Q: My pets got more Christmas gifts than I did this year. I doubt there are recycling programs for old tennis balls. Any tips on how to recycle some of the old stuff?


Any plastic toys that have outlived their usefulness should go to the recycle bin. The Daily Green offers handy tips for decoding symbols on those plastic toys. It also pays to seek out companies committed to creating recyclable pet toys or products made from recycled material. Check out my previous column for more tips on reducing your pets’ carbon paw print.

Once you’ve finished sorting those old toys, it’s time to focus on the bigger picture. For every pup and kitten that got a little extra love under the tree, there is an animal still in need of blankets, chew toys and a forever home. Here are a few tips to help you and your pets pay it forward:

Gather up the good stuff

Most animal shelters welcome old blankets, towels and toys, as well as gently used food and water bowls. Make it a neighborhood project and ask all your pet-loving friends for a contribution. This also makes a great spring cleaning project. To find a worthy animal shelter near you, visit www.Animalshelter.org.


Support a rescue group

Help a shelter pet make the transition to a forever home by donating collars, leashes and gently used beds to a nonprofit rescue organization. Those slightly hideous Halloween costumes and holiday sweaters help pups stand out from the crowd during adoption fairs. In my neck of the woods, Rescue Me! Animal Project and Atlanta Animal Rescue Friends are popular organizations dedicated to helping homeless pets. Do a Google search for "pet rescue" and your city to find worthy organizations near you.

Share the love

Shelters need volunteers to help care for the animals. In addition to petting, walking and playing with the adoptable pets, volunteer opportunities can include performing clerical duties, processing new animals and simply spreading the word about the need for good homes. You may even learn a few valuable training skills that can be applied to your own fur kids.


Buy a bag, give a bag

Consider purchasing an extra bag of your pet's food and donating it to a local rescue group or pet food bank. Ann King of Atlanta started Save Our Pets food bank in 2007 to help metro Atlanta residents keep their animals in the wake of tough economic times. Since then, she has distributed thousands of pounds of dog, cat and even horse food to animal shelters, rescue groups and out-of-work Georgians. Her website also lists pet food banks around the country. If you don’t find a location in your area, perhaps it’s time to start one yourself. The site provides tips on getting started.


Open your home to a pet

Consider fostering an adoptable pet. It’s a short-term commitment that pays long-term dividends. Some rescue groups supply pet food and necessary medical supplies; all you have to provide is love. I recently offered foster care to an extremely shy mixed breed dog named Hooch. After a few months around my extroverted pup, Hooch romped his way into a happy new home. I’ll admit that there were a few accidents along the way, and I did spend a couple of Saturdays with him at adoption fairs, but seeing Hooch bond with his new family made the extra poop scooping worthwhile. I’ll miss Hooch, but I am looking forward to opening my home to another pet in the future.


Recycle a pet

If you have the time and the resources, consider adopting a pet from a shelter or rescue group. Whether you are partial to purebreds or run-of-the-mill Heinz 57 mutts and couture kitties, there is probably a perfect new addition waiting for you on Petfinder.org.

-- Morieka

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