Here are a few ways to help:
1. Organize a toy or food drive. Animal shelters and rescues can always use more food (wet and dry). Toys are helpful as well -- cats and dogs can get bored while waiting for their forever family to arrive. If you're hosting a gathering, simply ask everyone to bring a small donation. Maybe ask if you can set up a bin at your school or office holiday party.
2. Check out your local shelter's wish list. Many shelters are run solely on donations, and they're almost always in need of supplies. Check your local shelter's website or give them a call to see what's on their wish list. (P.S., Shelter staff and volunteers love cookies.) There is always a need for laundry detergent and Clorox.
3. Donate old blankets and newspapers. Before you throw out unwanted items like old towels, sheets, and newspapers, check with your local shelter to see if they can use them. Especially in the winter, cats and dogs need all the insulation they can get, and warm bedding is often in short supply. Cedar shavings make great bedding for those animals living outside. Cedar shavings are fairly inexpensive and would be greatly appreciated.
Visibility can mean the difference between life and death for animals on death row at overcrowded shelters. Sharing photos of homeless cats and dogs on Facebook and Twitter can literally be a lifesaver -- you never know when the right person might be looking.
5. Sponsor a pet.
Many shelters, particularly those caring for special-needs or hard-to-adopt pets, offer sponsorship opportunities. Basically your monthly donation helps cover food, supplies, and medical care for that cat or dog, and in exchange you receive photos and updates. It's kind of like long-distance adoption.
6. Become a foster.
Fostering is tough work, but few things are more rewarding or beneficial to undersocialized cats and dogs than spending time in a real home getting comfortable with a family. A little TLC and daily interaction might be all that shy kitty needs to come out of her shell, or it might make the difference between life and death for a litter of feral kittens. Check with your local shelter to see what opportunities are available.
If you lack the funds to sponsor or the time to foster, you can always volunteer. The hours homeless animals spend at shelters can be long and lonely. They are immensely grateful for anyone willing to spend a little time petting them, giving them some exercise, or engaging them in play. Particularly over the holiday season, volunteers are in high demand, so check with some rescues in your area to see how you can help. Even an hour a week makes a difference.
8. Make a donation in someone's name.
Looking for the perfect gift for the animal lovers on your list? Consider making a donation in their name to their favorite shelter. It is a win-win situation for everyone involved.
9. Bang on your car.
As temperatures fall, feral cats seek shelter where they can find it -- and this is frequently under the hoods of parked cars. Before starting your engine each morning, bang on the hood to scare any lurking cats out of hiding. This is a quick and easy way to potentially save a life. Also keep an eye out for any leaks under your car. Anti-freeze is very dangerous to pets.
10. Spay and neuter.
This may seem obvious, but the best way to help homeless animals is not to contribute to the problem. Spay and neuter your pets, and encourage your friends and family to do the same.