Still looking for that perfect gift for your loved ones this holiday season? For many pet lovers, the best gift isn't available at the mall. But don't get discouraged, a contribution to your local hands-on pet shelter in their name is a wonderful way to please family members and help the dogs and cats in your community.
Dedicated veterinarians and millions of other compassionate people have made huge progress in promoting animal health and well-being over the past few decades. But the problem persists: 6 million to 8 million unwanted cats and dogs enter shelters every year because nobody wants them.
A new group that I'm working with, the Humane Society for Shelter Pets, is the only national group with the singular mission of promoting local pet shelters.
It exists because of a documented misunderstanding among the general public about animal welfare. The net result of this "humane confusion" is that millions of dollars are diverted from pet rescue and shelter efforts into national "awareness" campaigns.
According to national polling, 71 percent of Americans mistakenly believe the Humane Society of the United States is an umbrella group for pet shelters, which often share the "humane society" name. And 68 percent wrongly believe that the society contributes most of its money to local pet shelters.
What's the difference? The Humane Society of the United States, for example, focuses on awareness campaigns but provides little direct care for animals. It runs a few wildlife sanctuaries, but donates only 1 percent of its budget to support pet sheltering.
It's the local groups that do the most hands-on work, while the national groups operate the best fundraising campaigns to sustain programs far removed from supporting unwanted or abused cats and dogs in animal shelters.
Meanwhile, local shelters, which have no national umbrella group, spend their few resources providing direct care to animals. They simply don't have the budget to correct the false impression that national animal groups are supporting local efforts.
Not only do dogs and cats in shelters miss out on resources they should be getting, but money going to national groups is often used for agendas that are more about "animal rights" (versus "animal welfare") that aren't always consistent with the values of mainstream America. The Humane Society raised $131 million from the public last year, so there's a lot of money that could be going to pet shelters that isn't.
Movements are born from many individual decisions. As Edward Hale put it, "I am only one, but I am one. I cannot do everything but I can do something. And I will not let what I cannot do interfere with what I can do."
To find a shelter near you, visit www.HumaneForPets.com.
Jeff Douglas is a communications professional with 25 years of experience working in the veterinary profession and serves as the co-director of the Human Society for Shelter Pets.