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10 Ways to Give Back at the Holidays

From volunteering to baking, here are VN's 10 ways to make a difference this holiday season.

As humans, we derive immense pleasure from the presence of animals in our lives—enjoying birds in our yard, spotting a deer in the woods, or simply being greeted by our beloved dogs, cats, and bunnies with whom we share our homes. Though the animals need our help year-round, the season of giving offers the perfect time to give something back to fellow earth-dwellers. It's easy to get caught up in the consumerism that inevitably accompany the holidays, but the best gift that one can give is showing love, compassion, and appreciation for those around us. Here are VN's top 10 ways to have a happier holiday by helping those in need.

1. Support local animal shelters
Shelters need hands-on support as much as they need money. If you can't foster an animal, consider socializing them at shelters to increase their chances of being adopted.

2. Give the gift of companionship
Studies show that caring for an animal benefits one's health and decreases depression and blood pressure. Visit senior citizen homes and hospitals, bringing dogs and cats specifically trained for these environments.

3. Teach children kindness
Spend time with children making food for outdoor critters during the cold winter months. Strings of popcorn or peanut butter spread on apples and rolled in birdseed make wonderful projects and nutritious food for animals.

4. Offer animal-sitting services
If you notice your neighbor's dog is alone all day, offer to walk him or her. Give an animal-sitting coupon to a friend or neighbor as a holiday gift.

5. Plan a volunteer vacation
Many animal organizations around the world offer internship and volunteer opportunities, often providing room and board in exchange. Check out Best Friends Animal Sanctuary in Utah or Farm Sanctuary in New York or California for US-based options.

6. Be prepared
Prepare an animal-rescue kit complete with gloves, a box, a blanket, a leash, and treats. If you ever see an animal in need of assistance, you'll be able to act quickly.

7. Create a backyard wildlife refuge
If your yard is a source of food and water, and a safe place for animals to raise their young, you're already doing it. You can even become an official refuge by being certified by the National Wildlife Federation.

8. Make play time a priority
Our companion animals crave love and attention, especially if we work outside the house all day long. Schedule play time and regular walks to keep them happy and healthy.

9. Bake vegan goodies
"If it tastes good, they'll eat it," is a mantra we love. Help farmed animals by demystifying vegan desserts for your human cohorts. Give baked goods as gifts to friends, family, co-workers, neighbors-everyone!

10. Leave them alone
Probably the best way to help non-human animals is to leave them be. Make choices in your life that do not interfere with, exploit, or harm animals and their habitats.

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