helping animals. Taking along a shelter dog or an adopted dog is a great way to teach children about safety around dogs and the importance of adopting shelter animals.

Participate in Parades

If your town holds a parade of any kind, enter the shelter! It can be as simple as creating a banner (they are relatively inexpensive on Vistaprint) and walking dogs on leashes. Or you can engage volunteers and staff to build a float or decorate an Animal Control officer’s vehicle. Hand out information about the shelter and/or Animal care flyers.

Partner with Home Depot

Employees and customers at your local Home Depot can help in collecting much-needed items for shelter animals. Some stores have donated dog beds while others have held two-week Dog Days of Summer drives to benefit the local animal shelter. It’s worth reaching out to let your local store know what the shelter needs and how it can help.

Partner with Local Middle Schools

Students in Middle Schools are required to do Community Service hours. Invite students to the shelter and encourage them to volunteer by running blanket or dog toy drives and other fundraisers to help the animals. The Helping Shelter Pets Club at Dixon Middle School, NC visited the Onslow County Services shelter to learn about responsible pet ownership and spent time getting to know the dogs.

Post Flyers Around the Community

When the local community learns about the importance of the work you do, they will be more inclined to volunteer and/or donate. Posting flyers about your organization and your wonderful work is a great way to spread the word. The flyers can be posted in local veterinary hospitals, coffee shops, groomers, pet stores, doggy daycares, and in the library.

Promote School Letter-Writing Campaigns

Partner with a local school to organize a letter-writing campaign. For example, a second-grade teacher and volunteer at Richmond Animal Care and Control in Virginia gave her students an assignment of writing profiles for hard-to-adopt shelter dogs. The students’ colorful drawings and letters were pinned on the dogs’ kennels and before long 21 of the 24 of the longest residents had found their forever homes. The Friends of Daviess County Animal Care and Control posted a collage of their longest residents on social media. Alongside each image they posted a kid’s drawing and sweet note about the dog. Seeing how much kids care about the animals is a great way to tug at the heartstrings of potential adopters and hopefully lead to a loving home for dogs in need.

Provide Free or Low-Cost Dog Training Classes

Animal welfare experts say that the number one reason dogs are surrendered to shelters is financial hardship. The second reason is behavioral issues. Shelters can help keep dogs at home with their families by offering free or low-cost training classes. Shelter professionals likely know an awful lot about training dogs and are in a great position to offer either free or low-cost basic obedience classes. If staff doesn’t have the time, consider inviting a trainer to come to the shelter to teach classes. Pet parents would also enjoy introducing their dogs to the sport of agility or teaching them new tricks. This provides enrichment for dogs and brings people to the shelter.  

Reach out to Professional Artists

Ask a local professional artist to donate time to draw portraits of some of the dogs for adoption. This is a great opportunity to highlight the hard-to-adopt dogs. The drawings will offer forever memories to the families who open their hearts and homes to these pets.

Read for the Animals Read-A-Thon

Partner with the local children’s librarian to run a fundraising read-a-thon. The Butler County Animal Shelter in Kentucky partnered with the local library in March to run a Read for the Animals Read-a-Thon in honor of Dr. Seuss’s birthday. Children were encouraged to ask friends and family to sponsor them for each page they read or to donate to benefit shelter animals. In addition to raising funds, this is a wonderful way to get children involved in helping homeless animals.

Recruit Young Volunteers

Check to see if your local elementary school has an animal welfare or Kindness Club. If so, connect with the teacher and invite the kids to organize food drives or make toys, or “Adopt Me” bandanas for the shelter dogs.  A staff member or volunteer can visit the classroom with a shelter dog to thank the kids and remind them about the importance of what they do to help animals.

Run Drive-Up Vaccination Clinics

Invite a local or retired veterinarian to partner with the shelter to host a Drive-Up Vaccination and Microchip Clinic. Offer rabies, DHPP, Bordetella, and microchipping for a reduced fee and promote the event on social media in the weeks leading up to the event. Use this opportunity to hand out literature about the shelter and the need for volunteers and foster families along with other ways people can help.

Run Stuffed Animal Adoptions

This event could be held at a library, store, or any community gathering. Instead of real cats (or dogs) bring stuffed animals available for adoption. Along with each adoption, give the children cardboard carriers, official adoption certificates, a coloring book, and maybe temporary cat-toos. We think this is an awesome opportunity for a dual-purpose fundraiser and a community education event. It’s a great way for the local shelter to engage with the community, teach them about what they do, educate about humane care, raise a little money, and possibly recruit volunteers.

Seek Help From the Credit Union

Many credit unions partner with local nonprofits and host fundraisers to help those in need. Reach out to your local credit union to educate them about the wonderful work being done at the shelter and ask if the bank would help raise funds for homeless animals.

Set Up a Table at College Service-Learning Fairs

Service learning is becoming an important part of the educational experience at colleges nationwide. This type of learning provides students with a wonderful opportunity to help local nonprofits and give back to their communities. By participating in college Service Learning Fairs, shelters can recruit new volunteers while informing the college community about the important work being done to help homeless animals.

Spread Canine Cheer in Nursing Homes

There’s so much research that proves the benefits pets bring to seniors. While residents in most nursing homes and assisted living facilities cannot have an animal companion in their rooms they do enjoy spending time with visiting pets. Every month friendly dogs from the Maury County Animal Services Shelter, TN spread joy to the residents of the Morning Pointe Assisted Living facility in Columbia. Not all nursing homes will allow dog visits but it’s worth reaching out and starting a conversation. Sharing images of dogs interacting with seniors is also a wonderful way of finding loving homes for these sweet pets.

Start a Lending Library

Set up a free little library with books about dogs, cats, pet care, training, etc.  Ask for book donations or magazine donations. Find more information on how to register your library, library ideas and designs at

Start a Pet Pantry

Gather donations of food, crates, collars, harnesses, head collars, treats, and anything else you know people might need to keep their pets in their homes rather than surrender them. Ask local businesses to donate these items. When people come in because they are struggling to keep their pet, allow them to ‘shop’ your pantry (or select the items yourself). Businesses like to help and often shelters get donations of food/crates, etc., that they cannot use. Once you have your pantry up and running, consider writing a press release to gain a little attention for the way the shelter is giving back to the community. Consider recruiting volunteer drivers to drop food off to homes of pet owners who cannot get to the pet pantry.

Tap Into Community Service Hours Programs

Many middle and high schools require community service hours annually.  Contact the principal and PTA to list your shelter as a place to volunteer. Teens can organize food drives, make toys, fill food bowls and stack them for quicker feedings, do shelter laundry, write an article for the school newspaper, or help with shelter social media (they are usually great at this!). There are lots of ways to involve them in shelter work, help them earn community service hours, and educate the next generation at the same time. You could also invite the principal and PTA to visit your shelter.

Teach About Responsible Pet Ownership

Shelters are in a great position to help educate the local community about responsible pet ownership. For example, posting care tips and legal requirements related to pet ownership on social media can result in shares helping to keep people informed and protect animals.

Teach Children How to Safely Interact with Dogs

State Farm Insurance Company strives to educate all family members about safety around pets. The company’s coloring book “Fido! Friend or Foe” teaches children how to safely interact with and care for dogs. Shelters can reach out to their local State Farm agents to ask if they have access to the kids coloring books. The company may be willing to donate a number of copies to the shelter or the shelter could partner with State Farm to distribute copies of the books in local schools.

There are many ways shelters could use these books as tools to help promote the shelter and its messages. For example:

  • Adding shelter stickers to the books before distribution in schools
  • Using the coloring books as part of humane education programs hosted by the shelter
  • Teaching kids that exercising safe practices around dogs helps keep these pets out of shelters and safely at home with their families

In addition to promoting safety around pets, State Farm is one of the few insurance companies that does not have breed restrictions as part of its policies.

Throw a Pawjama Pawty

With kids involved in so many different activities, it’s often difficult for families to visit the shelter during daytime hours. Hosting a “Pawjama Pawty” is a fun way to invite visitors to the shelter during evening hours. Plan the party for a few hours such as from 5 to 8 p.m. and offer snacks along with story time, a photo booth, and a raffle. Encourage participants to bring donations of pet food to enter into a drawing for a dog or cat gift basket. Promote the event on social media and ask followers to register in advance so you can be sure to have enough food on hand.

Visit Local Colleges

Pets are not allowed in dorms on many college campuses and students miss their animal companions. These students will be delighted to welcome shelter dogs onto campus. These trips give the dogs a welcome break from the shelter and expose them to a variety of people. Campus visits are also a great opportunity to educate students about the work the shelter does and may result in new volunteers. For example, students from the University of the South enjoy taking dogs on group walks at the Animal Harbor shelter, TN.

Find resources for more community engagement and education:

AWI offers publications at no cost to teachers, libraries, and animal shelters. They have produced children’s activities and free classroom lesson plans for a select number of these publications, with more to come.

  • Institute for Humane Education IHE’s mission is to empower people of all ages to build a more just, healthy, and peaceful world. Its predecessor organization created a certification program for people wishing to become humane educators and created the field of comprehensive humane education. IHE’s online Humane Education Resource Center includes lesson plans, and a link to invite IHE to visit your school.
  • National Humane Education Society (NHES) NHES offers free humane education programs for schools, churches, clubs, libraries and other venues serving children, provides educational materials and lesson plans.  Go here to request presentations, materials and other resources.

Our mission is to raise awareness and resources for shelter animals and the people who champion them.



Foster programs are great for shelters and for potential adopters.  There is a lot of truth to the saying, “Fostering saves lives.”  For animals who cannot handle the stress of shelters, fostering gives them a chance.  Fostering presents a better picture of who an animal really is, so adoption matches can be more successful.  However, fostering can be hard.  It’s easy for a foster to feel overwhelmed and isolated at home with a challenging dog.  It’s important to help them stay connected to the shelter/rescue and for them to know they are appreciated and supported.  Fostering is a great PR program for any shelter or rescue.  The families who foster will talk about your shelter/rescue and spread the word of the good work you do.  They will become your advocates, your best volunteers, and a source of dedicated supporters.

Following are some tips to help in running a successful foster program:

Celebrate Your Fosters

Keep track of the number of animals placed with each foster home and shine a light on that foster when they reach significant numbers like 10, 25, 50, 100.  Have a volunteer assigned to send congratulations/thank you cards to the foster, maybe give them a gift for each milestone (shelter/rescue sticker, magnet, t-shirt, etc.).  Appreciation is what most people want more than anything else when they volunteer their time.

Encourage Volunteers to be Foster Friends

It’s easy for a foster pet parent to feel overwhelmed, especially if they have a challenging dog in their home.  You can utilize volunteers who are not able to foster by assigning them to a foster as their “buddy”.  The Foster Friend can support the foster by advocating for the dog, checking in with the foster to see if they need anything, acting as a go-between for the foster and the rescue/shelter, helping get the dog to adoption events, and supporting the foster through encouragement, a listening ear, and ideas for solving issues. Foster Friends will help retain fosters and make the experience a better one for all involved.

Highlight a Foster Volunteer Each Month

Choosing a Foster of the Month provides an opportunity to celebrate and honor these volunteers virtually on your social media pages and/or by highlighting them in a newsletter or by creating a tribute on a bulletin board or wall at the shelter.  You can create a questionnaire that you send to the foster with questions like – Why do you foster? What is the most rewarding thing about fostering? Who was your favorite foster dog? Who in the organization inspires you? Etc.

You might also want to acknowledge them with a thank you card from your board and a small gift card for a cup of coffee.

Offer A Foster to Adopt Option

In an attempt to find loving homes for hard-to-place dogs, some shelters offer a Foster to Adopt option. As part of this program at the Redland Rock Pit Abandoned Dog Project, FL adoption fees are waived and potential adopters are invited to take a dog from the selected group home for two weeks to see if he/she is a good fit for the family.

Recruit Foster Respite Volunteers

Foster respite volunteers should be willing to be short-term fosters or babysitters providing a break for long-term fosters who need to travel. If you have a good list of short-term fosters, you won’t incur the expense of boarding when a family vacation or crisis requires you to find a place for a foster dog.  Many people would love to foster but travel a lot or have other reasons they don’t want to commit to a foster full-time.  This is a great way for just about anyone to foster for a day, a week, or an afternoon.

