Puppies waiting for their forever home.

For decades, Bob Barker ended every episode of "The Price is Right" with the following admonition: "Help control the pet population. Have your pets spayed or neutered." This is the most important step that any of us can take to help stem the tide of homeless animals who are euthanized each year in America: make sure the animals we already have cannot reproduce. What else can we do? And why should we care?

Pets provide us with unconditional love, an extended and furry family member, and in many cases, much more than that. We have all seen service animals helping the blind, often called "seeing eye dogs." There are also charities that train dogs to help the deaf and those with psychiatric disorders. Cats are not as easily trainable as dogs, but they too can provide valuable services. One of my friends has a severe hearing loss, and I've seen her cat alert her to someone on the back porch whose presence she would not have otherwise noticed.

Pet stores, puppy mills, and other ways of buying animals support industries that cause more and more animals to need families. PetSmart doesn't sell cats or dogs, supporting as a company the idea that animals should be adopted from shelters, and that’s part of why I patronize them as often as I can. By adopting animals from shelters, the cycle of uncontrolled animal reproduction can be halted. There are many animal rescue charities that find homes for animals who would otherwise be killed, many operating no-kill shelters and working tirelessly to find forever homes. Supporting these charities is another way to help.

The Internet makes supporting animal rescue charities easier than ever before. Here are just a few of the best animal rescue charities:

  • PetSmart charities supports animals in danger of being sent to dog pounds and other places where the animals have just a few days before being killed.
  • The ASPCA works to help animals who are victims of abuse and neglect in all fifty states. Proceeds from their gift shop go to support their work, so it’s a great place to buy supplies for your pets.
  • The Animal Rescue Site allows you to give daily without spending any money. Advertisers sponsor this site. You go, you click the button, and in exchange for clicking on a site covered with their ads, the advertisers give to animal charities. There is no registration and no harvesting of email addresses – it’s just a simple, easy way to help hungry animals. Make it the home page for your browser and click every time you open a new browser window. The site says that each click is worth the value of 0.6 bowls of food. In 2011, this site funded over 68 million bowls of food for animals in shelters.

By adopting animals from shelters instead of buying them, and supporting the charities that help animals who are already here and in need of homes, we can all do our part to make a better tomorrow for our furry friends.