This is  the holiday season – a.k.a. the season of giving – which means it’s as good a time as ever to help out animals in need. Whether you want to volunteer at a local shelter, foster an animal, or are looking for ways to contribute from the comfort of home, there are plenty of ways to do your part. 

Even if you feel like you can’t do much this year, remember that every effort counts! Here are a few ways you can give animals in need the TLC they deserve this holiday season.

1. Become a temporary or “vacation” foster

When foster parent regulars travel out of town for the holidays, shelters and rescues often need temporary foster parents for just a few days. Also called “vacation foster homes”, the highest demand for these foster homes occurs right around the holidays. Not only is this a great way to help out an animal in need, but also a way to dip your toes into the wonderful world of fostering without committing to it full-time.

Similarly, you can take in a shelter pet for a few days to give them a break from sitting in a lonely kennel. Living in an animal shelter is tough on any animal, so this gives them a chance to truly unwind. A warm bed, yummy treats, and your loving  presence for a few days is one of the best gifts these animals can ask for (besides getting adopted, of course). This is a great opportunity if you are staying home for the holidays and planning a quiet week in – think of it like pet-sitting for a friend!

Tip: Sometimes, organizations will post on social media when they need temporary fosters. Check out your local organization’s website and social media to see how their foster program works. You may be able to submit an application specifically for temporary fostering, or a regular foster application for weekends and holidays only. And don’t be afraid to email the foster coordinators if needed – they’ll be thrilled to have you!

2. Donate your pet’s extra stuff

If your cat’s treat drawer is overflowing or your dog’s old harnesses no longer fit, what better way to extend their life span than by giving them to a cat or dog in need. An animal shelter or rescue near you will always need donations. From unopened bags of food, to gently used toys, to even an old dog bed that your pup left for the couch, whatever you can give will do wonders. Just make sure things are clean, not expired, and in decent condition for these well-deserving animals. Keep in mind that shelters or rescues may have specific drop-off policies, donation sites, and limited hours to the public.

Tip: One thing that animal shelters always need is blankets and towels! This is an easy item to gather and even collect from friends and neighbors if you want to organize a mini donation drive.

3. Shop shelters’ online wish lists

Don’t have anything around your house to donate to a shelter? No worries! Many animal rescues and shelters have online wish lists where donations can be purchased and shipped right to their facility. Often done through Amazon, you can look through a list of the organization’s needs, click, and ship, all from the convenience of your phone. This is a great way to make sure they get some big-ticket items like crates or giant bags of food. If the shelter or rescue has an online registry, they will usually have it linked somewhere on their website.

4. Donate pet food and supplies to food pantries

Many families struggle to put food on the table during the holidays – and this doesn’t exclude their beloved furry family members. While donating non-perishables to your local food pantry, consider including a bag of dog food or kitty litter in your donation. Some food pantries that accept monetary donations will also let you request that a specific item be bought with your money, such as asking them to purchase cat food. Not only will you be helping these pets, but making a huge difference for their families.

5. Shop for gifts from companies that give back

Another great way to help animals during the holiday season is to buy gifts from small businesses (and even some larger companies) that donate a portion of proceeds to animal rescues. Some of my personal favorites are Grounds and Hounds coffee company – whose entire ethos revolves around giving back to dogs in need, and Conscious Step for cause-supporting socks (their Socks That Save Dogs and Cats raise funds for Best Friends Animal Society). Etsy also has a plethora of small businesses and artists that give a portion of their profits to animals.

Another option is shopping through Give As You Live with participating companies and charities. While online shopping through their website, you can generate funds for whatever nonprofit you’d like. They have hundreds of brands that work through them, from H&M to Wayfair to Domino’s Pizza.

If you are buying on Amazon, make sure you are doing your shopping on smile.amazon.com. Shopping through Amazon Smile makes sure a portion of your purchase is being donated to your selected charity. With thousands of nonprofit organizations to choose from, you can donate proceeds to any organization from the ASPCA to your local animal shelter.

6. Gift a donation in somebody’s name

If there’s an animal lover on your gifting list, a thoughtful present could be a monetary donation to their favorite animal welfare organization. Monetary donations allow shelters and rescues to pursue life-saving medical care, buy whatever supplies they need, and keep their facilities in tip-top shape. What better way to spread holiday cheer than gifting a donation in your friend or family member’s name?

From municipal animal shelters to tiny volunteer-run rescues, organizations all over the country are in need of help year-round, but especially during the holiday season. Thousands of dogs, cats, and even exotic animals like guinea pigs, are looking for a loving home. And although you might not be able to give them all a home, these tips are the next best thing.