Seek Out Weekend Warrior Fosters

These fosters take shelter dogs into their homes for the weekend. This is a great way to give a dog a break from the shelter while providing shelter staff with valuable feedback about how the dog acted in the home. This helps to find them the perfect forever family.

How to Recruit More Foster Homes

If your shelter or rescue is having trouble recruiting foster families, the following tips may help you find new volunteer caretakers.

• The result of research conducted by Maddie’s Fund shows that the organizations with the biggest foster programs have quick and easy onboarding processes. Shelters and rescues that require things like home, landlord, and veterinarian checks result in much smaller foster programs. Successful foster-based rescues report to Maddie’s Fund that their quick, easy foster care application process helps them to recruit dedicated and compassionate foster parents.

• Word of mouth is one of the most effective ways to recruit new volunteers. Encourage your current foster and volunteer base to reach out to friends and family and let them know that the shelter needs foster caregivers and the positive impact foster homes play in the lives of shelter pets.

• Make sure that visitors to the shelter’s webpage can easily find information about fostering pets. Provide an easy-to-find link to an online foster application form. Maddie’s fund provides a valuable list of best practices when promoting your foster program online.

• Don’t turn away potentially great foster caregivers with unnecessary requirements. For example, only accepting foster applicants with previous breed experience, those who work from home, or those who have fenced-in yards can really limit the number of applicants who qualify for your program.

• Be sure that the importance of foster care in your shelter and rescue is being communicated as often as possible in newsletters, on social media, and in news releases. Highlight pets in foster homes and mention how well they are doing.

• Keep educating your local community about the huge role foster families play in helping shelter pets find new homes. Explain how foster homes help reduce stress levels, encourage pets to become more trusting of humans, expose pets to living in a home making it easier for them to adjust to a new family, and reduce their exposure to germs that may be found in a crowded shelter environment.

The Many Benefits of Fostering Shelter Pets

Fostering a homeless animal is a wonderful way to help shelters when you’re not in a position to adopt. Following are the many benefits of fostering a shelter pet courtesy of the SPCA of Bradley County, TN.

  • Foster pets learn they’re loved and get to experience more about life in a new home.
  • Fostering saves lives by creating much-needed space in the shelter for pets who have no other place to go.
  • Some pets get very stressed in the shelter environment and foster homes offer them a place to relax and stay healthy.
  • Fostering offers flexibility and a temporary way to have a pet in your life.
  • Caring for a foster animal can help you heal after the loss of a pet.
  • Foster pets have a way of bringing smiles and laughter into their foster homes.
  • If you fall in love you always have the option to adopt your foster pet.



This section covers a variety of fundraising ideas – social media fundraising, events, auctions, corporate funding, etc. Grant seeking is covered in the next section. We suggest you start by creating a fundraising plan and deciding which types of fundraising are best suited to your organization.

Fundraising Planning

Here are two good resources for small nonprofits on developing a fundraising plan. They include the main sources of nonprofit funding and the pros and cons of each.

Additional Ideas for Fundraising

Amazon Wishlist Drives

Companies often ask how they can help the local animal shelter. Suggesting that they host an Amazon Wishlist Drive is a great way to get stocked up on shelter supplies. Don’t forget to reach out and thank the company and its staff via social media. Who knows they might become ongoing partners and advocates helping the shelter in its mission to find loving families for homeless pets.

Annual Bone Drop

The annual Bone Drop has proved a successful fundraiser for the Animal Harbor shelter, TN. Supporters can purchase a bone for $100 for a chance to win a first prize of $3,000; a second prize of $1,500; or a third prize of $500. Prizes are awarded contingent upon selling 150 bones. The event is held at the shelter and the bones are dropped from a lift truck onto a large target laid out on the ground. The three bones that land closest to the bullseye are the winners. In addition to raising funds, this can be a fun activity that includes music, food, and training or agility demonstrations.

Aluminum Can Collection

A simple fundraising idea allows donors to help their furry friends and the environment too! Do you drink from aluminum cans? Does your canned soup or pet’s soft food cans have a pop top? They want them! Check out their FB post to try to start your own donation drive.

#pawstocare #donate #recycle #makeadifference

Art for the Animals

Work with a local art studio, art supply shop, or art gallery to host an Art for the Animals fundraising show.  For a $5 donation (cash or check only) participants receive a 5-by-7 art board. They are invited to create artwork on the board and bring it back by a set deadline. All entries will be judged in the show and hung in a silent auction for three weeks. Create categories for amateur and professional artists. Host a gallery opening and a closing events where winners can pick up their prizes.

Buy Pavers

Personalize a 4 inch by 8 inch brick in a commemorative walkway for $x. Wish List

Wish List makes it easy. Shelters and rescues now have the ability to curate a list of items from Chewy’s vast assortment that they need—anything from kibble and litter to more specialized things like bottles and formula for newborn kittens. Then, patrons shop from that exact list, created by the shelter or rescue, and Chewy will deliver those products right to their front door. It is a direct line to local pet-saving superheroes, giving patrons the chance to make a difference by sending their way just the right supplies at the just right time.

Donate Pet Supplies Directly to Animal Shelters and Rescues With Chewy’s Wish List | BeChewy

Coffee with a Cop

Invite local law enforcement and members of the community to Coffee with a Cop to discuss local issues – including animal welfare – and to get to know one another. Provide or ask local businesses to donate coffee and donuts. Promote the event on social media and suggest that attendees make a small donation to the shelter. Ask for volunteers to share information with visitors about the shelter. Inviting local leaders to join in community chats at the shelter is a great way to get exposure for shelter pets.

Community Donation Boxes

Invite volunteers to create eye-catching donation boxes and place them in busy local stores that get lots of foot traffic. In larger stores you can post a sign on the strategically placed boxes asking the public to remember shelter pets when they do their shopping. You might want to include a wish list to help them select pet food, accessories or cleaning products used at the shelter. Donation jars set beside the cash register in smaller stores such as delis, pharmacies, or gas stations can prompt shoppers to drop in extra change to help homeless animals. You can also set up boxes and jars at local groomers, doggy daycares, and animal hospitals where you’re sure to grab the attention of fellow animal lovers.

Community Foundation of Middle Tennessee

The Community Foundation of Middle Tennessee is a local nonprofit working to bring good people and good causes together by ensuring the excellent stewardship of lasting charitable funds and the wise investment of grants made in 43 counties we serve in middle Tennessee and parts of Kentucky. See:

The Big Payback is their annual 24-hour online giving event which happens in early May.  To view eligibility information, click here:

Note:  Although only charities in middle TN are eligible, it’s included here due to the number of TN visited shelters.  You may want to research your state for similar organizations and opportunities for donations. 

Corporate Matching Gifts

This fundraising campaign is a time-saver because many companies already offer corporate matching gift programs.  With corporate matching gifts, when an employee makes a donation, they ask their company to make an equal or greater donation.

Some companies match the amount at a 1:1 ratio, but some go above and beyond, offering a 2:1 or 3:1 match.  Some of the legwork is already done, but you’ll still need to mobilize your community members.  Reach out via social media, email, or phone and ask them to donate and then submit a match request to their employer.  This is a great way to raise a lot of money without asking your supporters to dig deeper into their own pockets.

Corporate Sponsors

Form letter below requesting sponsorship – personalize and make it your own!

We love to partner with corporate sponsors that want to have a presence helping in the local community.  Working with the (Shelter Name) will not only promote your business to a diverse audience of animal lovers, it will help bring about a more compassionate community for your family, colleagues, and neighbors.

Creating a corporate partnership program with us demonstrates your brand’s commitment to a world without animal cruelty, where all companion animals find permanent homes and to making the world a better place.  Philosophically, every company wants to be a good corporate citizen.  Engaging with us turns your desire into action.

Working together, we can develop a strategic win/win program addressing our mutual goals. 

Sponsorship levels (detail here amounts to give corporation a choice.)

Let’s talk about creating a meaningful corporate partnership with the (shelter name) to meet your business and philanthropic goals.  Join us as a sponsor by contacting (contact name, phone, email).


(Shelter Contact Name, Phone, Email)

CrappyEx Fundraiser

Since Valentine’s Day isn’t a celebration for everyone the Lee County Humane Society in Auburn County, Ala ran a clever fundraiser for those who have been hurt by love. The shelter ran a CrappyEx Fundraiser. In return for a $5 donation the staff wrote the name of a sponsor’s crappy ex on litterbox liners making sure the name would be dumped or peed on. The campaign proved extremely popular.

Create Shelter Decals

Engage a creative person to design a magnetic or vinyl decal with your shelter logo. Advertise on social media and make them available online or at the shelter for a donation. They can also be given away at events in return for a small donation. The decals are a great way to promote your shelter and animal adoption in the community.

Critters and Crafts Festival

Organize a Critters and Crafts Festival in the local park with all vendor fees benefiting the shelter. In addition to raising funds, this is a great way to educate the community about the work of the shelter. It’s also a wonderful opportunity to bring along shelter dogs and introduce them to potential adopters.

CUDDLY Fundraising Platform and Wish List

CUDDLY is a for-profit company with a mission to save and bring joy to animals by directly supporting animal welfare nonprofit organizations worldwide. The CUDDLY platform enables animal welfare organizations to create product wish lists and fundraising campaigns. Each rescue or shelter is paired with a dedicated Fundraising Consultant. CUDDLY has over 3000 rescues in their network and a donor base of over 250,000.

Dog Beauty Pageant

Invite locals to enter their dog in a ‘beauty’ pageant with categories like most glamorous, best nose, best ears, most talented, etc.  Visit the Barking Beauty Pageant for ideas and their guide to running one or create your own.  Charge entry fees, look for sponsors who will donate to cover costs and give prizes.  Choose people’s choice winners by allowing people to vote ($1 per vote).

Doggie Daycare or Boarding

If you have space (or can create a space) offer doggie daycare or boarding for residents as a way to raise funds and create community connections. Doggie daycare or boarding by the hour are great fundraising opportunities for shelters located in or near tourist destinations. These services are easy additions as the shelter already has qualified animal caregivers and staff onsite.

Dog Kennel Sponsorship

A unique opportunity for a corporate sponsor to market their business is an annual dog kennel sponsorship.  Their company logo will adorn a dog kennel for tens of thousands of visitors to see throughout the year.

For the dogs that come through your shelter, being in an adoption kennel is the last step towards finding a loving family.  Corporate sponsorship of a dog kennel will provide the comfort, safe shelter and expert veterinary care that precedes every adoption.   You need to determine the levels of sponsorship and cost to the corporation considering it.

Dog Sponsorships

Encouraging followers to sponsor dogs is a great way to help cover shelter costs. It also provides a way for supporters who can’t adopt or foster to help a dog in need. For example, they could cover the cost of spaying/neutering, vaccinations, heartworm medication or preventatives, or transport fees to get a dog to his/her foster home. Be sure to share on social media when supporters contribute in this way to inspire other followers to do the same.

Dollar Donation Wednesdays

Shelters are always in need of funds to help animals and it’s not easy to keep asking. One great way to make the ask less painful for followers is to run $1 Donation Wednesday campaigns on social media. Shelters with a lot of followers can raise significant funds with this type of drive.

Donate Directly to Vet

To help with ongoing initial vetting, special medical situations etc.  Provide info on your monthly or annual vet bills.

Donuts for No Nuts

Sell donuts in a public space in exchange for a donation for spay/neuter fund.  Ask local donut store to donate donuts.

Facebook Birthday Fundraisers

Ask members of your shelter, followers, donors, friends, family, etc., to consider an online Facebook fundraiser for their birthday instead of gifts. In just a few simple steps, Facebook birthday fundraisers can quickly start reaching friends, raising funds, and getting support for shelter animals. Facebook doesn’t take fees for nonprofit fundraisers so 100 percent of any donations goes to help care for homeless animals.

Family Pet Picture Day

Your local park or a nice indoor setting make great choices for a Family Pet Picture Day. You can charge a nominal fee such as $5 for a pet-only photo or $8 for a group photo. Ask a local professional photographer to donate time to take photos of pets and their families. This is a great way for him/her to support a good cause while gaining exposure in the community. Be sure to promote the shelter’s Family Pet Picture Day on social media and by posting flyers around the neighborhood. And don’t forget to thank the photographer and encourage followers to support that business.

