15 Ways to Help Animals This Holiday Season (And Beyond)

I frequently find myself wishing I could do more to ease the plight of suffering animals around the world. It’s a Sisyphean task—you read a horrible story about animal abuse on the internet, you get upset, you feel helpless, maybe you even donate to a cause, but life goes on.

Back in November, I received an email from Mike telling me had just written our representatives in Congress regarding a bill that would place a moratorium on the sale of all ivory products in the state of Illinois, and he urged me to follow suit. This call-to-arms was spearheaded by the organization 96 Elephants (the group unfortunately gets its name from the 96 elephants who are slaughtered every day in Africa for their ivory). As I read through the website, I was outraged and saddened—and I couldn’t believe I hadn’t heard about this non-profit and its aim before.

There really are little things you can do, as an animal lover, that will make a difference. So I did some research and came up with this list. If you’re stumped on Christmas shopping, some of these ideas could make a good gift, too.

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1. Donate canned pet food, towels, fleece blankets, leashes, collars, toys, food bowls, or pet beds to your local animal shelter.

2. Help purchase a bullet- and stab-proof Kevlar vest for police and military dogs. Many working dogs are injured in the line of duty, and bulletproof vests are surprisingly expensive. Every little bit helps!

3. Sign the pledge to stop illegal poaching of elephants and the sale of ivory at the website 96 Elephants. Take it a step further and use the provided template to email your representatives in Congress, as well as your state’s governor.

4. Sponsor an animal in a wildlife sanctuary. Lots of injured or orphaned animals are living happy lives in sanctuaries across the world, supported by generous donors. If you love wolves, donate to the Wolf Sanctuary of PA, for example. If you’re passionate about grizzles, try the Grizzly Discovery Center in West Yellowstone.

5. Go meat-free one day per week. Or challenge yourself to go vegetarian for 30 days. Here are 10 meal ideas that vegetarians and meat-eaters can enjoy together.

6. Volunteer at a local animal shelter. If you’re too busy to commit to weekly or monthly visit, many shelters need volunteers to simply come in and play with the cats and dogs once in a while, all in the name of socialization.

7.  “Like” and follow your local animal shelters and wildlife rescue centers on Facebook. It’s a great way to stay up-to-date with their happenings and find out if they need specific supplies or money for a particular cause. [Chicagoland readers: Flint Creek Wildlife Rehabilitation and Willowbrook Wildlife Center are doing amazing things. Follow ’em on Facebook!]

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8. Research which cosmetic brands test their products on animals and start swapping those items out for cruelty-free toiletries. This is my big goal for 2015. Many, many brands have taken a stance against animal testing, so it’s a lot easier than you might think to find a good substitute.

Tip: Download the “Leaping Bunny” app and you’ll be able to quickly type in a company name while you’re at the grocery store and find out if they test on animals.

9. Sponsor a farm animal such as a sheep, cow, pig, chicken, or turkey, through the website Farm Sanctuary. Your donation helps cover the cost of food, shelter, and veterinary care. It also makes a great holiday gift for the animal lover in your life.

10. Teach your kids about animal compassion. Watch a few episodes of the Discovery Channel’s Planet Earth together, or subscribe to Kind News, a kid-friendly publication from The Humane Society. Talk to your kids about how it’s never okay to mistreat an animal, and that they should immediately tell an adult if they witness any of their peers doing so.

11. Watch the documentary Blackfish (available on Netflix) and spread the truth about SeaWorld to your friends and family.

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12. Boycott Jimmy John’s. The CEO of the sandwich chain pays a hefty sum of money to “hunt” exotic big-game animals in Africa and elsewhere—including elephants, grizzly bears, and cheetahs. And by “hunt,” I mean point a high-powered rifle at a sleeping animal in a small enclosure. [Warning: links through to some upsetting photos.] Get yer sandwich elsewhere.

13. Volunteer to foster dogs or cats. The more people who foster, the more beds available in no-kill shelters for other rescue cats and dogs. It’s that simple!

