On October 24, for the 24th year, millions of Americans will find ways to make the world a better place. It’s the annual Make A Difference Day, a USA Today initiative backed by the Gannett Company and TEGNA, Inc., in collaboration with Points of Light.
In 2014, 14 grassroots groups were recognized for projects that enhanced their communities, whether it was gathering bikes and toys for poor children, building a wheelchair ramp, or cleaning up homes damaged by floods.
Make A Difference Day programs focus on humans helping humans. But, we dog people can get into the spirit of things with initiatives that involve the canine community, as well. Here are just a few ways you, your dog, or both, can make life a little brighter for those around you.
Comfort those who are sick or sad: Therapy dogs have lifted spirits all over the world, and continue to do so wherever people need help, whether it’s in a hospital room with a single individual or at the site of a mass shooting. If you think you have a dog with a healing touch, why don’t you explore becoming a therapy team? Organizations such as Angel On A Leash can help you get started. Therapy work can be extremely rewarding for both of you, and you can have an enormous positive impact on those you visit.
Help homeless animals: There are many ways you can help homeless dogs, whether it’s fostering or providing transport for one of the many breed rescue organizations, or by helping with walking, socialization, or training for shelter dogs. Contact these organizations to see if they need any help and how you can get involved. There are even programs, such as Walk a Hound, Lose a Pound, that combine fitness-training for you with exercise and companionship for dogs who don't yet have owners. What better way to make a difference than helping a once-unwanted dog become a beloved pet?
Donate to a pet-food pantry: Sometimes a donation of food can help people keep their dogs through hard times. Food stamps do not cover pet supplies, notes the Animal Relief Fund in New York. ARF, and organizations like it, distribute dog foods to pantries that serve people who are entitled to relief services.
Provide pet care for the elderly or disabled: For many ill or elderly people, a pet is often the only companion, and comfort, that they have. But caring for those pets, especially a dog who needs to be walked, can be overwhelming. The Jewish Association for Services for the Aged (JASA) has a network of volunteers who give these people the support they need to keep their animals. Other organizations (see video) help military families during deployment.
Perform random acts of kindness: Sometimes all it takes to turn a person’s day around is a smile, a gentle word, or a tail wag. Dogs and their people are generally upbeat characters. Spread your joy around. You’ll never know how much even the smallest gesture might buoy someone’s spirits.
Here's a video of another way to make a difference, volunteering through Dogs on Deployment to help military families care for their pets.