Five Dollar Fridays

Every single donation big or small helps shelters continue caring for animals. Social media campaigns play a vital role in fundraising efforts. The Animal Harbor shelter, TN hosts Five Dollar Fridays encouraging supporters to skip their Friday morning coffee and instead donate the funds to the shelter.

Free Pet ID Tags

The Dog Tag Art company donates pet ID tags to shelters and rescues to help track dogs and promote pet adoption. The company has several options and will work with humane organizations to design tags unique to the shelter or rescue.

Give $5, Grab 5 Friends

This easy fundraiser turns donating into a virtual game of tag over social media. Ask your supporters to donate at least $5 to your cause.  Then, each donor has to tag at least five people via social media, whether it’s their friends, family, or co-workers.  Each person that gets tagged has to match that $5 gift to your campaign and then tag five others.

This idea is extremely scalable.  Experiment with increasing the gift and challenge to $10 and 10 people or $20 and 20 people for a true crowdfunding campaign. Keep in mind that most people won’t have experience asking for donations.  So, help your supporters tag with confidence by creating a compelling message to include with their posts.

Giving Tuesday

Created in 2012 this annual November event is the Tuesday after Thanksgiving. For free toolkits see

Gracie’s Giveback-Supporting Rescues One Toy at a Time

The American Dog company’s Gracie’s Giveback program is dedicated to supporting rescues and shelters around the U.S.  With every purchase of a USA-made dog toy at or one of the company’s retail stores, a quarterly donation is made to support homeless dogs. Shelters and rescues can request donations of toys for upcoming events or the enrichment of shelter dogs by submitting an application form.

Go Hollywood

Go all out in your fundraiser efforts by hosting a Go Hollywood Gala. Invite patrons to attend the event dressed as their favorite movie characters. The gala can also include red carpet photo opportunities, food, music and dancing.

Grounds and Hounds Coffee Company

The Grounds & Hounds Coffee company was created with the mission to provide every at-risk pup with a second chance at a full life. Twenty percent of all Grounds & Hounds profits are deployed to its rescue partners who are working to save animals’ lives. To date the company has provided:

  • More than 24,214 toys to shelter pups
  • 4,200,000 shelter meals to rescue partners
  • 22,250 vaccines provided to dogs in need

You can easily apply online to become a Grounds & Hounds Coffee company partner.

Host a Dog Birthday Party

Hosting birthday parties for dogs and inviting guests to bring pet supplies for donation to the local animal shelter is a fun way to help homeless animals. Shelters can share pictures on social media to encourage others to follow suit. Be sure to post a wishlist that can be easily shared with party guests.

How-To Workshop

Receiving a gift in exchange for a donation is nice, but getting hands-on with a craft can be just as rewarding.  Put together an activity workshop that interests your target supporters.  Charge admission for your groovy tie-dye event, cooking class, or book-binding workshop.

You can easily turn workshops into a virtual event over Facebook Live or Zoom. This event works because it’s adaptable — anyone with a skill to share can lead the class.  You can also reach out to local artists or chefs, like Kitchen Rodeo did for their popular cooking series.  Workshops are a fast and simple way to raise money while having a little DIY fun.

Jordan’s Way

For fundraising support, apply to Jordan’s Way  Founder, Chris, travels to over 300 shelters annually to raise money for them.Named after his since-passed rescue German Shepherd mix, Rotonda formed Jordan’s Way to honor her life, long spent being overlooked inside a shelter, by helping as many other similar cats and dogs as possible. Each month, his team travels to two new states for up to eight days, hosting live Facebook fundraisers. If you receive a visit, you can nominate another rescue to be visited.

Kroger Shoppers Can Help the Shelter

Shelter supporters who shop at Kroger stores can sign up for the Kroger Community Rewards Program and choose the animal shelter as their nonprofit of choice. Kroger will donate a percentage of purchases to the shelter. Shoppers still get to keep their reward points, so the program is a win-win for all involved. Promote this program on social media and be sure to provide the link to make it easier for supporters to follow through.

Kuranda ShelterBeds Donations Program

Kuranda beds provide comfortable, safe resting places for anxious, stressed shelter dogs while living at the shelter. The beds are elevated keeping the dogs off of hard surfaces enabling them to sleep and feel better, which in turn helps them find forever homes. Kuranda beds can be donated by supporters to shelters and rescues at discounted prices. Humane organizations can register on the Kuranda ShelterBeds site to receive donations.

Lemonade Stands

Encouraging young volunteers to set up Lemonade Stands in their local community is a great way to raise funds for local shelters. Allowing the youngsters to organize and run the stand while educating their communities about the local animal shelter is empowering them to make a difference for homeless animals.

Lobby Store

Collect donations of gently used or new pet items and set up a small shop area in your lobby. Could be a book shelf or table or maybe a volunteer would build something clever. Either price the items inexpensively, or offer them in exchange for a donation. This is a great place to utilize the things often donated by the public that aren’t practical for your shelter animal’s use—big plush beds that are impossible to wash, stuffed toys, pet clothing, fancy collars, etc. This is also a great project for a volunteer to take on (maybe teens are too young to handle animals, but they could set up a store!).

Lock the board (or ACO or director or local celebrities) in the Shelter

‘Lock’ people inside empty kennels until a certain amount of money is pledged and/or donated. Publicize via your local news/radio plus social media – stream live if possible. In between pleas from prisoners, feature adoptable dogs, shelter needs, etc.

Memorial or Honorarium

This is a great way to donate and honor a living pet or person, or remember a passed love one.

Mix and Match Holiday Cookie Sale

Invite volunteers who love to bake to whip up batches of their favorite cookies. Then hold a cookie sale either as part of a local event such as at a Farmer’s Market or as an individual event at the shelter. Provide empty boxes for shoppers who prepay and then get to pick and choose from the wide variety of cookies provided by volunteers. Alternatively, shelter volunteers can prepare the cookie boxes in advance and encourage online orders in advance of the holidays. Be sure to offer the necessary alerts regarding food allergies etc.

Newspaper Pets on Parade

Great fundraiser!  For a nominal fee of $5 or $10, pet owners can submit a photo of their pet to the local newspaper for a special annual insert of Pets on Parade. Children can write stories about their pets for submission as well. Often businesses will sponsor the event with paid advertising.

Partner with Automobile Clubs

Automobile clubs nationwide hold shows to benefit local charities including animal shelters. For example, the WV Jeep Club partnered with the Huntington Cabell Wayne Animal Shelter, WV to raise funds for homeless animals. These shows offer a wonderful opportunity to introduce shelter dogs to the community and hand out informational leaflets about shelter programs and how the public can help animals.

Post an Online Sponsor-A-Day Calendar

Once your calendar is posted you can invite supporters to choose a date and then donate the amount of money equal to the date. So, for example, someone choosing the 20th of the month would donate $20 and so on. If each day of the month is sponsored, this fundraiser can raise $496 for the shelter. This can be a once-off campaign or can be repeated multiple times throughout the year.

Organizations with Ongoing Non-Profit Programs

Local store giving to 501(c)(3) government agency.  Complete very basic form to apply.  Donates gift cards from $25 to $500.

Donates to organizations based on shopping by shoppers signed up for Kroger’s Shoppers card.

It was stray dogs who started showing up at Tito’s Handmade Vodka distillery that inspired the company to help animal-focused nonprofits in Austin, TX, and beyond.  Every year the company donates money to animal shelters. Animal nonprofits can request donations online.

Waggle is a nonprofit organization dedicated to keeping companion animals and their families together. The foundation partners with the general public, veterinary providers, rescues, and animal welfare organizations to raise awareness for critical and urgent funding to save the lives of animals in need. Waggles has provided more than one million to its community of 1,000 veterinary hospitals to save 5,000-plus pets who were at risk of falling victim to economic euthanasia. Learn how to become a Waggle Animal Welfare Partner and start raising funds to help homeless animals in need of medial care.

Gives local grants within a store’s community (check with customer service, they likely have an employee in charge of this).  They give grants every year. – Can apply for donation, gift card for product.

Max & Neo – This company donates a product to a shelter or rescue for every product purchased. That means dog lovers can donate to their favorite rescues by just shopping for their pets. Donations are shipped out weekly with the names of recipients posted on the company’s Facebook page.  Animal welfare advocates can reach out to the company to have their organizations added to the recipient list. Max & Neo customers can also ask that their favorite rescues or shelters be added to the list.

Online Auctions

This can be a HUGE fundraiser, especially if you’ve got an active base of supporters who will share and bid.  It’s a great marketing tool for businesses who donate items as everyone who visits your auction page will see their business, not just the person who wins.

Auctions can be done very simply (but it’s a lot of work) for free on your Facebook page.  It might be a way to test the waters – try offering only a few items (5-25) as it can get very confusing very fast if you don’t have solid, clear rules.  Just google “how to run a silent auction on Facebook” and you’ll find lots of directions.

Using a host service will enable you to make much more money.  One rescue raises 50K with their auctions.  There are several services that will host your online auction.  They make it much easier and your only job is to collect donated items.  Ideas for donated items:  gift cards, vacation rentals, baskets of like items (these seem to do really well but require local pickups or expensive shipping), business donations (really great if you can get them to agree to ship to winner), services (dog grooming, training, pet sitting, walking but also people services like nail salons, tax prep, massage, etc.), handmade items, experiences (wine tasting, kayaking trip, etc.)

  • offers an auction service as part of their nonprofit fundraising package
  • is a free service for nonprofit fundraising that can host online events like auctions
  • is a site that hosts auctions.  They have a free auction option that only takes money out if you make money (5%)

There are lots of others; pay attention to the details.  Most offer a free demo.  Ask lots of questions before committing.

Online Yard Sale or Marketplace

The Internet offers lots of online fundraising opportunities. For example, an industrious volunteer or a team of volunteers can create an online event or yard sale to sell donated items. The shelter can designate a pick-up date and place or better still have people come to the shelter to collect and pay for their items. There are a thousand variations on this theme, but the bottom line is that one person’s trash is another’s treasure and the shelter can benefit from the funds raised.

Paint & Sip Parties

Partner with a local brewery, winery, or liquor store and a professional artist or art instructor to host a Paint & Sip Party with partial proceeds benefiting the shelter. The event can be held indoors or outdoors under a pavilion weather permitting. Be sure to emphasize that the event is beginner friendly and all materials will be provided including the canvas. Provide food and beverages for purchase and offer shelter apparel such as T-shirts, hoodies, and baseball caps for sale.

Partner with a Food Truck

Food truck fundraisers are becoming more popular as a way to raise money for nonprofits. In return for donating a percentage of its sales for the day to benefit shelter animals, the food truck gets its name out into the community. Be sure to promote the food truck and the food being served as well as the location on social media in the weeks leading up to the event.

Peer-To-Peer Fundraising Campaigns

Through peer-to-peer fundraising, supporters act as fundraisers on behalf of an organization. These fundraisers create personalized fundraising pages they share with their friends and family, using their passion and their stories to garner support. Peer-to-peer fundraising is also a great donor retention and acquisition strategy. Source:

Penny or Coin Drive

The Nebraska Humane Society recommends this drive as a great community service fundraising idea for youth. With clever names like “Pennies for Paws” or “Dimes for Dogs,” the drives could be held outside community stores. The humane society offers a nice roundup of community service ideas that benefit animals.

Pet Calendar

Start creating the calendar well in advance and begin selling them in December.

You can choose to either photograph animals in your shelter and add facts and quotes that help educate (and then sell them), or you can run a contest for pet owners to submit an entry in order for their pet to be featured (and charge for the submission).  Here are how to create pet calendars:

  • Contact a variety of businesses and see who would allow you to take images at their locations and who would like to sponsor the project.
  • Use your Facebook page to ask who would be interested in having their pet on the calendar.
  • Run a “photo contest” on Facebook for anyone interested in having their pet in the calendar – the 13 photos with the most votes win the opportunity to have a photo session and be in the calendar.
  • Schedule all the photoshoots, take the photos, and edit them.
  • Print the calendars and sell them online.

Pet food and supplies drive in front of local store

Just need some signs about the shelter, items needed and a volunteer on hand to answer questions and raise awareness of the shelter.  Post on social media.  For example:

Highlander pharmacy is having a pet food drive for (Shelter Name)

We are accepting dog food, dog toys and blankets.

