Cute puppy
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According to the Humane Society of the United States, an estimated 6 to 8 million dogs and cats are brought to shelters every year, about half of which are euthanized. And the foreclosure crisis is pushing those numbers even higher. If you're looking to help, a good place to start is PetFinder.com, where you can locate a shelter or rescue organization near you. Besides adopting, other ways to lend a hand include donating money or supplies; volunteering (walking dogs, socializing cats, feeding, etc.); and fostering an animal that is sick, injured, very young, behavior-challenged, or simply has nowhere else to go, until a permanent home is found. There are also a myriad of specialized animal welfare groups you can support. Here are a few:

The LifeLine Grant Program at United Animal Nations provides funding to animal rescuers, pet owners, and non-profits for emergency veterinary services they otherwise couldn't afford. You can find a list of other assistance organizations on their site, UAN.org, under Programs/LifeLine Grants/Other Assistance Programs.

Certain breeds of dogs are typically less desired than others, particularly pit bulls and retired racing greyhounds. Go to Pit Bull Rescue Central (PBRC.net) or The Greyhound Project, Inc. (Adopt-a-Greyhound.org) to educate yourself, adopt one, or donate.

Operation Baghdad Pups (BaghdadPups.com), a program organized by the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals International, rescues stray dogs and cats befriended by soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan and transports them back to the US to live with the returning vets.

Groups like Neighborhood Cats (NeighborhoodCats.org) help humanely control the feral cat population with a trap/neuter/return (TNR) program. Once returned to their colonies, the cats receive regular care in the form of food and shelter.

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