14. Donate to the Humane Society of the U.S. or the World Wildlife Fund. They’re both catch-all non-profits doing amazing work and promoting animal welfare.

15. Help out any distressed animal you see. It’s small and simple, but you can make a difference by paying attention to your surroundings. Call your local wildlife rescue center if you see an injured animal.

One quick caveat on baby animals: “Often when rescuers find baby wildlife, our advice is that if there are no obvious injuries, leave them out in a safe spot near their nest/den for awhile to see if mom will retrieve them.” – Willowbrook Wildlife Center

Any tips you’d like to add? Leave ’em in the comments!

Five National Parks That Are Better in the Winter

There are many perks that come with visiting national parks in the winter: relative solitude, gorgeous snowscapes, and deserted trails that are ideal for trying out snowshoeing or cross-country skiing. It’s a family tradition of ours to head into Rocky Mountain National Park the day after Thanksgiving and burn off those pie calories on the trail.

However, many of the northerly national parks are walloped with snow in the winter, which buries roads and cuts off access to major attractions.

Not so with these five national parks, which shine in the cooler months. In fact, these are the ones you want to visit when the thermometer takes a dive. Click here to read the article!

How You Make Decisions Could Say a Lot About Your Happiness


A recent Wall Street Journal article revealed an interesting correlation between decision-making and your level of happiness… Excerpt from the article: Psychology researchers have studied how people make decisions and concluded there are two basic styles. “Maximizers” like to take their time and weigh a wide range of options—sometimes every possible one—before choosing. “Satisficers” would rather be […]

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5 Reasons You Need to Visit Croatia (Now with Pictures!)


WordPress reverted to my previous save, without the pictures. Here’s the post, with the pictures! It’s nearly two months to the day that Mike and I returned from a two-week sojourn through Croatia and Italy. The original plan was to meet up with a group of friends in Rome and then saunter down the Italian […]

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Friday Round-Up: October 10, 2014

I haven’t been posting with any regularity lately (I wish I had an excuse other than a full plate, but that’s all I can come up with!). But I came across too many good links this week to skip out on the round-up. – Buy experiences, not things. – Four sisters, captured in 40 portraits […]

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Friday Round-Up: September 19, 2014

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Well hello there! It’s been a hectic week ’round these parts as we settle into our new neighborhood in Chicago. I’m absolutely loving the location so far, even if we are surrounded by boxes like a bonafide episode of “Hoarders.” Hey, we’ll get there eventually, right? (RIGHT?) – 20 of the world’s most spectacular train stations. – […]

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Friday Round-Up: September 12, 2014

Happy Friday! – If it doesn’t make you say “Hell yeah!”, then say no. Great advice. – Rachel McAdams might be starring in Season 2 of “True Detective.” – The most photogenic fox. – Secrets about Chicago that you might not know. – How much the “Friends” apartment and “Full House” home would cost in real […]

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What Hobby Would You Take Up If You Had Endless Time and Money?

I climbed a route with a camera strapped to my back to get this shot of my friend Brian on another route.

If time, money, and location were no object, is there a hobby that you would try to master? I’d love to learn to play the piano, tend a blooming garden, and become a whiz on the tennis court. But I also have an answer that’s a bit more unconventional: rock climbing. Hear me out. In […]

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Friday Round-Up: September 5, 2014

Oh my god, it’s September. Time’s a-wastin’. Happy weekend! – 10 smart things you should do in your 20s. – Yao Ming lends his celebrity to encourage his fellow Chinese citizens to help save the elephants of Africa. Go Yao! – How to make friends after college. – 19th century bridal superstitions. – In scary news: Two […]

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How To Find Your Signature Scent


Do you have a signature scent? With certain perfumes, all it takes is one whiff on a busy street in Chicago and I can immediately picture a friend or family member who regularly wears that fragrance. Even if I don’t know the name of the perfume! The olfactory gland is an amazing thing. I love the […]

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