Twenty Tips About Donating Your Gently Used Stuff to Community Cats

Cat folx are generous to a fault. They share their excess, they pass the ‘stuff’ of their beloved pets onto others, and they gather stuff from their friends, too. I am constantly asked if #PghCatFolx can distribute this or that. Often enough that I think it is time to create a formal list with information. I will share this link when requests come in, but will they read the post before they donate? We can only hope …

Respect that people who rely on generosity to do their work will say only say no when it is necessary.

At the end of this post, I will share the most commonly requested items from cat rescuers and fosters – keep in mind, these are gently used or repurposed items, not the new things that are also needed.

But first, please read over some of these suggestions and recommendations from someone who has been receiving and distributing gently used items for almost 30 years in many, many roles. The last thing you want (I hope) is to create extra work or stress for the folx you are supporting with your donation.

Donations for Cats
Porch drop off donations

First, only donate clean items. Clean enough is never enough. Launder textiles. Vacuum pet hair. Wipe down dust and grit. If your item is just ‘clean enough’ – you are creating more work for the people you are trying to help. And most of the time, they will grit their teeth, grin, and then toss it as soon as you are gone. Because we do not have time to clean more things. The exception would be if you have a frank discussion ahead of time and the recipient has a solid idea of what they are accepting.

Second, (don’t) use common scents. Febreeze is not welcome in many, many pet homes and often in many human homes. For example, I have asthma so febreeze is not my friend. Scented laundry detergent or fabric softener is the same for me. If you hand me a plastic bag filled with scented items (even clean!) I have a dilemma. My suggestion is to use a scent free detergent or at the very least, put a white vinegar rinse in the final cycle to replace artificial scents with a natural scent (lilac is not a natural smell for laundry detergent.) Again, a frank discussion about this ahead of time can help. In my case, I can ask someone else to receive the donation and sort out the items to air them for me.

Third, don’t donated items that carry smoke. This includes the bags and boxes you put the items inside. If your home has a smoker, put the boxes and bags outside or in your garage to air for a few days before donating. Wash your items and immediately put them in a smoke-free space until you can donate. Covering up smoke with Febreeze is not okay.

Fourth, separating items is a good idea. Put blankets, sheets, and towels together. Put toys together in a small bag or box. Ripping into bags to find one particular item is frustrating. Put food, dry and canned, in a grouping. Anything out of the ordinary, put in a separate space – for example, if you are donating a partial box of syringes or a partial bottle of a medication or a few small tubes of flea treatment, put them aside. It doesn’t have to be Dewey Decimal level organized, just general groupings.

Fifth, send all the parts. Yes, a carrier without a door can be useful for other reasons, but you must ASK first before donating it. If a handle or wheel or lid or lining is missing, it might create more work on the other end. I can only use one carrier without a door as a general rule and I always have one. Now I might be inclined to purchase the missing part or rig something up, but only if I know ahead of time and agree. This is a frequent issue with donations of crates – we can order replacement trays to go with a sturdy crate.

There’s no universal rule on these things except “ask first.”

Sixth, some folx will accept partially used, open bags of food or treats. Others will not. It has nothing to do with you or your intentions or your character and everything to do with the world we live in. Open cartons with smaller sealed packages are fine to donate. Be sure you know the brand and type of food. If you threw away the bag, look it up on your receipt or your shipping invoice or even browsing an online store until you see the label. Giving a healthy cat a very specialized food can have consequences. And I promise there is a cat somewhere who does need a special food that is pricey and would welcome your bag.

Seven, most of us cannot use pillows. There’s not a lot of call for them. And they take up a lot of room. You can ask, but don’t dump pillows amidst the sheets and towels to get rid of them. Don’t be that person.

Eight. Storage space is always a factor. I have a crate I use to store my “pet linens” and when it is full, I know that I should not accept more donations for awhile. Also, I sometimes have to quickly unpack it to use the crate for a cat so … comforters take up a lot of space. So do sheets really and blankets. And that space may need to be saved for something else. Again, asking ahead of time is your best bet. Sending along a container versus a trash bag might help, too.

Nine. litter pans. Ah, litter pans. Most donated litter pans are not clean. They are either accompanied by congealed litter that wasn’t scraped away or they are so full of scratches and scrapes that no amount of bleach or kennel sanitizer will do the trick. If you can’t make it look really, really clean – think twice. Again, ask because sometimes people can use these. But there is NO REASON ever to hand someone a donated litter pan that contains actual remnants of litter. At least wash it out thoroughly. When someone does this me, it goes right into a garbage bag and makes me think about tossing everything else because I wonder about sanitation and hygiene. It is like inviting someone in to “borrow” your bathroom toilet and not flushing your own bowl first. Ewww.

So here is a great example – they sent me a photo and I was able to respond in an informed way to get the items to new cat homes. This is a solid way to ask.

Ten. There is a clear difference between ‘pet food bowls’ and 379 take-out containers with mismatched lids. Both can be useful, but … ask.

Eleven will save Hawkins, I know it.

Twelve. Styrofoam is very useful for winter shelters. Storing pieces of Styrofoam year round is not easy (see above about storage space.) Pro-tip: save up your own Styrofoam and start asking around in September. Not June.

Thirteen. No donation should ever be sticky, damp, moist, wriggling, or oozing.

