How to Support Less Adoptable Pets at Shelters

by Lexi Notobartolo

Pitbull dog breed sitting alone outside on a walkway

Donating money, time, or needed goods can each have positive impacts on the adoption outlook for less adoptable shelter pets. Start by finding your local shelter or animal welfare group to figure out what’s most needed in your community.

The average amount of time pets spend listed on adoption website is 12.5 weeks, but there are some who spend 48 weeks or more on the site. These pets are typically referred to as ‘less adoptable’, a term which can include senior dogs, dogs with special needs such as blind or deaf dogs, dogs with black coats, and certain dog breeds stereotyped as ‘aggressive’ such as so-called bully breeds like American Pit Bull Terriers.

While it sounds harsh, this classification can help identify the pets at shelters that will benefit from extra attention, resources, and kindness. We know that many people would love nothing more than to adopt every dog in need, but when adoption isn’t an option there are still things you can do to support less adoptable pets at the shelter.

Donate Money

This seems obvious, but donating money to your local shelter is one of the most impactful things you can do to help less adoptable dogs. Care for senior dogs or dogs with special needs can often be quite costly, so supporting the shelter in your community financially often benefits these less adoptable pets meaningfully. Many shelters offer multiple ways to donate, including monthly or recurring donations, via web apps like Venmo, the gifting of stocks or bonds, or through investment instruments like Donor Advised Funds (DAFs). Petfinder offers a national database of shelters and animal welfare groups, so find out who is active in your community and inquire about their donation options.   

Donate Time

One of the best ways to learn about the support needed by less adoptable pets at the shelter is to become a volunteer yourself. Shelters in different areas will have different needs, but there is generally always space for people able to help with cleaning shelter facilities, helping with feeding time, and certain kinds of administrative tasks. This may afford you the chance to dedicate extra time to the less adoptable pet cohort, which can be transformative for scared dogs or dogs in need of additional socialization. The shelter environment can be confusing, lonely, and stressful for a young, healthy pup, let alone an older dog or a pup with special needs. The power of patient, positive attention for less adoptable dogs helps them present as the 100% adoptable charmers they really are!

Donate Goods 

Less adoptable dogs are often those with special needs or long-term illnesses, which means optimizing their health and comfort are of even greater importance. Many shelters make available lists or Amazon links to needed donations (and if they don’t, you can often call or stop by to get a list of what they need). These donations, especially if recurring, can be incredibly impactful for the less adoptable pet population. When it comes to food, for example, most shelters are focused on volume and easy storage so the most kibble for the least cost will always win the day. This means less adoptable dogs might not get the high quality food ideally suited to their health needs. If you are able to provide a higher quality food option via donation to a shelter, this can help ensure these dogs have the nutrition they need to present as their best selves.

If you’re not sure where to start or which approach is best, reach out to your local shelter and let them know you're interested in supporting less adoptable pets in their care. Most will be able to tell you what their most pressing needs are and how you can best achieve your goal.

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