"No. 1 on our list is cleaning supplies," says Megan Lutz, vice president of publicity for C.A.R.E. for the Evanston Animal Shelter. "Bleach, paper towels, liquid laundry detergent, dish soap – those are things we use constantly day in and day out. When people can pick up an extra 12-pack of paper towels or an extra jug of bleach, we love that. It saves us from having to run out to the store."
Like the San Francisco Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SFSPCA), many shelters are taking to the Web to list their needs. Often, these needs will include pet food donations. The SFSPCA lists some items that you would expect to find, such as any brand of unopened dry or canned pet food and dog treats. But some unexpected food items show up on the lists too, including jars of turkey and chicken baby food. These are for sick dogs or dogs that have trouble eating.
"Shelters never want to say no, but donations can be difficult to manage," says Kimberley Intino, a certified animal welfare administrator and the director of shelter services for the Humane Society of the United States. "My suggestion would be to double-check the shelter’s Web site or news site, or wherever they post their wish list, beforehand."
Each shelter has its own food donation policies, but here are some general guidelines:
- High-Quality Foods: Shelters usually appreciate high-quality foods to best meet the nutritional needs of the dogs in their care. "The more recognizable the brand of a food, the better," says Intino. "These tend to be more expensive, but they also tend to be higher in quality."
- Dry or Canned: Most shelters tend to feed their dogs dry food because it is easier, cleaner and doesn’t give off as much odor. But all shelters will also have canned food on hand to supplement feeding, particularly for sick or injured pets, or those with missing teeth or dental problems.
- Watch Expiration Dates: "The longest amount of time before the expiration date, the better," says Intino. A bag of dry food you just opened and found that your dog doesn’t like may be useful too, so check with your shelter.
In Evanston, the shelter also needs office supplies, such as copy paper, stamps and Sharpie markers. "When we open a can of food, we mark the date on it before we put it in the fridge," explains Lutz. "If a person knows a shelter shops at a particular store, you can always give a gift card or gift certificate as well," says Intino.
A shelter may even desire gently used pet supplies you already have, such as a training crate, a ceramic bowl, or a collar and leash. In Evanston, the shelter operates a crate loaner program for adopted dogs. The new owners get their deposit back when they return the crate. Old ceramic bowls, while too breakable for the shelter environment, can be sold at the shelter’s annual flea market to raise money.
But perhaps the best reason of all to remember homeless animals during the coming holiday season is that donating to a shelter may help save a life and possibly unite potential families with a loving pet.