In the aftermath of Sept. 11, we opened our hearts and our wallets in a show of support and generosity that was truly inspiring -- but in so doing, we stopped paying attention to those charities that weren't involved in the post-attack relief effort.
In this season of giving, it's time to remember those other charities again and dig a little deeper into our pockets. Community groups of all kinds are hurting, including those that work with animals. Perhaps especially the latter, since animals become a lesser priority to some when people are in dire need.
There's an argument to be made, I suppose, in assigning a lesser priority to animals at such times, but it overlooks the fact that animal charities are needed because of the irresponsible or cruel actions of people. And it also neglects to consider that animals are never more necessary to people than in times of stress and grief. A charity that helps animals helps people just as much.
Consider how important animals were in the aftermath of the Sept. 11 attacks. Search and rescue dogs from around the world worked tirelessly in horrid conditions trying to find people. And therapy dogs likewise did their part in consoling the survivors and families at relief centers. Never before have the contributions of animals played such an important role in a disaster.
People are always asking me which groups I give to, out of all those well-known organizations that stuff our mailboxes with slick appeals. Although I don't think a small donation to these national advocacy groups or those foundations that underwrite animal health research is a bad thing, I prefer to recommend that people support organizations in their own communities. Sheltering and pet-rescue groups, pet-therapy organizations and more all work on the tightest of budgets, with low-overhead operations that make the most of what they get from their donors.
Money is always welcome when it comes time to give. You can make a simple donation, or you can buy a membership as a gift to an animal-loving friend or family member. The latter is an especially good idea if you know a child who's getting several gifts, since it teaches the importance of contributing to those who are not as fortunate. If you have a friend or family member who has just lost a pet, you can make a donation in that pet's name. Most organizations will acknowledge the contribution with a sympathy card to the person who has lost the pet.
You don't have to write a check to help, though. Groups can often use items you might be throwing away, such as old newspapers or frayed towels. Sheltering groups also go through an amazing number of can openers! You might also consider buying large bags of pet food or cat litter and donating those. Some groups have thrift stores or occasional tag sales, so you can donate almost any item for them to sell to raise money. Also appreciated are office supplies such as paper, notebooks and pens.
Some groups need relatively new computers, scanners, copiers and other office equipment; call to see what their needs are. And while you're at it, ask if they have a "wish list" of big-ticket items they hoping to get donated, such as building materials or vehicles. Tracking down such items is a wonderful way of volunteering for those who are too tender-hearted to work at the shelter. Depending on your powers of persuasion, you might be able to get needed items donated just by making a phone call or two to area businesses.
'Tis the season to give, give, give. But always bear in mind that one of the best ways to contribute is by making sure that you're not part of the problem. Be sure your pets are spayed or neutered so they won't be adding to the number of animals who spend the holidays hoping for a home.
PETS ON THE WEB
Small local charities, with their low overheads and more hands-on programs, usually do more with your donation than large national organizations. With the big boys, you're too often giving to support high salaries and fund-raising programs -- luxuries smaller charities can't afford. Still, you shouldn't rule out a national charity, though you certainly should check it out carefully.
One of the best resources for researching a charity is Guidestar (www.guidestar.org), a Web site that puts the financials at your fingertips for free so you can make an informed decision before writing that check. Hundreds of animal charities are in the Guidestar database, from one-person rescue groups to some of the largest and most influential organizations around.
Animal People newspaper is a labor of love put together every month by a pair of dedicated journalists who work to cover animal issues around the globe. From Korean animal markets -- where dogs and cats are cruelly treated before being killed for their meat -- to no-holds-barred reports on animal-related industries, Animal People covers it all.
Every December the newspaper puts together a special issue on animal charities that analyzes the work they do, the salaries they pay and the overhead that must be met before a single penny is spent on programs that help animals. The Watchdog edition is a must-read for anyone who donates to animal charities.
It's $20 from Animal People, P.O. Box 960, Clinton, WA 98236-0960. You can also order the report online with a credit card at www.animalpeoplenews.org/watchdog_report.html. Regular subscriptions are also available from the same address, for $24 a year.
QUESTIONS FROM THE PACK
Q: My cat occasionally does the unspeakable and throws up prolific amounts of watery, dark-brown yuck onto my light-colored carpet. The only thing that has worked well on cleaning up the mess is Tide, since it has enzymes to dissolve proteins. However, the experts say not to use such a product on carpets. Are there any other methods to clean up this kind of mess and get rid of the terrible stains? -- H.L., via e-mail
A: According to the Denver Dumb Friends League's behavior hotline service, the worst thing you can do is one of the first things people think of -- steam-cleaning the carpet. The process sets the stain and odor, says the League, and invites repeat business from your pet. It's important to remove any stains before steam-cleaning the carpets.
Your best chance of thwarting a stain is to work when the mess is fresh. Pick up and blot all you can, and then rinse the area well with plain water, blotting more as you go. The League recommends using an extractor wet vacuum to force plain water through the area and suck it back out, and with that, the mess.
For difficult or set-in stains, you're on the right track with enzymes. Pet-supply stores and catalogs offer enzymatic cleaners designed for use on pet stains. Nature's Miracle is one of the better-known brands, but there are others. Follow directions on the package carefully for best results.
Incidentally, pet stains are why my house has hardwood floors, tile and washable throw rugs. I know better than to put in wall-to-wall carpet!
Q: A good friend has a difficult decision to make regarding shipping her 9-year-old Dalmatian from Seattle to Copenhagen, Denmark, a 10-hour flight. What's your opinion on this type of flight for a nervous dog? -- C.C., via e-mail
A: Assuming your friend has a place to keep the dog with her in Europe, I see the flight as the lesser of two evils. Better the dog stay with her than for her to attempt to find the animal a new home -- a daunting task given this pet's age and personality.
The dog will be crated for more 14 hours, most likely, since a few hours need to be factored in on either end of the journey for getting the animal on and off the plane. That's a long time to "hold it," but most healthy adult dogs will manage it fine. If not, the result will be a dirty crate and a dirty dog, a situation that can certainly be remedied with no lasting harm to either.
Talk to the airline early about its requirements and about those of the admitting country. A health certificate will most certainly be required just before the flight, and that's the time to talk to the veterinarian about tranquilizers. They're usually not recommended -- most pets are better off without them, for health reasons -- but this dog may be an exception.
Gina Spadafori is the award-winning author of "Dogs for Dummies," "Cats for Dummies" and "Birds for Dummies." She is also affiliated with the Veterinary Information Network Inc., an international online service for veterinary professionals. Write to her in care of this newspaper, or send e-mail to writetogina(at)spadafori.com.
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