5 Ways Animal Shelters Keep Their Doors Open (and How You Can Help)


PetMD Editorial

Updated Oct. 29, 2021

By Jackie Kelly

A common misconception among pet adopters as well as the community at large, is that animal shelters are funded by tax payer dollars and adoption fees.  However, unless the shelter in question is run by, or has a deal with the municipality, most don’t receive government funding. As for the adoption fees, those are meant to cover the cost of care animals receive in the shelter.

So where does funding for your local humane society come from? The simple answer is: donations.

Here are several ways shelters go about soliciting funds to keep their doors open.

1. Annual Donations 

Those emails asking you to renew your annual donation of $50 are sent to ensure that your attention (and their budget) doesn’t slowly fade away over the years. Most local shelters will also have a webpage link in the email so you can donate directly to them. In fact a lot of social media pages like Facebook and Twitter have helped encourage daily interaction with shelter websites which in turn can increase funding efforts.

“Social media has helped us reach more people about the work we do for animals in the community,” says Maryann Regan, Director of Shelter Operations at the Animal Rescue League of Boston. “The more people know about and can see the work their donations support, the more likely they are to give.

Regan adds that social media has been an effective way to broadcast information about breaking news cases and events, and what people can do to support the rehabilitation of animals involved in a case.


2. Crowdfunding 

When extensive medical care is needed due to the abuse or neglect of animals, crowdfunding pages on sites like Gofundme.com can help save a life and a shelter’s budget.  

A single case of abuse can potentially wipe out an entire year's worth of veterinary budget for a town,” says Forensic Veterinary Investigations LLCs’ President, Martha Smith-Blackmore, DVM and chair of the American Veterinary Medical Association’s Animal Welfare Committee. “No animal should ever have to lose its life after suffering correctable injuries at the hands of an abuser.  A successful crowdfunding campaign can make a life or death difference for a victim. This decentralization of fundraising and lifesaving is the way of the future of caring for animal cruelty victims."

3. Fundraising Events

Fundraising events are a great opportunity for animal shelters to not only promote awareness and attract potential annual donors, but it’s also a way to raise money from those who would otherwise not contribute. In order to keep the costs of fundraisers down, often shelters will try to get things donated for the event, be it prizes, venue space or staff. This helps ensure that they’ll recuperate the cost of the fundraiser and put the extra donated money toward caring for the animals.

4. Grants

Grant writing is another way that nonprofits can reach out for assistance.  While there aren’t a lot of trusts dedicated to assisting animal welfare (here’s a list of a few), those like the ASPCA, HSUS, PetSmart Charities do provide assistance. Usually these grants go towards funding project-based work like spay and neuter clinics or emergency care. However, some will fund updating or expanding facilities or the enhancement of pet adoption programs.

5. Gifts in Kind

Donations of food and toys are often given by individuals as well as animal centric businesses. Initiatives like the Hill’s Food Shelter & Love program make it possible for shelters to provide high quality food on a budget. Hill’s generously donates small bags of their food to participating shelters to send home with adoptees. They also donate dry food to the shelter at the cost of shipping. The animals benefit nutritionally and they will be able to transition to their new home without any tummy troubles.

Volunteering is another gift that is equally, if not more important than, material gifts. Providing assistance walking dogs or playing with cats is what most people think of when they think volunteering at an animal shelter. However, shelters count on volunteers for everything ranging from administrative support, working fundraisers or conducting adoptions to photographing adoptable animals. This assistance means there’s one less person on the payroll but the care the animals need isn’t compromised.  

“When horrible things happen to defenseless animals, we all feel somewhat powerless and wish we could have done something to protect them. says Dr. Smith-Blackmore. “This fuels our outrage and causes each of us to do what we can to make it better. Fortunately through these tireless efforts to raise funds animal shelters are able to care for countless displaced or abandoned animals that would otherwise be forgotten. 

Image: a katz / via Shutterstock

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