Guest post by Claire Sterling, ASPCA
Since time immemorial, animals have fed, clothed, transported, protected, and entertained people in every corner of the world. The creatures who have become our pets have given us companionship, hope, and inspiration throughout the ages – they have also extended and saved human lives. So that begs the question, “What are we giving them?”
The unfortunate answer is, not nearly enough. Tragically, the animals to whom humanity owes the most – horses, dogs, cats, and farm animals – suffer from cruelty and neglect daily. But the news isn’t all grim: people are becoming more aware of this profound disconnect.
A 2011 nonprofit social-media report from Internet entrepreneur and philanthropist Craig Newmark, founder of Craigslist, indicates that animal welfare charities are among the most popular online, both in terms of posting most frequently and being most frequently discussed on social networks. Furthermore, according to the latest edition of the Giving Institute’s annual Giving USA, Animals/Environment was one of the top three fastest-growing areas of 2012 charitable giving, increasing by 6.8% over 2011 to a total of $8.3 billion. Of the $316 billion given across the board to charitable organizations in the U.S. last year, about 72% of donations came from individuals, while only 15% came from foundations.
Even within the relatively small slice of charitable dollars contributed by foundations, foundation funding for efforts to better the lives of animals is extremely limited. According to the Foundation Center’s 2011 statistics on foundation grants by subject category, grant dollars for “Animals and Wildlife” constituted only 1% of grants awarded by the largest U.S. foundations. Considering that domestic animals and wildlife are grouped into the same category, the percentage of grant dollars awarded to shelters, rescues, and other animal welfare organizations was more meager still. This can likely be explained by foundation leaders’ belief that – particularly in these tough economic times – the needs of people must take precedence over the needs of animals. But what many may not realize is that it is possible to support both simultaneously. If you’re wondering how, read on!
In the animal welfare world, it is common knowledge that our programs must be people-focused in order to succeed, and those that positively affect animals inevitably benefit people as well. However, you needn’t be an animal welfare funder to make grants that serve both animal and human members of a community. Even if your foundation’s funding priorities focus exclusively on human endeavors, you can still impact both populations. For example:
- Human services funders can support organizations that assist low-income families by providing free veterinary care and/or food for their pets, who often serve as vital sources of emotional support and would otherwise be at high risk for relinquishment. Grants can also be made to underwrite programs developed by domestic violence shelters that enable victims to bring their pets with them; it is often the case that women who are abused by their partners and have pets at home refuse to leave out of fear for the safety of those pets, who are often among the few living beings they trust.
- Education funders can provide grants to organizations that bring rescued animals to schools as part of humane education programs or to help create a more supportive learning environment for children with academic and/or social challenges; there are many stories from the field about struggling children who blossom in the presence of a friendly, non-judgmental dog or cat.
- Arts funders can support projects through which local artists create a mural or other aesthetic enhancements for a community animal shelter. Grants can also be made to support arts-related events or exhibitions that promote the human-animal bond.
- Health funders can support programs that bring rescued animals into hospitals to boost morale and facilitate recovery; in recent years, dogs and cats have been shown to improve human health and increase longevity by lowering blood pressure and aiding in healing from physical and emotional trauma.
- Funders that support organizations serving the needs of active and former military personnel and/or first responders such as police officers, firefighters, and EMTs can fund programs that pair these individuals with service dogs sourced from shelters or rescues who can help them cope with high levels of stress.
- Economic development funders can provide resources to programs that serve farmers committed to humane practices in the way animals are raised and brought to market.
In working to better the lives of animals, we better human lives as well. Building a more humane world is something we owe our fellow creatures and, ultimately, ourselves.
Guest blogger Claire Sterling is Senior Grants Manager at the ASPCA and the proud “mom” of two adopted black cat siblings, Tartufo and Tiramisu. Since 2008, the ASPCA has provided over $55 million to 2,000 different organizations for animal welfare. In 2012 alone, the ASPCA made 1,665 grants across the country totaling $17 million to improve the lives of animals.