Each donation enters you into a raffle that will be given away on (Date)!

Please share and get the word out!

Our hours are (Shelter Hours)

Pet Wash

Set up a ‘pet wash’ similar to a car wash in your shelter parking lot during the hot months. Wash the community’s pets for a donation (or a set fee). If you have a vet tech available, you might also offer nail trims. If attendance is low, bring out the shelter pets for a bath and to draw attention. Make this a regularly scheduled event and people will look for the dates and bring their pets back again and again.

Pictures with Santa (Easter Bunny, Cupid, Etc.)

Any excuse to get people to bring in their pets for a picture in exchange for a donation.  All you need is someone with a good iPhone, although utilizing a local photographer is always a win-win.

Pizza Parties to Benefit Animals

Organize a fundraiser at Anthony’s Coal-Fired Pizza to benefit shelter animals. The process is simple: choose a date, promote the pizza party on social media, and enjoy delicious pizza in good company. The restaurant will donate 20 percent of sales from the event to the shelter. Anthony’s Coal-Fired Pizza has various state locations including many in Florida. If you don’t have an Anthony’s near you, check with other restaurants in your town to see if anyone will help you ‘raise some dough’ for your animals.

Puppies’ Paws and Prints Party

This is a fun event for pet parents in the community and can be hosted in partnership with a local art studio. Depending on the space the Puppies’ Paws and Prints event can be held either at the shelter or the art studio. Typically, the fundraising event is led by a local artist who provides special prints designed especially for the event. Each print has space for participating puppies to add their paw prints using nontoxic paint. Be sure to have baby wipes on hand to clean off paws and surfaces. A percentage of proceeds from the event go towards the care of homeless animals.

Puppy Pooper Bowl 

There are a few variations of this game. For example, at the Annual Puppy Pooper Bowl held by the Great Plains SPCA in Kansas, a total of 441 squares are spread across a 21′ by 21′ field. Supporters purchase squares at different rates: $25 for one, $60 for five, or $100 for a square with a business logo. On the day of the event which is featured on Facebook, puppies are let loose onto the squares. The sponsor of the first square to be hit by puppy poop wins $300 or half the pot, whichever is less. Sponsors of the second square to be dumped on wins a gift basket. A prize is also awarded for the first square to be peed on.

Puppy and Kitten Showers

Along with spring comes a baby boom and it’s a perfect time for shelters to host Puppy and Kitten Showers to ask for donations of food and supplies to help care for the youngest shelter residents. Be sure to post a list of the supplies needed on social media. It’s also important to create a baby shower wish list on Amazon making it easy for supporters to contribute.

Reach Out to High School Honor Societies

Many National Honor Society and Beta Club students conduct Group Service Projects giving back to their communities throughout the year. A member of the shelter staff or the volunteer coordinator can reach out to the Honor Society advisor to invite students to the shelter or ask to visit the school to educate students about what they can do to help shelter animals.

Run a Golf Tournament

Annual golf tournaments are a great way to raise funds for shelter animals. To ensure success it’s best to form a golf tournament committee made up of staff and volunteers. Planning for the event should begin six to nine months in advance of the event.

Secret Santa Campaign

Christmas is the season of love and giving and a great time to launch a Secret Santa Campaign. Organize a team of volunteers who can create wish lists for individual shelter dogs. Then promote the pets on social media and invite supporters to serve as Secret Santas for individual dogs. Foster dogs can also be included in the campaign. Be sure to post lots of fun images of the dogs enjoying their holiday gifts. This is a great way to market the dogs and engage supporters.

Seek Help from Bikers

Members of biker gangs may look tough but many clubs across the country focus on giving back to nonprofit organizations in their communities. Many club members have a soft spot for animals and are happy to help raise funds for the local shelters. For example, the motto of the Punishers LEMC which has chapters nationwide is service to others and that includes animals. Have a staff member or volunteer reach out to the local club president and ask if they would consider raising funds for the animals.

Spring Forward 30-Day Challenge

Annual campaign to raise money for 30 days from April 1 to April 30.

Sponsor Spay/Neuter

You can sponsor a spay/neuter surgery appointment once a month for a recurring donation of $XXX.

Stuff a Pet’s Stocking

In the weeks leading up to Christmas hang holiday stockings on the doors of each kennel and invite supporters to drop dog gifts or treats at the shelter to fill the stockings. Promote the Stuff the Stockings campaign on social media and remind followers that they can order gifts online and have them shipped to the shelter. At the Lee County Humane Society, AL the filled stockings go home with each dog to help him or her celebrate the holidays in a new home.

T-shirt or Other Swag Sale

If you’ve got a good local base of support, creating a t-shirt and selling it can not only raise money but awareness about your work.  Explore the cost of getting them printed (lots of services online) and then find local sponsors to cover the cost (in exchange for having their logo on the shirt).

You can either use your logo and tagline or invite others to create a design. Increase engagement and excitement about the shirts by letting people vote on the finalists using a Facebook.  Or make a little money by having a design contest for the shirt.  Put out a call for entries and then ‘sell’ votes using the donation page on your website or a voting box at your events.

There are many print-on-demand services that let you sell from a page on their site, or from an e-commerce shop on your own site.  Some integrate with Woo Commerce or Etsy among other options.  You can sell all kinds of items from T-shirts to stickers and lots of other items.  Many of these services take care of fulfillment.  There is no inventory for you to maintain and manage.  You just design your items to sell, the service creates your ‘storefront’ (a link you can share), you publicize it and supporters order through the service which creates the items and distributes them.  Other options allow you to design and purchase your shirts in bulk or small batches to be sold in person.  Here are a few options, but there are lots:

  • Cafepress – design your merch and order what you want for in person sales
  • Printify – setup a virtual store to share, design products and set your price. They ship on demand.
  • Redbubble – create designs and upload them to your store.  Print on demand fulfilled by other.
  • Spreadshop – another print on demand service.
  • Teepublic – create a store, design products, and orders will print on demand.
  • Zazzle – design your merchandise and order for in person sales.
  • Bonfire – a print on demand store with the option to run limited campaigns or fundraisers.
  • Local printer – probably the most cost-efficient way to go if you want to do in person sales.  They can often do as many as you want to have on hand. It’s always great to create community connections.

Tail Wagger

A portion of the sales from this specialty drink will go to help our furry friends. Create a Drink.  Find a place to host the event and invite all to partake.

Throw a Summer Pet Party

Connect with a local pet store to host a Pet Summer Party with proceeds benefiting homeless animals. For example, in many locations, Pet Supplies Plus stores host summer parties that include a fundraising dog wash to benefit the local shelter. These events can also include ice cream giveaways for dogs and people, agility games, and raffles. Shelter staff and volunteers can bring along dogs for adoption and set up tables with shelter apparel and informational leaflets.

Valentine’s Smooches for Pooches

Annual Valentine’s Smooches for Pooches adoption events are a great way to raise shelter funds while finding homes for pets. Select a team of volunteers to build a kissing booth and charge a dollar in return for a kiss from a friendly shelter pooch. Some rescue groups host Smooches for Pooches donation campaigns visiting local businesses with kissing booths and friendly shelter dogs in tow. For a donation of $5 or more employees can snuggle and smooch with the dogs while posting Valentine’s pictures on social media helping to promote the dogs.

Valentine’s Tree

Find a (not too tall) tree (or use that fake Christmas tree before you store it for next year) and invite people to purchase “hearts” to hang from it. The pet owner can decorate the hearts and donate to your organization to honor their pets, whether living or deceased.  You can also do this virtually and create the hearts yourself from items that a pet owner sends you. Then you can do a short Facebook live (or feature on other social media) to show the hanging of the heart on the tree. Decorate the tree with hearts, lights, and roses for a Valentine’s Day look.

Warm Bellies Initiative

P.L.A.Y. makes quality dog beds with pets, people, and the planet in mind. Through the company’s Warm Bellies Initiative dog beds are donated to shelters in need. The Warm Bellies Voters’ Choice Poll takes place during the months of March, June, and September. People are welcome to nominate their local shelters by the 15th of each month and then vote for their favorite rescue group daily on Facebook to help them win 20 free beds. Supporters interested in nominating a shelter can email and provide the shelter name, Facebook Page, and contact person along with email and phone number. year. Additionally, in partnership with the Petfinder Foundation, for every bed purchased on the P.L.A.Y website, a bed is donated to a shelter in need.

Wishlist Wednesdays

Using catchy slogans is a great way to get the attention of supporters. For example, some shelters promote Wishlist Wednesdays on social post media alerting followers to the shelter’s most-needed items. Providing links to the shelter or rescue’s Chewy and/or Amazon accounts makes donating easier for patrons.

Each Walk for a Dog with WoofTrax is a chance to earn a donation for your favorite local animal charity and some fund rewards for yourself as well.  Walking your dog is now so much more.

Other ideas – that require little preparation unlike an event:

  • Ask for unused gift cards. According to Credit Summit, nearly $21 billion in gift cards goes unspent. Shelters can reach out to supporters requesting donations of unused gift cards to benefit homeless animals.
  • Coins for Critters – asking elementary schools to collect change for your rescue.
  • Local Middle or High School – with required Community Service hours.  Some school groups make dog toys or will take requests for ways to help.  Dog blanket drive, dog toy drive.  Offer to have students visit your shelter.
  • Giving Tree – at local business, restaurant or school with lots of dog pictures and info about their rescue.  Tree gift tags can have items needed, food, leashes, dog toys, cleaning supplies, etc.  Can be for Thanksgiving or December holidays.
  • Local Restaurants – There are thousands of restaurants both dine-in and fast food – that support local nonprofits including animal shelters. A date is set for the fundraiser that is actively promoted and shared on social media. Supporters enjoy dining at these social events knowing that the restaurant donates a percentage of the sales to benefit animals.
  • Post flyers about your organization in local vet, pet, coffee shop, and libraries.

General Resources and Programs


This section includes information on a wide variety of rescue topics and programs. If you’re looking for best practices, model programs, training opportunities, background information on almost any rescue topic you will find it here.  Websites of the largest animal welfare organizations in the U.S. contain a wealth of information.


Geared to animal welfare professionals.  Includes training, tools and ASPCAPro tips, research and resources on shelter practices.  Free Shelter Medicine Consultations is just one example of the resources they provide.

Amazon Wish List –

This is a gift registry on, where shelters and rescues can set up ‘wishlists’, and supporters can buy needed donations from the list. To set up a list, go to, and hover over Accounts and Lists on the top right-hand side of the page to get the menu. Click on lists and scroll down to ‘Create a list’. The list allows you to include how many of each item you need and its priority. Tips for success with Amazon wishlists:

  • Share your list widely – on Facebook, your website and in other communication with your supporters
  • Review your list regularly and keep it up to date.  Remove items you no longer need and update the number of each item you still need.  For example, if dog food is something you need all the time, make it a “high priority” and update the number needed on a regular basis.  Note:  If the item is purchased, it will be taken off the list.

Animal Grantmakers –

A funder affinity group focused on animal protection that is comprised of a diverse group of foundations, public charities, corporate giving programs, and individuals working throughout the U.S. and globally.  The site includes an animal funding database and resources for grant-seekers.

Best Friends Animal Society –

Founded in 1984, Best Friends is a national leader in the no-kill movement and all aspects of animal care and rescue. The Best Friends Network of public and private shelters, rescue groups, spay/neuter organizations, and other animal welfare groups in all 50 states is the foundation of Best Friend’s collaborative approach. By joining the network, organizations can benefit from professional resources and tools, a network of regional advisors, mentorships, access to support from the entire network through the Network Partner Facebook page, and fundraising events, such as the nationwide Strut Your Mutt, which raises millions of dollars for network partners. To become a partner, read the FAQs, learn about data reporting requirements and fill out an application on the Network partner site

Here are some helpful resources created by Best Friends to assist partner organizations with community engagement and program planning:

  • Community Lifesaving Dashboard: a real-time, data-driven picture of lifesaving in the country’s animal shelters that informs and inspires community members to take local action for pets in need.  Each shelter can provide their animal data and a narrative about the shelter for their own dedicated page within the tool.
  • Gap Analysis Tool: When you input your shelter’s annual data, the tool will analyze it and pinpoint up to five programs that can help you save more lives. The recommendation report provides links to resources and opportunities to start new programs.
  • 2025 Action Team: Created for members of the general public who want to be a part of the solution.  Resources from the website can help you identify advocacy goals for your community (e.g., ending breed-specific legislation), form a team, and learn about strategies and act.  This program has a Facebook page and a Grassroots Advocacy Toolkit.

