3 Ways to Save and Improve the Lives of Shelter Animals

The Problem 

In the United States alone, 6.5 million household animals enter shelters each year. Due to the overpopulation and underfunding of these shelters, approximately 1.5 million of these animals are subject to unnecessary euthanasia every year. This startling number has diminished by over 42% since 2011, but there is still work to be done.   

The Solution

Tremendous strides have been taken to assist shelters with managing their intake of animals and enhancing their living conditions. Some organizations promote animal care by donating to underfunded shelters, and investing in the infrastructure to help give stray animals a home. Others have taken on the goal of raising awareness of this issue, and educating people on ways they can help the cause. New initiatives such as catch and release programs for sterilizing strays, and data collection methods for managing overflow of strays in overpopulated regions, have made the goal of eliminating shelter euthanasia achievable in the near future. 

Philadelphia is one of the cities at the forefront of support for this goal. Philadelphia currently has the 10th most animal intakes in its shelters of all U.S. cities. Yet commitment from animal welfare groups, rescue programs, and shelters in the city working together have helped reduce euthanasia rates from 51% in 2011 to under 20% as of last year. Thanks to this collaborative effort, along with dedication from the people of Philadelphia, the abolishment of the practice of euthanizing treatable animals is within reach. 

How You Can Help

Animal adoption, rather than breeding, is one of the main contributors in reducing shelter overpopulation. This helps to lower euthanasia rates, and benefits the lives of all animals that remain in shelters. Each animal adoption allows room for that shelter to care for another stray. Right now only 1 in 4 dogs, and 1 in 3 cats in households are acquired from a shelter or rescue service. 

Everyone’s lives are unique, and each of us has limitations and responsibilities that may make adopting an animal seem like an impossibility. While permanently adopting an animal is a huge life decision, both as a financial and time commitment, other methods of helping these animals are becoming increasingly more accessible to everyone. 


While committing to the 10+ year lifespan of a young dog or cat may intimidate a potential adopter, shelters are providing more benefits and assistance than ever. Many wave or discount adoption fees for elderly pets, which may be ideal for households that are not confident they will be able to care for their pet multiple years into the future. Certain shelters also offer free adoption if households go through an intense screening process to verify they will provide an ideal home and care for an adopted animal. It is a good idea to call local shelters and inquire about these programs before exploring other methods of finding your next pet. 


Animal fostering has become increasingly popular as shelters are providing flexibility and financial assistance to people that want to help increase the quality of life for sheltered animals. Fostering a pet allows you to temporarily adopt an animal while it waits to be picked as an adoption for a permanent home, allowing room in the shelter for other animals to be rescued. While fostering a rescue, you are providing it a better quality of life than it may have ever experienced.  By caring for an animal, while training it in a positive environment will give them a better chance to be adopted. Who knows, you might not be able to give your new friend away and end up being the one to give it a permanent home. 

Most shelters will support foster owners, reimbursing necessary expenses such as the burdensome health and veterinary costs. Other shelters cover all costs, including day to day supplies (food, leashes, toys, beds, grooming, training, etc.), so it can be beneficial to research different shelters to learn their policies. 

Fostering can be flexible, and even offer options for taking animals seasonally, or for certain days of the week. Anything Helps! Try giving the human societies or shelters in your area a call and they can help you get started with the process, or direct you to where you can foster from. 


Ownership is not the only form of support for homeless animals. One of the best ways to contribute to this cause is to volunteer at local shelters or animal welfare groups. There are numerous ways for people of all ages and situations to get involved, and it has never been easier. Volunteering at a shelter or offering foster care is as simple as filling out an online application and completing a quick in-person or phone interview, and opportunities are available nationwide. Being an off-site or event volunteer is even more accessible, especially in the Philadelphia area, with only a quick training or orientation session necessary before you start helping. There are plenty of other animal welfare groups and community organizations that are always in need, and welcoming, of new volunteers.

Caring for an animal can be emotionally healing after the departure of another pet, or therapeutic for recovering from other stressful life events. This can also be an especially good strategy for exploring out different breeds as a potential pet owner in the process of learning if you would be capable caretaker. Regardless of the reasons you help, the most important thing is that any amount of effort, even as simple as spending time with a shelter animal and showing it care and affection, will have an immeasurable impact as you teach it to be loved.