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Suddenly, we find ourselves at the holiday season. During this time, there is often an uptick in ads designed to make people feel guilty about the plight of neglected and abused animals. For pennies a day you can help, as images of truly tortured animals flash across the screen.

However, how much of your donation actually goes to the animals? When you look at the breakdown, it’s far less than you think. According to Humane Watch, the ASPCA’s CEO made over $750,000 in 2018. On top of this, 158 ASPCA employees made over $100,000 that year. Then there are high-paid lobbyists, ad costs, lawyers, etc.

So, where do you think your money is going when you donate to the larger, highly visible organizations? What can you do to increase the chance your money will truly go to the animals?

First, give locally. But do your homework. Sadly, people use the term “rescue” to defraud others of money. Before you donate, ask to see proof of non-profit or 501(c)3 status. If the rescue cannot provide physical proof, it may not be a legitimate group. 

Years ago, a local rescue group was shut down in part because the director refused to file the paperwork to become a non-profit or to become a recognized commercial pet dealer. The IRS had a warning about this group on its webpage. By law, if someone asks for proof of non-profit status, it must be provided. If a group cannot, donate elsewhere. You can also contact your local humane society and ask whether they can take monetary donations.

If you are not comfortable donating money because you are unsure how it will be used, ask about donating supplies. The SPCAs in Prince William, Fairfax and Fauquier counties all have wish lists and Amazon shopping links. Check your local SPCA to see what they need.

Another idea is talk to your local veterinarians to see if they have funds that help cover medical bills for pet owners dealing with financial problems. If you have a pet-owning relative who is on a fixed income, find out what vet they use and put money on their account.

Different organizations assist people with paying for veterinary services that pet owners may otherwise not be able to afford if they have fallen on hard times. Some vet clinics work with local rescue groups and donate services. Those services cost the clinic. If your local vet does this, ask whether you can donate funds to help offset clinic costs.

Finally, there is a lot of information about shelter enrichment for different species of animals. This may include food releasing toys, shelters and beds and entertainment stations. If you are handy, team up with your local SPCA or rescue and start building. If you are a scout leader, your troop may be able to earn various badges for these acts. Schools and clubs, this is a chance for classes and students to obtain volunteer hours.

This holiday season, even with COVID-19 precautions, think locally and act locally. Know where your money is going. If you do not want to donate money, donate supplies or time. There are many things you can do to help various rescue organizations in our communities.

Karen Peak is the developer of The Safe Kids/Safe Dogs Project and owner/operator of West Wind Dog Training in Prince William County.

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