Funding opportunities for Best Friends Network Partners Best Friends administers The Rachael Ray Foundation’s “Save Them All” and “No-Kill Excellence” grants fund programs designed to reduce the number of cats and dogs killed in shelters.

Dogs Playing for Life (Animal Farm Foundation)

Offers fee-based training and technical assistance through “Shelter Enrichment Seminars” and “Mentorships” to shelter personnel and volunteers to advance skills in handling and training.  The website has a downloadable brochure about the program and a free 120-page training manual.

How I Met My Dog –

Custom matches people with their canine soulmate and assists people with rehoming their dogs, working in partnership with dozens of shelters and rescue groups in 40 states. To become a shelter partner, click on Shelter/Rescue on the homepage.

Humane Pro –

The Humane Society of the United States’ resource website for shelters and community leaders.  It includes tools, resources, training opportunities, and events in the areas of: Laws and Public Policies, Resources by Species, Shelter Operations and Community Outreach.

Kuranda –

Shelter can set up a page with Kuranda which allows people to buy (donate) beds at a reduced cost which are then shipped directly to the shelter. The shelter can choose sizes, colors, etc. for both dogs and cats. It makes it easy for someone to help, whether they are local or in some other state.

Maddie’s Fund

One of the largest animal welfare grant makers, this family foundation is dedicated to building and sustaining a no-kill nation pet lifesaving, shelter management, leadership, shelter medicine education and foster care. Their Resource Section includes information on behavior, training and enrichment, fostering, humane law enforcement & laws, etc.)

Max & Neo –

Distribute boxes three times a year to 501(c)(3) rescues and shelters. Boxes contain Max & Neo products (collars, leashes, supplements, etc.) and organizations can specify which type of items they need (i.e., martingale collars, large collars, short leashes). Simple online application.

Pilots N Paws –

Pilots and Paws links volunteers engaged in rescuing, sheltering and adopting animals, and volunteer pilots and plane owners to arrange animal transportation, including rescue flights, overnight foster care or shelter, and all other related activities. For information and guidelines, go to their website and click on “How to Use PNP” at the top of the page. Note: There are many other national, regional or local volunteer pilot transport programs, both formal and informal.

Red Rover

Helps animals rescued from disasters or neglect, domestic violence victims seeking safety with their pets and animals with life-threatening illnesses. They provide financial assistance to low-income families, emergency sheltering in natural disasters, puppy mills and hoarding and education programs. Red Rovers Readers education program provides educators with a curriculum and other resources to teach children empathy skills. They publish Kind News magazine (ages 8 and up) and Kind News, Jr. is (ages 5 to 7) on animal behavior, issues affecting animals, how to care for pets and how to take action to improve the lives of animals. Go here to subscribe The cost is $10 per year (5 issues) for individuals. Classroom subscriptions are also available.

Rescue Rebuild –

Rescue Rebuild, a program of Greater Good, is a shelter renovation program that recruits volunteers to help shelters in need and provides the expertise and the leadership to help you renovate an existing space or expand the space you have to make it more usable with projects like outdoor play areas, adoption areas, or updating kennel spaces. For a list of projects, they can help with, click on “Apply for a Renovation” on their website. Note: they do not help with new buildings.

Safer at Home with Your Pet – The Animal Harbor Shelter in Tennessee offers an online Safer at Home with Your Pet Education Series. The series includes important information such as how to read your dog’s body language which helps volunteers strengthen their bond with shelter dogs and adopters help rescued dogs settle into their new homes.

The Humane Society of the United States (HSUS)

Runs programs and campaigns designed to ease the burden on local sheltering groups, including the Animal Care Expo, Animal Sheltering magazine, the Pets for Life project to keep pets with their families, the Shelter Pet Project to encourage people to adopt from shelters and rescues, and provides rescue groups with training and resources.

The National Humane Education Society (NHES)

Offers free humane education programs for schools, churches, clubs, libraries and other venues serving children, provides educational materials and lesson plans.

Things you Can Do Right Now to get Resources for your Shelter

  • Set up an Amazon Wishlist or update your current list.
  • Register your organization on Amazon Smile.
  • Join Best Friends Animal Society Network–start connecting on their Facebook page and reach out to your regional representative.
  • Join the Bissell Foundation Partners for Pets Program to be eligible for grants in six months.
  • Apply for a Maddie’s Fund Apprenticeship Program 
  • Apply for a Pedigree Foundation Grant
  • Identify two more funding sources from this list to pursue.
  • Get free educational materials on animal welfare for kids in your community from Red Rover Foundation or National Humane Education Society.
  • Bookmark or subscribe to to hear about new support opportunities as soon as we do and to read stories of other shelters/rescues.  You can also follow us on Facebook ( where we post inspiring graphics (which you should feel free to use for your own media), news of shelter/rescues we support, and great ideas/programs we learn of that can help save more animals.



This is an introduction to grant seeking for animal rescues/shelters. It includes a description of steps in the grant seeking process, items to consider before embarking on grant seeking, tips on preparing a grant request, and additional resources.

An Overview

Grants are awarded by a “grant-maker,” usually a nonprofit foundation. In the animal welfare field, different funding sources are suited to different rescue activities. While individuals are often moved to help individual dogs whose stories and progress they can follow, foundations want to make an impact on the root causes of a problem and support programs that are aligned with their mission. Foundations seek to fund innovative programs and share successful program models with rescues across the animal welfare field. A foundation grant can provide a larger amount of funding than an individual but is more restrictive in how the funds can be used. Grants are a good source of funding for starting a new program or expanding a successful program.

The Process

Obtaining grants to support your work is much like successfully matching animals and adopters. Rescues need to research and carefully identify grants where there is a match between the foundation’s goals and those of your rescue.

Grant size and what is funded. Numerous animal welfare foundations provide small, one-year grants for program activities that range from $1,000-$5,000 to rescues in each state. Many of them are foundations created by pet businesses, such as Petco, Pedigree, and Petfinder, who want to support animal rescue. Grants are awarded for program activities including spay/neuter, adoption, foster programs, transportation, emergency veterinary assistance, and other needs. Some grant-makers fund capital projects (buildings and equipment). Foundations typically do not fund operating costs unless the costs are associated with the program for which you seek funding. This can include staff time, supplies, rent, transportation, etc.

Common grant requirements. Some foundations require you to become a member or partner of the foundation to be eligible for a grant and require grantees to submit an annual report on the number of animals saved to be eligible for funding. The Bissell Foundation, one of the largest rescue foundations, requires rescues to be a partner for six months prior to submitting a grant request. Most foundations require a brief annual report on the number of animals saved. A few foundations require a site visit as part of the grant approval process.

Grant deadlines and receipt of funds. Most grant-making for animal welfare is done once or twice a year. A few grants are given on a rolling basis, meaning that you can apply at any time during the year and decisions are made several times per year. Emergency veterinary costs or disaster assistance are examples. Be aware that it can take several months for you to be notified about whether you’ve been awarded a grant.

The application. Applying for a grant is a simple online process in which you answer questions and attach supporting documents. You may need to set up an account in the foundation’s grants portal. Grant applications often include the following.

  • Mission statement (clear and succinct)
  • Program goals and activities for which you are seeking funding (specific and measurable)
  • Program budget (by line item)
  • Number of animals your rescue saves per year and number that will be saved through the proposed program
  • Board of Directors list (including their role in the organization and professional affiliation, if applicable)
  • Annual financial report (income and expense report, profit and loss statements or Form 990 for the past 1-3 years; in most cases, a third-party audited financial statement is not needed)
  • IRS Determination letter

What to Consider Before Investing in Grant Seeking

One of the first questions to ask yourself before deciding to apply for a grant is: Do you have someone who can compile the necessary information and prepare the grant request? This person can be the director, a board member, or a key volunteer. You don’t need a “grant writer,” but you do need someone who can explain clearly what you want to do and has access to the financial and program information requested, including number of animals saved, budget, financial reports, board list, etc.

You can also reach out to your community to find a volunteer who has grant preparation experience or is willing to learn. Note: Who Will Let the Dogs Out is available to provide advice and training. Don’t hesitate to contact Nicole Sandler, Who Will Let the Dogs Out Grants Advisor, at to discuss your readiness for grant seeking and how to get started.

Other questions to consider:

  • Is the grant consistent with your mission and strategy or are you stretching yourself to fit your rescue to the grant criteria?
  • Can you meet the grant conditions, for example, spending the funds in the allotted time, tracking the number of animals saved, and preparing a final report?
  • How will you sustain the activity after the grant funding ends? This is a common question in grant applications.

Tips for Preparing a Grant Request

  • Do some research before starting an application. To begin, sign up for several animal welfare foundations’ mailing lists and check the grants section of their website periodically. Attend the foundation’s annual grant guidelines webinar if possible (Petco Love offers one at the start of each grant cycle). Review their areas of interest, eligibility criteria, types of activities funded, deadlines, average grant size, and whether they’ve funded an organization like yours in the past. Most foundations list prior grantees on their website. Read the fine print to ensure that your rescue is eligible in terms of your areas of work, nonprofit status, and budget size, etc. Most foundations require that you have 501c3 tax exempt status to apply. Remember that WWLDO has prepared a helpful summary of grant opportunities to help get you started or use throughout the year.
  • Follow application guidelines and requirements carefully. Read grant guidelines and FAQs carefully. Be sure to answer every question in the application. If a question doesn’t apply, put “not applicable” or a “0” in the budget line item. Include exactly what they ask for, and don’t add extra information. Note that many applications have a word limit on each section or question. Most applications have a checklist of required documentation, attachments, schedules, financials, signature pages, etc. Note that some funders require the Executive Director to sign the cover page, so make sure they’re available.
  • Carefully consider the amount to request. Check to see whether the foundation has a funding threshold. In general, it is not advised to request more than 25-30% of your annual budget. Some foundations only allow you to request up to 10% of your annual budget.
  • Collaborations/partnerships are important to funders. Make sure to highlight collaborations and partnerships in your proposal, including fellow rescues or shelters, community organizations, local government, or businesses.
  • Reporting. Funders normally require a brief final report on how the money was spent and the number of animals saved as a result. Some funders have their own reporting format. If they allow it, submit great pictures of the dogs helped.
  • Documents or information to have on hand, up to date and accessible to the person preparing the grant application:
    • IRS determination letter.
    • Board list with names, addresses and professional affiliations.
    • Form 990 for the last three years.
    • Annual budget.
    • Demographic information about your city, county or region, including number of people/households; race/ethnicity; per capita income or poverty rate (You can find at this at

Finally, here’s an interview with a shelter advocate and a volunteer grant writer [INSERT video link here] who have successfully secured grants for one struggling shelter. Hopefully they’ll answer some of your questions, elaborate on some areas you’d like to better understand, and most of all, provide you some inspiration. You too can write successful grants! Good luck!

Download Grant Seeking Tips PDF

023 Animal Shelter Grant Opportunities

Simpler Grant Applications

Click on the following foundations if you’re looking for shorter, less complicated grant applications. Almost every funder listed below includes their grant eligibility requirements (for example, 501c3 status, sharing of financial documents, and/or data demonstrating your animal save rate). Be sure to note those requirements as you’re deciding whether to apply.

Animal Farm Foundation

Animal Farm Foundation is currently building its grant program for 2023; check back later in 2023 for updates


ASPCA’s 2023 grant categories will open throughout the year, so check back periodically for updates and deadlines

Athletes for Animals


Direct link to application:

  • Applications are accepted semi-annually with deadlines on March 15 and September 15

Banfield Foundation

Direct link to applications page:

  • Applications for Community Care Grants are accepted quarterly in January, April, July, and October
  • Applications for Veterinary Medical Equipment Grants are accepted quarterly February, May, August and November

Guinness Dunn Foundation

Certain grant categories have not yet opened yet for 2023, so check back for updates (for example, their Shelter Building Projects grant application has yet to open for 2023)

Frankie’s Friends Charitable Trust Foundation

The Vet Care for Rescues Grant Program offered by the Frankie’s Friends Charitable Trust Foundation is specifically for rescues/shelters in need of funding for medical care for a specific animal. The foundation accepts applications from approved rescues and shelters throughout the year.