Fourteen. Please do not try to convince a potential recipient of your donation that it is useful if they are saying “No, but thank you.” Read the room. Trust the experts. Respect that people who rely on generosity to do their work will say only say no when it is necessary.

Fifteen. It is okay if you cry when you pass along items that belonged to your beloved pet. We all know this pain. We honor your loss and hope you find comfort knowing that their items will be of infinite help to other animals. We will probably cry with you.

Sixteen, go through your own pet stuff and apply some decluttering guidelines. Is it useful, sentimental, or clutter? No one can make that call but you. You’d be surprised if you take a look what you might find. Our dogs passed several years ago, I hung onto their leashes for sentimental reasons and then told myself I might need them to corral a loose animal. Finally, I put one large and one small leash in the car in case I meet a runaway while driving, I put another set by the backdoor in case we see one in our neighborhood. And I passed the rest along to actually help other dogs. I did put their collars with their cremains, but I donated their older collars.

Seventeen, if you repeatedly hear “no thank you, we don’t have storage” – one good option is to consider donating storage. Help fund a shed. Donate some patio furniture boxes (secure lids) or storage bins with lids. These might be gently used, might be old. I recently received a cedar chest that’s scarred and storied, but purrfect inside so it is now in my basement holding pet beds and linens.

Eighteen. if your items have an expiration date that has passed or is coming soon, share that information ahead of time. There’s no universal rule on these things except “ask first.”

Nineteen, pack your donations for audience. If it is going up many stairs or a steep hill to a colony, how heavy should you make it? Are giant awkward boxes from Amazon a good idea? What is a good idea – Ikea bags, sturdy tote bags, reusable bins, sturdy boxes that can be recycled, and paper bags with handles.

Twenty. Be kind to yourself and to the recipients. We are all here to help the animals, but we also need to help the humans, too. Setting boundaries or limits is healthy. This isn’t a means to simply dispose of unwanted items, it is an investment in the work being done, mostly by volunteers taking time from their own families and jobs and social life. Adding more work for them to reduce the work on your end is not fair.

This tree just needed a little love to be handed down to another home. Again, they sent a photo ahead of time.

So the list of things

  • Flat sheets. Fitted sheets and pillow cases to a lesser degree. Clean and free of stains or holes.
  • Towels. Clean and free of stains or holes. Towels are a godsend. This includes hand towels, bath sheets, washcloths, and finger towels.
  • Pet beds. Clean and free of stains or holes. All sizes and shapes. With all parts. Please wash first to minimize the scent of other animals from the bed.
  • Cat trees. One cat’s brand new tree can mean a hand-me-down scenario for another cat or cat household. Clean, free of stains. Trim the threads. Clarify dimensions and if it can disassembled easily.
  • Pet food. Open containers or bags of smaller sealed containers or bags are good. Open bags in general need to be signed off ahead of time. I can find a home for almost any brand.
  • Toys. Clean, sanitized. No broken bits. I put toys out for my colony cats and they LOVE to play. If your cats no longer use a toy, consider donating it.

List of things you never considered

  • Net bags. The ones you washed your masks the past few years. Your delicates. These are super useful for washing pet toys and pet delicates. Also good to wash collars and leashes. And for storage. I keep one with the clean toys for the colony and replace them as the cat destroy their current toys. No accidentally giving away a household pet’s beloved toy to a colony cat or vice versa.
  • Batteries. Not batteries that are actually partially used, but an open container or package.
  • Flashlights. Oh, yes.
  • Zip ties. We won’t ask, but we will put them to good use.
  • Partial rolls of trash bags, partial rolls of paper towels, unused party napkins, paper plates, etc.
  • Pee pads, both reusable and disposable and including partial packs. These are highly prized. I bought about a dozen reusable circa 2012 and the are still in full rotation to go under litter pans, in crates, in the car under trapped cats, even as makeshift blankets. I use a white vinegar rinse in every load to reduce any lingering aroma.
  • Chemical hand warmers. I had no idea until this past winter that I could put a chemical hand warmer under a bowl of food or water at the colony and prevent freezing by a few precious hours. Then I can add the warmer to my compost pile. I have three reusable warmer disks that I also use, but if you have partial packs of the smaller kind – wow.
  • Grabbers. You know the snippy snip things that you use to reach the higher shelves. They are useful, providing they are in good working order. They will not be used to grab cats, but you’d be surprised how much help they can be retrieving dropped items, picking up trash, etc at a colony and save wear and tear on our backs.
  • Twine and rope.
  • Sturdy storage things that are portable and have secure closers. We use an old cash box to store syringes so we can find them quickly and keep them neat. I have a small cedar chest where I store medications because they can stay upright. I often think those 1960’s style cosmetic cases from suitcase sets would be excellent. Secure means the fastener is secure, not secured with a rubber band or other strap. Ikea bags are great. Sturdy tote bags, too.
  • Pet themed decor. Now this is obviously for the humans, but cat lounges and foster rooms can be a bit brighter with fun artwork or novelty items.
  • Gift cards. Do you have a $20 card to some sporting good store you’ll never visit? I can buy pet stuff with it. A restaurant you won’t visit? Someone can have dinner while transporting pets or free up some of their budget to pay for another needed item.

What would you add?

Donate to Help Cats

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