Animal homelessness is a monumental problem across the nation and around the world. Here's how you can help.

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To know a rescue pet is to love a rescue pet. But according to the Humane Society, “6-8 million animals end up in shelters each year, half of which will probably not be adopted.” Most of these animals fall into homelessness through no fault of their own; the Humane Society cites “moving” and “landlord issues” as the top two reasons that families give up their pets.

Animal shelters do the important job of connecting pets to their forever homes, but there’s much more work that goes on behind the scenes each day to keep shelters up and running. “Animal shelters across the nation are forced to stretch their resources to the brink to accommodate an overwhelming population of homeless and at-risk animals,” the ASPCA writes. To combat animal homelessness, it’s important to remain a steady supporter of animal shelters year-round, even if you’re not in the market to adopt a pet. We’ve rounded up some of the best ways to support your local shelter. And remember: Adopt, don’t shop.

Adopt

The best way to support your local animal shelter is undoubtedly to adopt a pet. Adoptions are the end goal of any shelter—it’s any shelter or rescue organization’s number one mission to connect animals in need to their forever homes. When adopting, consider some of the oft-overlooked populations in animal shelters, like senior pets or cats and dogs with special needs. But if adoption is not in the cards for your family at the moment, there are plenty of other ways to show your support.

For information on adopting a pet, find your local shelter through the ASPCA or the Shelter Pet Project.

Foster

If you don’t have the bandwidth to add another member to your family but still want to have a pet in the house, fostering could be the right option for you. Foster parents not only provide pets with valuable socialization and an introduction into home life, but they also allow rescue shelters to free up space for new animals in the shelter. According to the Humane Society, “The value of fosters can't be overrated. They can be lifesavers for pets who can't adapt to shelter life, those who need to be nursed back to health and orphaned kittens who need someone to step in for their mom (or whose needs are beyond what busy shelter staff can often provide).”

Apply to be a foster pet parent through your local shelter.

Donate Funds

When you donate funds, animal shelters have the freedom to use the money where it is most needed—whether that means paying bills or full-time staff members or buying less glamorous supplies. Financial support is one of the best ways to give back to your local shelter. You can also donate to national organizations committed to ending animal cruelty like the ASPCA or the Humane Society.

Donate Supplies

Animal shelters are almost always in need of towels and toys, but additional needs can vary based on the time or season. Pet food, cat litter, and cleaning supplies top the list of other desired supplies. Some animal shelters will post a current wishlist to their website or social media platforms; the Greater Birmingham Humane Society even has an Amazon wishlist to make donation as easy as possible—just click “Add to Cart” and the items will deliver directly to the shelter’s address. Think of it like a wedding registry for your favorite charitable cause.

If your local shelter doesn’t have a wishlist posted online, just give them a call to ask what products would be of use.

Volunteer

If you can’t host an animal in your home, volunteering is the next best thing, and pretty much anyone can get involved. Positions can range from walking, bathing, and training dogs to doing laundry or serving as a community ambassador through education programs. Ultimately, all volunteers work towards the goal of helping pets find their forever homes.

While working directly with the animals may seem like the most obvious way to contribute, shelters are multi-faceted organizations that take the work of a dynamic team to succeed. Maybe you can best contribute by volunteering as a pet publicist, photographing the adoptable animals to capture their unique personalities. This is just one of many ways to help: Check with your local animal shelter to inquire about roles you may be able to fill. Many shelters also offer youth programs for children and teens to get involved and give back.

Craft for a Cause

Hand-made crafts bring a touch of love to your local animal shelter. If you have some spare time, consider channeling your energy into a project that will provide endless comfort and fun to homeless animals. “You can fashion cage curtains to help shelter cats get some privacy (and stay healthy) or play matchmaker by creating attention-grabbing 'Adopt-Me' vests to spotlight available pets at adoption events held by shelters and rescues,” suggests the Humane Society.