Healthy Paws Pet Insurance Foundation

Direct link to application:

  • Healthy Paws Foundation accepts grant applications throughout the year

Hugs and Kisses Animal Fund

Link to application can be found here:

  • Hugs and Kisses Animal Fund accepts applications throughout the year
  • Be sure to note various eligibility requirements such as no paid staff, volunteer-only organization

Jason Debus Heigl Foundation 

Direct link to application:

  • Jason Debus Heigl Foundation accepts grant applications throughout the year

Little Guy Grants

Direct link to application can be found here:

  • Little Guy Grants accepts applications throughout the year
  • Be sure to note eligibility requirements

Onyx and Breezy Foundation

Direct link to applications page:

Walmart Community Grants

Walmart’s grant application for 2023 are accepted on a quarterly basis; deadlines for submission are:

  • Quarter 1 – February 1 to April 15
  • Quarter 2 – May 1 to July 15
  • Quarter 3 – August 1 to October 15
  • Quarter 4 – November 1 – December 31

Pedigree Foundation

Direct link to grant application and detailed guidelines can be found here:

  • Pedigree Foundation’s 2023 grant cycle opened on March 3 and closed on April 7. In 2023 they funded only transport programs and foster programs

Grant Opportunities That Require More Advance Planning to be Eligible

The following foundations are linked to some of the most well-known pet product companies, and most have ample dollars to award. So, it’s worth considering applying for these larger grants, but be sure to plan ahead and take the extra steps required to be eligible for grants.

The Binky Foundation

Welcome to the Binky Foundation

Bissell Pet Foundation

  • You must join their partner program, Partners for Pets, at least 6 months prior to applying
  • Their grant cycle opens twice a year, typically in the spring and fall, so watch their website’s grant page for updates and announcements

Purina Foundation

  • Your organization must be located within 50 miles of a Purina manufacturing facility to be eligible
  • Note other giving opportunities through Purina such as pet food donations

Petco Love


  • Your organization must first apply to be a Petco partner before you can apply for a grant
  • Grant application cycles for 2023 – Access to Care: April 1-30; Animal Welfare Organizations: June 1-July 30

Petfinder Foundation


  • Your organization must first create an account to gain access to application forms

PetSmart Charities

  • Your organization must be a PetSmart Charities Adoption partner and have completed 100 adoptions in a PetSmart store over the last 12 months to qualify for most grants

Rachael Ray Foundation/Best Friends Animal Society


 Your organization must demonstrate a formal business plan and attend a training workshop on running a nonprofit to qualify for grant opportunities

Kids 4 Paws

Family/Children’s Education Program

You can utilize our programs and tailor them to fit your needs, expanding on them or even using them to create a “camp” for kids in the summer time to get your community into your shelter building. While liability sometimes prevents shelters from allowing children to handle dogs in the facility, they can do other things – fill Kongs with peanut butter, make enrichment toys, draw pictures of the dogs, write adoption profiles, hold fundraiser or supply-drives, assist at adoption events, maybe spruce up a play yard. Kids want to help and by making the shelter a welcoming place that’s where they will go when the time comes for them to get their own dogs.

Purpose of Family/Children’s Education Program:

  • To reduce the number of dogs that end up in shelters due to biting children, by educating the community how to safely interact with dogs.
  • To raise awareness about rescue/shelter dogs.
  • A program shelters can use to benefit their community and gain exposure for their shelter/rescue.

Rationale: According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, 4.5 million Americans are bitten by dogs each year. Approximately half of these are children.

While people are waiting for the program to begin, if you have one, show a video or PowerPoint presentation of the work that you do. Coloring pages are available to distribute to children. Have parents complete the Photography Waiver if you are planning on taking photographs at the event (see Appendix). If you are presenting at a library, ask the librarian (in advance) to pull some books about dogs, particularly rescue stories, if available.

Introduce Who Will Let the Dogs Out? (Or introduce your Shelter/rescue organization presenting the program)

At Who Will Let the Dogs Out: Affectionately called Waldo, we share the faces and stories of the forgotten dogs and the heroes fighting for them through words, photographs, video, and most recently, film. We travel to shelters, rescues, and dog pounds to learn more, raise awareness, and inspire change. So far, we have been to 73 organizations in 11 states.

Why are we doing this program? Even a friendly dog or family pet can be unpredictable. Any dog can bite if it is provoked or suddenly surprised. We believe that if we “listen” to their body language/warnings, bites and injuries can be prevented. Many dogs end up in shelters because they have bitten a child. In most cases, the bite is not even the fault of the dog and could have been avoided. We want to teach children, and their families, how to interact safely with dogs and to understand and respect the signals dogs are giving through their body language. Most importantly, all interactions between dogs and children should always be closely supervised by an adult.

Introduce presenters and any dogs in attendance. Share backgrounds of the dogs, if available.

Ask children if they have ever met someone new. How would you introduce yourself to someone you don’t know? (say hi, ask if they want to play, shake hands) … you can even have the children demonstrate. (This is especially important with a younger group of children – more doing/less talking.) How can you tell if they are happy to meet you? (smile, you can tell by the expression on their face or by what they say). How could you tell if they don’t want to play, or they don’t want to interact with you? What would you do? Have the children demonstrate/discuss.

Have you ever met a dog you didn’t know? Would you do the same thing with a dog? No, of course not! They can’t speak to us or tell us what they are thinking. They actually speak their own language! They use their body language to speak to us. You might already know some dog body language. (Have children tell you some things they know, i.e., wagging their tail, etc.)

It’s important to understand what a dog is telling us so that we can stay safe and we can also respect the dog’s feelings. Today, we are going to learn how to meet an unfamiliar dog so we can be safe and avoid a dog bite. Then, after we finish, you will have a chance to practice what you’ve learned with a real dog!

Show the word WAIT. Explain that we are going to remember this word whenever we meet a new dog. Each letter means something, so let’s find out what to do!

W – W stands for the word WAIT. I know we just want to pet that dog right away, but it’s important to wait. Before you approach any dog you don’t know, make sure the dog is with its owner, and make sure the dog looks happy. Never approach any dog that is not with its owner.

How do you know if a dog looks happy? (wagging its tail, etc) You can have the children discuss/demonstrate. Add additional information to what they have identified…relaxed stance, ears perked, etc.

Sometimes dogs may not be happy. They might be scared or angry. Maybe they aren’t used to being around children and they are nervous or anxious. Maybe they are protecting their owner. What would a scared dog look like? (tail between legs, etc… add more to what they identified – yawn, licking lips, turns head away while continuing to look at you, lowers head/body). What would an angry dog look like? (showing teeth, growling, ears back, tail up – might even be wagging it slowly). If a dog looks angry or afraid, just stop and slowly and quietly walk away.

OK, now you know what the W stands for… (Kids: Wait!) That’ right, WAIT to make sure the dog is with an owner and looks happy.

The next letter in WAIT is A. A stands for ASK! Always ASK the owner for permission. What could you say? (May I please pet your dog?) You can also ask if the dog is friendly. Even if the owner says the dog is friendly, remember that sometimes they act differently than expected. You need to pay attention to the dog’s body language. If the dog doesn’t seem happy or friendly, stop and walk away slowly.

Ok, so now we know what A means – ASK the owner for permission. So, the dog looks happy, the owner says yes…can we pet the dog now? No, not yet…we still have two more letters!

After A comes I – I stands for INVITE. Invite the dog to sniff you before you touch or go toward the dog. Some dogs are uncomfortable when people face them directly, look them in the eye, or reach at them. They may be uncomfortable with loud noises or quick movements, so it’s important to be quiet and gentle when you are inviting the dog to sniff you and give you permission.

Stand alongside the dog so you aren’t looking at him. Put your hand by your side, palm down and curl your fingers under to avoid being nipped. Speak softly, don’t make quick movements. Remember, the dog doesn’t know you either! Let him sniff your hand. Let him decide if he wants you to pet him. If he doesn’t sniff your hand, be respectful of his feelings, stop and don’t touch the dog. W- Wait, A-Ask, I-Invite. If he does sniff your hand, then you are ready for the last letter!

The last letter is T. T stands for TOUCH. Always be gentle, calm and friendly. Touch the dog on his back – never on his head. Stroke the dog gently on his back toward his tail. After you pet him gently for a few seconds, stop and see his reaction. Does he like it? Does he ask for more? (look at you, nudge your hand…) If he does, then you can continue to pet his back gently. The owner may tell you how the dog enjoys being touched. Never squeeze or twist a dog’s fur, or pull or play with its tail or ears.

If he backs away, or puts his tail between his legs, he may be saying he doesn’t want to be touched. He may be uncomfortable, need more space or just be saying no. If that happens, just stop, thank the owner and walk away slowly.

Now you know how to safely meet a new dog! Remember, don’t be in a hurry when you meet a new furry! WAIT!

Read May I Pet Your Dog? By Stephanie Calmensen. Point out that the story is told by a dog named Harry. As you read, discuss/remind the children that Harry is saying some of the same things we just learned with WAIT. At the end of the book, there are some additional points about meeting a new dog and dog behavior.

Or show the read aloud online

You can also show the video How to Approach a Dog Safely

May I Pet Your Dog? is a suggestion. You may choose to read an alternate book of your preference. (See Appendix for a list of books for children.)

Now it’s time to practice what you learned today! You can practice on a stuffed dog or let them practice on real dogs. Make sure they remember all the steps in WAIT.

Craft: Make a toy for a shelter dog. (See Appendix for suggestions)

Be sure your craft is appropriate for the ages of the children in attendance. Young children do well with a sock bottle toy. Older children may be able to make braided toys or no-sew fleece blankets. You may need volunteers to cut and prep materials in advance, depending on the craft you choose.

Ways you can help – everyone can get involved! Share with the audience how they can help homeless dogs (volunteer, donate, foster, educate, etc. depending on your organization’s needs).

For additional information on bite prevention:


Reading Resources for Kids

There are many excellent books available to teach children about dog safety and rescue/shelter animals. Check with your local library for additional resources.

May I Pet Your Dog? – The How-to Guide for Kids Meeting Dogs (and Dogs Meeting Kids), Stephanie Calmenson

Don’t Lick the Dog – Making Friends with Dogs, Wendy Wahman (for younger children)

Doggy Do’s and Don’ts, Dr. Emily Levine, DVM, DACVB (for younger children)

Be a Dog’s Best Friend – A Safety Guide for Kids, Renee Payne, CPDT & Jennifer Gladysz

Max Talks to Me, Claire Buchwald, Karen Ritz

Hey Dog! Let’s Talk! – Understanding Dogs. Helping Kids Stay Safe., Wendy Keefer

Buddy Unchained, Daisy Box, Joe Hyatt

Hobbes Goes Home, Tami Crupi Zeman & Bruce Zeman, Jr.

Are You Ready for Me?, Claire Buchwald, Amelia Hanson

Rescuing Rover – Saving America’s Dogs, Raymond Bial

125 Pet Rescues – From Pound to Palace: Homeless Pets Made Happy!, National Geographic Kids

Dog Toys / Crafts for Kids to Make

There are many fun crafts children can make for shelter animals. These are just a few suggestions. There are many great ideas online as well.

Bottle Toy Craft: Prior to event, remove caps and cap rings from the plastic bottles to prevent a choking hazard. The rings can be difficult. Pliers are helpful for this job. To make this toy, simply insert the bottle (bottom first) into the sock and tie a not. Children enjoy decorating the socks with pictures and/or messages to shelter dogs. Be sure to use non-toxic markers! Small children are able to do this with some adult assistance.

Braided Toy Craft: These are a wonderful way to recycle old tee shirts! Prior to event, cut shirts into strips. These are not suitable for small children, but are fun for upper elementary aged children or older.

No-Sew Fleece Blankets: Prior to event, fleece needs to be precut so children only have to do the knot tying. This is not for small children, suitable for children 8+ with some adult assistance. Older children, teens and adults could enjoy this activity.

