Each of us can #BeAHelper to keep and bring more pets and people together in our communities so that pets spend more nights at home, not in a shelter. 

If you can hold a healthy, found pet for just 48 hours while searching for their owner, you can significantly increase the chances they will be reunited with their family. In the average shelter, less than half of dogs and fewer than 1 in 20 cats ever make it back home.

You might be surprised to learn that dogs are over ten times more likely to be reunited with their owners by staying in their neighborhood than by a visit to the shelter! That’s even more true for cats. A cat who looks healthy with good body condition and coat is very rarely lost and should remain where they are; even cats who are actually lost are as much as 50 times more likely to be reunited with their family if they stay in the neighborhood where they are found. Take 48 and help your neighbors—human and animal. Learn more about what to do if you find a dog, cat, or kitten. 

By adopting, fostering—caring for an animal temporarily in your home—or helping a friend or family member rehome their pet, you’ll also impact the lives of animals you don’t see by freeing up space and resources so that the shelter can help more animals who need homes, as well as sick or injured animals, without a place to go. According to Petco Love, if 2% more of the 85-million pet-owning households could foster just one pet a year, we could eliminate preventable euthanasia and save the lives of the 800,000 shelter animals at risk of euthanasia. Whether you adopt or foster a pet for your local shelter, help a friend rehome a pet, or help a neighbor who needs to rehome their pet temporarily because of a military deployment, medical challenges, or other urgent situation, you’ll save lives and gain a friend! 

There are countless ways to act as an ambassador for your shelter or other animal care organization and help pets and people in your community. Start by spreading the word about the best way to help a found pet get home, promoting adoptable pets in your circles, or simply sharing this list with others. You can also volunteer your time and talents to make a difference. Whether it’s walking dogs, photographing adoptable pets, translating websites and other materials to languages spoken in your community, or assisting with events, social media or administrative tasks, you can find the perfect in-person or remote opportunity.

Just as building a strong house requires a variety of people and materials, building and sustaining the well-being of people and pets requires community resources, social relationships, and opportunities to thrive. Building well-being in your community depends on many people working together. Talk to your city and county elected officials about the importance of allowing shelters to waive or reduce fees so that reclaiming a lost pet or adopting a new one is affordable for everyone. Emphasize the urgency of funding staff and programs that address gaps in our system of care so that we can provide people and pets support they need to be well together.  
It’s especially critical to encourage support for initiatives that build veterinary capacity and expand access to spay/neuter. When spay/neuter surgery had to be suspended during the pandemic, we fell nearly three million surgeries behind what would normally have been accomplished. A nationwide shortage of veterinarians and veterinary nurses is making it even harder to keep up with the need, let alone catch up from the deficit, which is compounded in communities that already lacked affordable veterinary care or veterinarians at all. 
You can also help fundraise for individuals, mobile clinics, or community cat/TNR groups to cover spay/neuter surgeries, or donate to local animal shelters and partner organizations to help make sure we can waive or reduce fees that come between pets and people and provide essential resources and services—like vaccine clinics and low-cost spay/neuter services or vouchers—that bring and keep people and pets in our community together.

People are doing the best they can to care for their pets while facing barriers to affordable, pet-inclusive housing and vet care. Through the national veterinarian shortage, current vets are serving anywhere from 1000–3000 households each. And because animal shelters and other community organizations are often chronically under-resourced, they are prevented from serving all the people and animals they wholeheartedly want to help, driving serious distress and burnout among staff. Veterinarians, shelter workers and volunteers, and animal services officers are at higher risk for suicide and PTSD. We could all use more compassion and less judgment; let’s show up for one another as we work together to build the well-being of people and pets in our community.  
Whether you volunteer at a shelter or other community organization or reach out to a neighbor or friend to lend a hand (and a dog walk, training help, or pet grooming support), what you do matters. Try posting something positive about your community’s animal care organizations on social media, leaving a kind review, or writing a note of gratitude to recognize the efforts of your shelter or a team member.

For more information on these and other ways you can make a difference, visit petsandpeopletogether.org

What are shelter reclaim fees (also called return to owner or redemption fees)?

When a pet found outside is presumed lost and brought to the shelter by animal services officers or community members, owners will likely have to pay redemption and/or boarding fees and potentially civil fines in order to reclaim their pet. These fees are often set at a municipal or county level with no discretion given to shelters to waive or lower them. Depending on circumstances, an owner may be faced with an expensive bill to reclaim a dog who escaped from a yard or was simply visiting a dog friend down the street. Along with transportation, language, or other barriers, expensive reclaim fees can prevent pets from returning to their families and are one reason less than less than half of dogs and fewer than 1 in 20 cats are reclaimed in shelters nationwide.  

You can help make sure fees don’t stand between pets and people who love them by helping a pet get home instead of bringing them to the shelter, starting or donating to a shelter’s return-to-home fund, and joining with your shelter to advocate for their ability to lower or waive fees in order to reunite pets with their families.