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How To Be A Shelter Santa

By Susan Tasaki, December 2016, Updated December 2021

As the year winds down and holiday celebrations speed up, dogophiles often look for ways to do something extra for animal shelters. Karina Holosko, a writer and “boots-on-the-ground activist for shelter dogs,” recently wrote to us with an inspired approach that can be put into practice immediately or rolled out at any point in the year. Her tips follow, plus one of our own.

Choose a state and google “animal control”; follow up by visiting the websites of city-run facilities, many of which are overloaded and understaffed. One way you can identify those with the greatest need by the length of their “How You Can Help” section. Settle on one whose work you’d like to support.

Contact the shelter supervisor and make a friend. Ask about the shelter’s weekly intake numbers. Be diplomatic and thoughtful—you’re entering someone else’s territory (no one wants an uninvited outsider telling them what to do). Be clear that you understand the very difficult situations the shelter faces every day, and that you and your community would like to help.

Work with the shelter to create an wish list through Amazon, which makes it easy for all donations to go directly to the shelter. Plus, make sure to utilize the Amazon Smile program.


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Create a business card (you can get 500 for $20 or so) with the shelter’s name and website, and the link to the Amazon wish list. Then, go out into your neighborhood and spread the word (and the card). Holosko describes stopping strangers walking their dogs in her Upper East Side NYC neighborhood, handing them a card and describing the needs of dogs in her chosen shelter. Plus promote the list on your social networks.

Your local shelter may also welcome this help, and they will definitely welcome donations of towels. They can never have enough of these versatile articles. Among the ways they’re used: to cozy up a cage; as a “towel cowl” to safely and gently handle small, nervous dogs; to move a dog from a surgical table, to block drafts, for kennel privacy and—of course—as after-bath aids, keeping wet dogs warm as they dry off.*

Holosko tells us that last year, she selected a shelter in Rutherford, Tenn. Though it’s in a small county (pop. 200,000), the shelter was receiving 60 animals a day and needed everything from food bowls, blankets and leashes to bleach to clean the cages. Her outreach was successful, and, as she says, “It was a morale-booster to the staff; they took the opportunity to start a newsletter, organize the first Easter egg hunt and begin actively educating the community on the benefits of spay and neuter!”

Susan Tasaki, a freelance editor and writer, lives in the San Francisco Bay Area with her Husky, who wishes they both got out more.