Marketing Your Dogs

56 Days in a Shelter! Who Will Let Avery Out?

Pick a dog who is one of the longest shelter residents and create a Who Will Let (name of dog) Out campaign. Each day feature a cute photo or video highlighting a different characteristic showing why the dog would make a wonderful loving companion. Encourage supporters to share the campaign on social media, empowering them to help find a forever home for your longtime resident. Here’s a great example of a  touching video promoting puppy Taza who was stressed while living at the Onslow County Animal Services shelter in North Carolina.

Become a PetSmart Shelter Partner

The PetSmart Charities Foundation partners with local shelters and rescues to help homeless animals. PetSmart stores throughout the country donate space to help adoptable pets find loving homes. According to the nonprofit, every 38 seconds a PetSmart store is open a pet is adopted.

Dog of the Day

Choose a dog to highlight and write a post to social media with a cute photo and write from the dog’s perspective – why they want to be adopted, their best features, their ‘areas for self-improvement’ (or something to that effect).

Doggie Day Out

Work with local businesses to host an adoptable dog for a day. Provide them with crate, treats, toys, etc., so the dog can spend the day with them. Banks, offices, stores, and anywhere that a dog would be welcome is a possibility. This gives dog (and shelter) exposure, builds your relationship with the business community, gives the business something fun to use in their own marketing. Gives the dog a break from the stress of being in the shelter. Such a win-win-win.

Encourage Adopters to Promote Shelter Pets

One of the best ways to promote pet adoption is to ask adopters to post pictures of their newest family members on social media. Sharing photos and stories about how well rescue dogs are settling into their new homes is a wonderful way to inspire others to visit the local shelter rather than purchasing dogs from breeders.

Highlight Dogs in a Fun Way

Animal lovers appreciate cute dog pics and these pics are also a great way to find new homes for shelter dogs. Redland Rock Pit Abandoned Dog Project group, FL had the wonderful idea of featuring a Silly Dog Sunday collage of their dogs being goofy, funny, and playful. You could also launch a Funny Dog Friday and feature a similar roundup of wonderful images. Enlist the help of a local photographer or a volunteer who is good with the camera and start snapping. Be sure the images are clickable and take potential adopters to information about each dog.

Hold a Senior Prom

Memphis Animal Services, TN held a senior prom to shine a spotlight on senior shelter dogs available for adoption. The dogs were glammed up and took part in prom photoshoots. The public was invited to dress up and attend the prom that was held in one of the shelter’s play yards. The dogs enjoyed a special doggy cake and participants had fun voting for a prom king and queen. This was a terrific fun way to gain exposure for the golden oldies who are so often overlooked at the shelter.

Host an Earth Day Adoption Event

Invite the public to a special adoption event and offer discounts on the adoption fee for all who donate recycled items such as newspapers, towels, and blankets that can be used in the shelter. Alternatively, you can take shelter dogs to local Earth Day festivities and expose them to even more potential adopters. It also offers an opportunity to spread the word about the work you are doing at the shelter to save lives.

Join in Best Friend’s National Adoption Weekend

By becoming a Best Friends Network Partner your shelter can join in the Best Friend’s annual National Adoption Weekend that’s held June 30 through July 2. Participating shelters reduce or waive adoption fees during the three-day event to find forever homes for shelter pets in time for the July 4 Holiday.

List Animals on

Partner with and start uploading shelter pets to the Pet Adoption Portal. The site has a more extensive reach than Petfinder and Adopt a Pet. However, you can continue having your animals listed on all of these websites.  Listing homeless pets on all of the major adoption sites offers greater exposure and helps to result in a forever home.

Live on Friday

Feature a weekly social media live walk-through of the shelter each week. Showcase dogs, interview staff, give details of upcoming events, even do a giveaway of a T-shirt or pet item to a random person who comments during your live coverage.

Local Leaders Can Help with Adoptions

Schedule photo shoots of shelter dogs with firefighters, police officers, or local elected officials. This is a great way to promote the dogs while also engaging the community. This also offers a wonderful opportunity to get newspaper or TV coverage and may lead to more potential adopters visiting the shelter.

Participate in Tractor Supply Pet Appreciation Week

Partner with your local Tractor Supply to participate in the company’s annual Pet Appreciation Week Adoption Event (takes place on September 16 in 2023). The deadline for registering is Wednesday, September 13.

Partner With a Local Business

Finding a local business that supports animal welfare is the first step to running a large off-site adoption event. This is a great way for shelter dogs to gain more exposure and hopefully new homes. For example, Onslow County Animal Services, NC holds its largest adoption event of the year in partnership with a local Toyota dealership. This is a full-day event held at the dealership and all of the dogs available for adoption are in attendance. The event is promoted and shared on social media helping to ensure the dogs get as much exposure as possible.

Shelter Programs and Enrichment Ideas


Shelter enrichment programs help reduce the stress and boredom of kennel life. While all shelter dogs benefit from enrichment programs, such enrichment activities are especially valuable for long-term residents and “bully-breed” dogs, who tend to deteriorate quickly in kennels.

Without enrichment activities, kenneled dogs may exhibit unwelcome behaviors, such as hyper-arousal, depression, and obsessive/compulsive behaviors.

Dogs and puppies may display behaviors that make adoptions more challenging simply because they are not given the opportunity to chew, be mentally engaged, or interact calmly with humans. This is especially true for canines who arrive at the shelter with behavior challenges.

General, overall enrichment should include:

Exercise – Daily walks and training (controlled and monitored)

Social Interaction – pets, hugs, playing fetch with staff and volunteers, hanging out in the office, sitting with someone who is reading/working

Food Games – using toys such as KONG™, Tug-a-Jug™, etc.

Sensory Stimulation – such as sound (classical music), odor (lavender, spices, and even a bit of bedding from the cat area), and tactile stimulation (brushes to rub against, bedding, and large Boomer Balls)

Below are suggestions for enrichment activities like these. All of this information may be used when training new volunteers or items added to your Wish List.


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Clicker Train Your Dogs to Show Well

Everyone knows that when people enter the kennel area, the sound can be deafening. And we also know that dogs who come to the front of their kennels and sit nicely have a better chance at being adopted. Give your staff or volunteers a fanny pouch filled with treats and a clicker. Send them to the kennels to walk down the row repeatedly and treat/click for any dog that comes to the front and sits quietly. Eventually, most of the dogs will figure out that when someone comes in they are likely to get treats if they come to the front and sit quietly.

It may take some time to convince a few, but patience and persistence will pay off, plus it’s a fun/rewarding job for volunteers. AND most importantly, it will help teach your dogs self-control and just maybe help them find an adopter. Once the dogs associate the click/treat as a reward, other staff can carry clickers on a belt loop or clip them to the kennels and walls to reward the dogs even if they don’t have a treat.

Create a Normal Room

A “normal room” or a “real-life room” at a shelter is a space with couches, rugs, toys, music, or a television set up to resemble a room in a home. The idea is to provide a comfortable, quiet space where dogs can relax and get away from the shelter environment. An unused room or large closet or even a free-standing shed on the property could be transformed into this comfy room. In addition to furniture, a normal room could include soft dog beds, heat and air conditioning, heated blankets, a window looking out onto a bird feeder, and food puzzles.  Once set up, encourage volunteers and staff members to spend time in the room interacting and playing with the dogs.

Dogs Playing for Life

Dogs Playing for Life has served hundreds of thousands of dogs in shelters through playgroup seminars and enrichment programs. By helping shelters improve the quality of life for their dogs, more dogs will be adopted and fewer will fall through the cracks. See link below for more information. They offer on-site training, training at their facilities, and also free online webinars.

Go On Outings

If your shelter allows dogs off-site, take a dog to lunch or take one along when you’re on a break or running an errand. The goal is to get them out and about, seeing and experiencing new things, and interacting with the public.

Another idea: Give a couple of dogs some social time by asking a co-worker to walk dogs with you off-site. The first step to providing this type of enrichment is to introduce the dogs carefully and safely, with the awareness that dogs often lack social skills when meeting each other. For more details on how to introduce dogs, read “Helping Shelter Dogs to Meet Each Other Successfully”.  Besides providing social opportunities, encouraging dogs to interact politely also helps them become more adoptable.

One shelter will have Wednesday walkabouts. Excursions which take adoptable dogs wearing “Adopt Me” vests out for a walk in places like shopping centers or parks. It’s great for enrichment and also makes our adoptable dogs more visible to the public, increasing their chances of adoption. You can hand out the dogs’ “business cards” to people interested in contacting us for more information.

Help Dogs with Return-to-Run Resistance

A common scenario at shelters everywhere: You’ve taken a dog out of his kennel for a bit and now it’s time for him to go back in. The dog puts on his brakes, tries to back out of his collar, lies down, and won’t move. You try to pull him and he starts to growl. What to do? Read “Coping with Return-to-Run Resistance” for some ideas on how to help dogs who are resistant to going back into their runs.

You can incentify returning to the kennel by leaving high-value treats or stuffed kongs in kennel for dog to find when they return. If this becomes part of a routine, dogs are happy/eager to go back to their kennel instead of needing to be dragged down. At one shelter, they use a can of whipped cream and squirt a line or circle of it on the clean kennel floor. You could also offer a peanut butter lick board (see separate entry in Resource Guide) as a reward for coming back in willingly. Build this practice into the cleaning routine – last step after kennel is sanitized.

Host Pilates with Pups Classes

Invite a local fitness instructor to the shelter to teach a Pilates with Puppies class. This is a great opportunity for puppies to socialize with people. The workout also becomes a great fundraiser if you charge a small fee. And as an added benefit class participants may just fall in love and adopt a puppy.

Keep a Treat Bucket Handy

Keeping a bucket full of treats handy is a good way to reinforce good behavior in dogs. A treat bucket is a nice way to help enforce the training rules, while also involving everyone (staff, volunteers, the public) in the training process. And when prospective adopters come to see them, the dogs will sit politely when the people approach.

Some examples–Have a bucket attached to the front of the kennel that holds the treats and has a sign saying, “Please help train me. Only give me a treat if all four of my feet are on the ground.” This helps train dogs not to jump up on people. The treat bucket is available all the time, for staff, volunteers and the public to use.

You can also create ice-block treat buckets for the dogs to enjoy when the weather is warm.  Put various items, such as toys and some treats, in a bucket and fill it with water and freeze the whole thing. A dog can be occupied for quite a while as he licks the ice to get at the toys and treats.

Offer a Variety of Smells and Sounds

As with people, soothing smells and sounds can help dogs relax. For stress relief, introduce aromatherapy–such as lavender, chamomile, valerian, or dog-appeasing pheromones (DAP). You can get vent system aromatherapy or even plug-ins for the shelter. DAP is a spray or plugin that provides an effective way to control and manage unwanted canine behavior associated with fear and/or stress. Try different types of aromas; some dogs have favorites. Also, try playing some light classical music CDs or recorded sounds of ocean waves or rain. Again, experiment with different sounds to see what works best.

Organize Puppy Yoga Classes

Letting shelter puppies loose in a yoga class is great fun for the pups and the students. The classes can be held at the shelter or in a local park with an admission fee or suggested donation to help raise funds for the shelter. This is another great way to socialize the pups while giving them a break from the shelter. It’s also a wonderful marketing tool as images of the pups hanging out with yoga students can be posted on social media. Many of the puppies might even find their forever homes among the students.

Play Calming Music

Research has shown that calming music can help shelter dogs relax in what can often be a very stressful environment. Auditory enrichment also helps to mask shelter sounds of doors or gates opening and closing that can get dogs worked up. Many shelters add the “Through a Dog’s Ear” music CD series to their Amazon Wish Lists. Through social media they let their supporters know the music’s positive impact on shelter dogs’ lives as they wait to go to their forever homes.

Play Hide ‘N Seek

Note: To keep dogs safe, this enrichment activity should not be used in areas containing, or accessible to, more than one dog. If dogs are housed in groups, each dog should be given a private space when playing hide-and-seek.

It’s not just kids who love this game — dogs love it, too! Keep dogs mentally and physically active by making them think and search for their treats. Some suggestions:

  • Bury toys or treats in a sand box.
  • Place toys or treats in ladles and hang from trees.
  • Place toys or treats in logs or other hiding places in play yards.

Provide a Variety of Toys

Note: To keep dogs safe, this enrichment activity should not be used in areas containing, or accessible to, more than one dog. If dogs are housed in groups, each dog should be given a private space to play with toys.

