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15 things to do today to help local unwanted cats and dogs

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The dogs of Sochi are in the headlines today. But the animals in the 2014 Winter Olympics host city aren't the only animals in need of homes.

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South Carolina has far more than its share of animal cruelty and neglect, and its shelters are overcrowded. Euthanasia because of overcrowding is a sad reality for most shelters in this state despite the best efforts of their staff to find homes for them.

Perhaps redoubling efforts in South Carolina to find homes for the homeless dogs and cats in the local communities, and expanding spay and neuter outreach programs to cut down on the new litters of puppies and kittens would be the greatest tribute to the Olympics dogs and cats.

What can one person do when the problem is so big?

There is an old story about a woman who was walking along a beach after a storm. The sand was covered with starfish as far as one could see. As she walked along, the woman picked up a starfish, and threw it back into the waves. Then she picked up another starfish and threw it back into the waves. She continued to do this as she walked along the beach. A man observing asked her why she was doing that, when she couldn't possibly save them all. The woman looked at him for a moment, picked up another starfish and threw it back into the waves. Then she said "True, but it made a big difference for that starfish, didn't it?"

The answer is as simple as that. The animal overpopulation, cruelty, and neglect problems in South Carolina are far too big to solve quickly and easily. It has to start with helping one dog or one cat, and educating one person.

Where does a concerned person start?

First, the number of new puppies and kittens being born needs to be drastically reduced. That means people need to spay and neuter their pets.

Next, something has to be done with the unwanted pets that are already here. That "something" needs to be a better alternative than euthanizing healthy pets just because they have no home. Somehow, homes need to be found for the dogs and cats that are already born.

This is where the "concerned person" part comes in. There are many roles in the community just waiting to be filled. Some of these roles are "hands on", dealing directly with the animals. Others require no contact with animals. Some are a mix. But there is a role for just about everyone.

Here are 15 roles that need to be filled in the community today:

1. Foster a dog or cat. Offer to provide a temporary home for a pet while a longer term home is found. Both short-term and longer-term foster homes are needed. The slideshow has photos of local pets who need foster homes.

2. Spend some time playing with a pet at a local shelter. It reduces stress for the animals, helps keep them friendly, and makes them more likely to be adopted.

3. Transport. Sometimes a pet needs to go to a different area to a rescue or adoptive home. These transports are usually split up into short 1-2 hour drives.

4. Help out at an adoption event. Help set up and break down crates. Take the dogs for a walk. Talk to people about the pets.

5. Speak to community organizations. Help educate people about pet overpopulation, and the need to spay/neuter pets. Help educate people about proper pet care and that pets should be treated as family members.

6. Spread the news about pets that need homes via social media and email.

7. Make microwave warming packs by filling tube socks with uncooked rice and take them to the shelter. These are especially needed for newborns, and for sick or senior pets.

8. Design adoption and educational materials that can be printed out or shared on the internet.

9. Organize something – adoption events, fundraisers, volunteers, transports, etc.

10. Offer to pick up pet food and supplies, take pets to and from the vet, or even pick up rescued animals at a shelter.

11. Build fences. Yes, build fences. No dog should have to live on a chain.

12. Donate. Funds are always needed for vet care, food, supplies, gas for transports, etc.

13. Sponsor a pet’s rescue fee at a kill shelter to make it more likely that the animal will be rescued.

14. Donate to help cover a sick pet’s vet care. Not all pets that need rescue are healthy, but many can be nursed back to health with proper care. Pets in need of rescue may need any of a wide range of vet care from dental cleanings to heartworm treatment to surgery such as amputations.

15. Participate in a fundraiser. Tell your friends about the fundraiser too. Many businesses run by animal lovers will offer days when a percentage of the business that day is donated to local rescues or shelters.

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