Today a friend of mine sent me a link to an online store run by an animal rescue program. He was interested in buying some of the products from the store, but wanted to know if I'd heard of the organization, and if it was legit. My answer to my friend was that if what he was really looking for were the products (and the stuff this site was selling was pretty nifty and right up his alley), then it wouldn't hurt him to go ahead and buy the stuff - and maybe some of the money would indeed end up helping the animals. However, as the goods in question would've been pricey to produce, the amount per item that would actually go to helping animals would probably be rather low. As such, if his main goal was to help animals, he'd be better off going to a local animal shelter/rescue and donating to them directly. I've actually been thinking about this all day, and figured it was worth a post.
A lot of people want to help animals. Not everyone can take in large numbers of animals - but just because you can't have a ginormous four-legged menagerie doesn't mean you don't want to help out. So, what should you do? What shouldn't you do?
Donate to a local animal shelter or rescue.
Many caring and well-meaning folks donate every year to the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS). Don't do this. If you really, truly want to help animals, do not donate to HSUS. Contrary to popular belief, they do not fund and rarely ever assist local animal shelters. You have an organization in your town with the words "humane society" in its name? It's just a name; they do not receive money from HSUS. I used to work at a small local animal shelter that had "humane society" in its name - it was a high-kill pound that received $0/year from HSUS... and nearly every day I heard at least one local resident mention how they regularly donated to HSUS. These people were always shocked to learn that we received nothing from HSUS. Find out what animal shelters and rescues are located in your area and donate to them directly. (For more information on the misleading fundraising techniques of HSUS, click here.)
Do your research.
Everybody loves a big fat check, but just because you want that check to go towards vet care doesn't mean it isn't going to go towards the boss's vacation fund. Yes, I'm cynical. I've also seen a scam artists use their "rescues" as a way to live high on the hog. Be careful. Do your research; google is a wonderful tool. In addition to googling - if it's a local organization, go and visit! Check it out, see if they're doing what they claim to be doing. Get to know the people working there, the people running the place, the animals. There are many, many wonderful animal rescue organizations out there; just be sure you're giving to one of the good guys.
Don't (necessarily) just cut a check.
If you're concerned that your donations may or may not go directly to the animals, there are other options to just forking over dough. If an organization is asking for money to cover vet care, ask for the veterinarian's information. Provide the money to the vet clinic directly. If the organization needs money to cover food costs, contact a local pet-food store and set up an account to be used for animal food only. You can also donate things: food, blankets, beds, cages, bowls... but before you buy, ask the organization what they need. They might have more pet food than they eat through before it goes bad, but be desperately in need of winter blankets. Or they might have a year's supply of cat food and only a week's supply of dog food. You never know until you ask.
Lots of organizations (and this goes for ALL charities, not just animal-related ones) sell things to raise money. It's a great way to convince people to part with their cash, and a lot of the things sold by these organizations are pretty awesome... but these things take money to produce. A $10 t-shirt might only net the organization $2. If it's a super awesome t-shirt that you really want, buy it! But if you just want to help the organization, simply give them the $10 (or see above and below for other options).
If you have the time and want to help, this is a great thing to do. This helps the animals and the staff - and it will give you an idea of whether or not this is a place you want to donate your hard earned cash to. Depending on the organization, volunteering can include cleaning (sweeping, raking, cleaning cages/pens, laundry), socializing with the animals, grooming animals, feeding animals, walking dogs, yard work, fund raising, construction, transportation, fostering, web design, and more. Again, you never know what kind of help a place needs until you ask.