Faith, youth, civic and other community groups can #BeAHelper by drawing on their people power to make sure pets can spend more nights at home, not in shelters. 

Check in with your local animal shelter, community cat/TNR groups, and human services and other animal care organizations to find out what families and pets and the organizations working with them most need. Some groups have organized a pet food and supply drive; gathered crates, blankets, or bedding; collected donations for helping with spay/neuter costs, veterinary care or covering fees to allow lost pets to go home; or created and publicized online shopping lists for organizations. Scout and other youth groups have made toys, beds, and even built outdoor play yards and improved housing for dogs, cats and other critters. You can also search for a donation site distributing pet care supplies to people experiencing homelessness and their pets near you or consider becoming a pet food provider site if none exist in your community. 

From a car wash or bake sale to a movie or open mic night, raise awareness and funds for animal shelters and other organizations supporting pets and people. Some organizations join together to plan a neighborhood or community-wide event. You can fundraise for mobile clinics, community cat/TNR groups to cover spay/neuter surgeries, or to help local animal shelters and partner organizations ensure 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. Consider inviting city officials and other decision-makers and voice how important it is for your community to devote resources to essential services that support pets and people. 

Organize a network of people who can volunteer or spread the word when a friend, family member, or neighbor needs to rehome their pet or needs someone to temporarily care for their pet because of a military deployment, medical issue, or other urgent situation. Your group can also act as pet detectives and increase found pets’ chances of returning home by checking with neighbors in the area where a pet was found, posting on social media lost-and-found and community pages such as Nextdoor, and posting found pet flyers.

If your organization has a meeting space, or you’re a landlord who has unused space, consider partnering with shelters and foster-based organizations to showcase pets who need new homes and bring more pets and people together. You can also help promote adoptable pets by sharing posts via your social media accounts or group newsletter.

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.

For more information on these and other ways your group can make a difference, visit

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 20% of dogs and only 5% of 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.