How to Help Animal Shelters in an Emergency or Natural Disaster

Two masked people moving cases of canned cat food to help an animal shelter

When a natural disaster or other emergency occurs, it's natural to get immersed in the stories and empathize with the victims. This might motivate you to assist in whatever way possible. For pet lovers, there are many ways to help animal shelters in an emergency situation beyond donating crucial funds. 

Ensure your own safety

If you are interested in helping an animal shelter or rescue group in an emergency scenario, first ensure that your own disaster preparedness plan is in place. Also, share the importance of disaster preparedness with your friends and family, so no one is ever caught off guard. (It’s like that instruction we receive from the airlines: Make sure your own seat belt is buckled before assisting others.) That way, you know you and your loved ones will be safe, and you can give your full attention to the help you're providing.

Gain animal care skills

Research animal welfare organizations that respond to emergencies near you, so you can sign up as a volunteer to gain any necessary training, experience, and skills. Also, consider taking as many online animal behavior and care courses as possible to gain more experience about what to expect from dogs and cats during emergencies.

Another training opportunity is taking a pet first-aid and CPR class, so you can help animals who might not have access to veterinary care. And to further assist with caring for pets with injuries or illnesses, consider creating a first-aid kit for your pets and community pets.

Get hands-on experience

If you want to get more hands-on experience with animals prior to a disaster, contact your local shelter and apply to become a volunteer or foster caregiver. The shelter might even have openings for foster caregivers who serve during emergencies.

Donate needed items

Finally, during an emergency, you might be inclined to donate items to local animal shelters. However, this might not be the most helpful thing to do because the items might not be specifically what the shelter needs. Plus, the shelter staff might have to spend time and energy getting those items sorted, cleaned, and stored. 

Instead, consider giving money, which can be used to purchase exactly what’s needed. Another option: Some shelters post wish lists of needed supplies on their websites, social media, or other sites like or You can order those items and have them shipped directly to the shelter, knowing your gift is much needed and appreciated.

While most of us can feel helpless in the face of devastation, every kind action taken during an emergency adds up to making life better for homeless pets and the people who care for them.