Dogs enjoy having toys or something to play with. Just make sure that easily destroyed toys, such as rope toys or stuffed toys, are never left with a dog who is unsupervised. Best Friends recommends Other Cuz Balls (made by JW Pet Company) because they are practically indestructible and have no appendages that dogs can chew off and swallow.

Lick toys. Licking helps soothe anxious dogs and pass the time. One inexpensive lick toy is a ‘peanut butter board’. Purchase plastic cutting boards (with a cut out handle), smear with peanut butter, and hang on a dog’s front fence with a carabiner clip or zip tie(in the center away from other dogs). This is a great project for volunteers or a scout troop to take on. Cutting boards can be easily washed in the dishwasher. Supplies: plastic cutting boards from the dollar store or Walmart, a large tub of peanut butter (Costco is a great source), spatula for smearing peanut butter, carabiner clip (or zip ties).

Food-dispensing toys. Dispensing toys are great for mental stimulation and they increase the time during the day when a dog has meaningful activities to engage in. You put treats or meals in the toy and the dog has to figure out how to get the food out. Most dogs are highly motivated, but be sure to start with easier toys that the dog can experience success with; too difficult a puzzle can increase frustration and promote loss of interest. As the dog’s skills improve, he will enjoy more challenging toys.

Try Treat Stiks, Busy Dog Balls or Buster Cubes.

Premier Busy Buddy makes several types of treat-dispensing toys, available at pet supply stores.

Kongs are durable rubber enrichment toys that can be stuffed with moistened dry dog food or peanut butter or spray cheese. For more information, visit their website at

Lots of homemade versions of treat-dispensing toys can be found on Pinterest or Google.

Chew toys. Dogs love to chew, so giving them appropriate things to chew is a great enrichment activity.

Nylabone makes a variety of chew toys and interactive toys for dogs, providing them with hours of fun. Check out their products at Nylabone and most other manufacturers recommend supervision for many of their products.

Plastic water bottle/sock toy. This is another easy, inexpensive toy that volunteers or scout troops or school classes can make. Stuff a clean, dry water bottle (with plastic ring and top removed) inside a clean sock and know the sock. The toys provide a satisfying crunching sound and can be thrown out (or the bottle replaces) when they are worn out. To make it more fun/educational for children making the toys, have them use a washable marker to decorate the sock with inspiring messages for the dogs.

Ice-block toys. These “toys” will keep dogs occupied for hours and are a nice treat on a hot day. They are easy to make: Place a few toys in a bucket, fill the bucket with water, and freeze it. Another idea for a frozen treat: Freeze chicken or beef broth in popsicle molds or drinking cups. Be sure to always supervise the dog enjoying the treat.

Reduce Animal Stress with Fear Free Strategies

The Fear Free Shelter Program aims to decrease stress levels for shelter animals by educating staff and volunteers. For example, after completing the Fear Free training program staff at Moore County Animal Services, NC no longer allow the public to tour the kennels because it is too stressful for the dogs. Instead, they introduce the dogs to potential adopters outside the kennel environment. The Fear Free Shelter Program is free for shelter and animal welfare staff and volunteers.

R&R Program

Through the Read and Relax (R&R) program, a volunteer enters a dog’s kennel, sits down on a chair, and reads aloud to the dog for 30 minutes. R&R helps decrease the arousal and stress levels of dogs on the adoption floor as adopters pass through.

Set Up Group Play Sessions

Group play is a great way to get the dogs exercised and keep them mentally happy and healthy.  A half-hour of group play is the equivalent of a two-hour walk. As with tandem walks, you’ll need to introduce the dogs carefully to prevent any problems.

Before participating in group play sessions, you should learn how to monitor play groups and gather the tools you’ll need for the play sessions.  You will need to learn more about dog body language to better decide which dogs are ready for play groups.  Dogs Playing for Life can provide in person training, but they also provide free online training as well.

Always monitor a group play session closely and be sure to take into consideration the reproductive status of the dogs and also vaccination status to avoid passing contagions.

Teach Basic Manners and Life Skills

Some shelter dogs come from backgrounds where they didn’t have the opportunity to learn social skills. Teaching basic manners and life skills provides mental stimulation and helps dogs become more adoptable. All dogs should have skills such as these:

  • Walking well on a leash
  • Not jumping up to greet people
  • Sit, stay, leave it and come
  • Name recognition

You could also try teaching some silly tricks, like how to do a high-five. When teaching a dog any new skill, remember to make it fun for the dog. Be patient, stay positive, and reward success with plenty of praise and treats.

Shelter staff and volunteers can teach dogs these skills on an individual, informal basis or you could start a shelter manners class taught by a trainer. The class could be held regularly — once a week, perhaps — with volunteers or staff members each responsible for bringing a dog to the class. The added advantage of a group manners class is that it helps shelter dogs develop good relationships with both people and dogs.

Another great way to provide training is to invite students from veterinary colleges, dog training academies, or veterinarian technician students to work with dogs under the supervision of a professional positive reinforcement trainer. At Redland Rock Pit Abandoned Dog Project student trainers work with the shelter dogs to earn AKC S.T.A.R Puppy certification. The program provides great enrichment and engagement for the dogs while helping make them more attractive to potential adopters

Think Outside the Box

The number of ways that you can enhance shelter dogs’ well-being is limited only by your imagination!

Shy/Fearful/Feral Dogs

We are working on this section, as we know there is a great need. Meanwhile, Best Friends has some good infromation on helping very shy dogs: “Feral Dogs and Shy Dogs: How to Help Them”.

Volunteer Programs and Practices

Volunteers can have a huge impact on the quality of life for shelter animals, but they can also be your best advocates in the community, bring fresh ideas to your shelter, and handle lots of tasks to free up staff. Cultivating a vibrant volunteer program will enfuse your shelter with good energy, make your animals happier (and more adoptable), and improve your relationship with your community.


Doggy Day Out

Doggy Day Out is a short-term foster program where the public can take dogs from local shelters on day outings.  A Doggy Day Out can include a hike, a trip to a beach or lake, or even a sleepover.  These field trips help shelter dogs manage kennel stress, burn off energy and get more exposure to potential adopters.

Doggy Day Out requires minimal training commitments for participants.  This encourages members of the public to engage with their local shelter and advocate for the animals.  It’s a great excuse to get out and have fun with a canine sidekick.

Good to have written guidelines as to safety protocol for the dog like double leash, use a harness, a list of dog friendly places, emergency contact information etc.   And helpful to have a bandana or similar item, saying I’m available for adoption.   Have the volunteer take pictures of the dog and provide a short summary of how the dog behaved.

Take a Shelter Dog to Work

Invite shelter volunteers to take a shelter dog with them to work either on a designated day (when you can take advantage of an empty shelter for some deep cleaning or staff training/appreciation) or as an ongoing program to help socialize the dogs.

Volunteer Wheel

Build or buy a wheel (think wheel of fortune) and write jobs on the different sections with dry erase markers. If volunteers come in and staff isn’t available to tell them what to do or they don’t know which job to do, have them spin the wheel to find out. This is particularly brilliant if you have tween or teen volunteers. It’s just one more way to make volunteering at the shelter fun. If you can’t find a wheel, you could also place jobs on slips of paper in a box and let people draw for their day’s job.

Other Useful Shelter/Rescue Information

Animal-Friendly License Plates

Many states support the spaying and neutering of pets through the sale of specialty license plates. For example, in Tennessee, the sale of animal-friendly helps to fund grants to government-run shelters or 501c3 rescues that provide low-cost spay and neuter services. Grant awards are based on the number of animals the organization serves and how many counties are reached. Shelters and organizations that serve distressed counties are prioritized.

Community Cat Sterilization

A large percentage of kittens are born outside.  Creating a trap-neuter-release-and manage program will not only lower the volume of feral cats entering the system, but will prevent far too many kittens dying while living outside or being brought in too sick to help.

Comprehensive Adoption Program

Saving lives requires a multi-prong approach.  And yes, a robust rescue program is part of the solution, but reaching out to your community for adoptions is now sometimes overlooked.  Check your adoption applications to see where you may be being unnecessarily restrictive.  This also includes having the shelter be open on Saturdays so that people who work can also come and visit and possibly adopt.

Educational Opportunities for Staff

Provide opportunities for shelter staff to attend animal welfare conferences. This is a great way to network, learn about best practices at other shelters, and brainstorm with other animal rescue workers. Some shelters run fundraisers to help raise money to cover the cost of attending these conferences.

Explain the 3-3-3 Rule to adopters

To prevent failed adoptions educate adopters about the 3-3-3 Rule so they know what to expect when they welcome a new dog into their home. Every dog is unique and will adjust differently to new life situations but in general, adopters can expect:

  • For the first three days a rescue dog will need time to decompress
  • In the first three weeks the new arrival will begin to learn his or her new routine
  • After three months in a new home an adopted pet will start to feel comfortable

It’s important that adopters understand this is a general rule. Every dog needs to be allowed to get comfortable at his or her own pace.

Foster Care

Foster care is especially helpful with little ones who may need to be bottle fed or for animals with health issues. Fostering is also very helpful in preventing a litter of babies from ever entering the actual building. They still get vaccinated, dewormed, and are promoted for adoption while in their foster homes.

Get Creative When Promoting Spaying and Neutering

Posting clever attention-grabbing graphics with a link to local low-cost spay/neuter clinics can be an effective way to help fight pet overpopulation.  For example many shelters and rescues take advantage of Mother’s Day and Father’s Day by posting “Don’t Be a Mother” and “Don’t Be a Father” graphics on social media.

Hard Working, Compassionate Shelter Director

Number one most important point is to have a Shelter Director agree that there is to be no more killing of healthy/treatable adoptable dogs and cats.

Medical and Behavior Prevention and Rehab

Age-appropriate vaccinations on intake and up-to-date cleaning processes.  Many behavior issues can be prevented with strong enrichment programs that use all of their senses.  For example:

  • Group walks
  • Play groups
  • Food enrichment, even something as easy as work for food puzzles
  • Pick an appropriate scent to use in their kennels and then switch it up
  • Soothing music

High Volume/Low-Cost Sterilization

This win-win is so obvious, not sure what else needs to be said.

Pet Retention

When an owner surrender calls the shelter, the first question should be, “What can we do to help you keep your pet at home?”  Helping the community member who has a life problem keep their pet is a successful way to keep pets in their homes.  Have a list of resources available when talking with the family and discuss the best options to help them keep their pet at home.

Practical Suggestions to Help Implement the No-Kill Philosophy

We have a WALDO volunteer who is an experienced shelter worker who took a high kill shelter in a poor area to a no-kill shelter in a relatively short period. She is available to consult with any shelter/rescue who would like her help. Contact for more information.

Proactive Redemption

Not only help them get home after they get to the shelter, but also work with animal control to see if they can get them home before they actually get to the shelter.  Use the return to owner time as a way to discuss any help the family may need.  And it is a perfect time to offer low or no cost spay/neuter and microchipping.

Public Relations/Community Involvement

It really is all about the PR and more PR.  Your community needs to not only know your needs (such as supplies, etc.) but share with them your successes as well.   Use social media, websites, pet store promotions to their fullest.  Rabies clinics and microchip clinics are two easy ways to let your community know you are working with them, not against them.  Absolutely no people/community/owner bashing!

Rescue Partnerships

A robust rescue program for both cats and dogs is an important key to keep animals moving out of the shelter.  Build good relationships with trusted partners to have assortment of rescue types so that you know who to reach out when in need.

Send Out Reminders for Make-A-Will Month

August is Make-A-Will Month and a great time to remind pet parents how important it is to include animal companions in legacy plans should they outlive their owners. Without a legacy plan life savings will be distributed according to the laws of their state and not their wishes. If plans aren’t made for the care of pets they may very well end up in the local shelter. This is also a good time to remind supporters that including their favorite animal rescue groups in their legacy plans is a great way to help organizations continue saving lives.

Team Hikes

Animal rescue work is stressful. Shelter staff members need to support and encourage one another as they work to save lives. Taking time out for staff hikes with shelter dogs is a great team-building exercise. Group hikes are also a great way to celebrate staff anniversaries and birthdays while giving the dogs a break from the shelter.