The donation of physical items to an animal shelter can be extremely welcome, as shelters don’t necessarily have the funds to provide these items themselves. But unless you volunteer or work at a shelter, it can be hard to know what is most useful. Here is my list of the top six items (or types of items) you should donate to your local animal shelter:
1. Towels/blankets/beds are one of the top-used items at shelters. Towels tend to be one of the most useful items because they can be used for a variety of things: bedding, padding in carriers, cleaning up messes, drying off an animal, etc. It’s great to donate gently used towels or blankets (or even pet beds) to your local shelter. Keep in mind, though, that animal shelters house stressed-out animals that might urinate, defecate, vomit on, or tear to shreds their bedding. So you shouldn’t shell out money for brand new items, or spend hours sewing anything together*. On the other hand, keep to the general rule that if you wouldn’t use it yourself or for your own pet, there’s a good chance that neither will the animal shelter. Stained pillows, blankets with holes, dog beds with stuffing falling out, are all items that may not be usable by the shelter. Items that need special washing or drying techniques are also not great items to donate, as most things get thrown into a standard or commercial grade washer and dryer, often with a good heap of bleach.
*Smaller rescues, especially foster-home based rescues, would probably be better recipients of home-made items than large shelters.
2. Unopened food/treats – many shelters have deals with pet food companies (such as Natural Balance or Science Diet) and get their food donated already. Check with your local shelter to see if this is the case, and if so, what brand they use. Typically, food must be unopened in order to be accepted, for safety reasons. Even if a shelter uses a specific brand, they are often accept prescription diets (which are expensive) or cans of cat food that don’t fit their current brand. (Shelter cats will sometimes decide not to eat, in which case the shelter will often tempt the cat with as many varieties as possible.) Smaller shelters and rescues might be even less picky, and accept any type of food, as long as it hasn’t been opened. It’s always good to ask first! And if you’re looking for a place that will accept opened bags of dry food, check with a local organization that helps feral cats.
3. Laundry detergent – to keep up with daily cleaning, most shelters have to run their washers and dryers 24/7. Some larger shelters have commercial-sized machines that still barely keep up with the demand. But particularly for any shelter that does not have commercial machines, laundry detergent is always needed. Just be sure to ask if there are any specifications required, such as needing to be high efficiency compatible.
4. Hand sanitizer/paper towels – keep the shelters nice and clean. Paper towels can be used for spot cleaning or as a bathroom necessity, and the empty rolls can be used as cheap toys for kittens. Hand sanitizer is used by staff, volunteers, and the public to disinfect hands between handling different animals. Germs can be spread very easily, particularly among kittens, which is why it’s important to have sanitizer at the ready!
5. Crates/carriers – for every transportation need. While this is a pretty obvious number to the list, it’s amazing how most shelters can never collect too many pet carriers. Between general wear and tear, lending out crates that are never returned, and giving some away to desperate pet owners in need, most shelters always need more crates and carriers.
6. Toys – to keep the animals entertained while they wait for their new homes! As with blankets and beds, follow the rule that if you wouldn’t give it to your own pet, the shelter probably can’t use it. Used bones can’t be sanitized, and chew toys already chewed to bits can pose a hazard. Similarly, cat trees and scratchers can be difficult to sanitize, so check with your shelter about whether or not they can accept them. This is isn’t to say that toys have to be brand new (although that’s always nice!), but consider donating the toys that your own pet decided he didn’t like, instead of the ones he loved to pieces. That being said, Kong toys for dogs (to use as food puzzles) and cardboard scratching posts for cats (that fit inside a kennel) can provide excellent and much-needed enrichment.
Of course, there may be other items desperately needed by your local shelter that do not fit into any of the above categories. Some shelters will have requests on their website, Facebook page, or on an Amazon wishlist. So look around and become the most awesome in-kind donor of them all!
At the end of the day, animal shelters can’t survive with donations, both monetary and physical. Not everyone can give tons of money, and that’s absolutely okay. But you’d be surprised how needed that one bottle of hand sanitizer you bought on clearance can be, or those gifted towels you’ve never used.
So please, donate what you can. And THANK YOU!