By Morieka Johnson, Mother Nature Network
By now, kids have consumed all the Halloween candy and are looking forward to the holiday season. As kids look for opportunities to impress Santa, it's a chance to transform kid power into something positive. Here are six ideas to help kids pay it forward for pets.
1. Collect gently used pet gear and supplies
Kids aren't the only ones who score goodies during the holidays. Fifty-three percent of dog owners and 38 percent of cat owners said they purchased Christmas gifts for their pets, according to a 2011 study by the American Pet Products Association. Last year, pet owners spent $11.77 billion on supplies, which means that plenty of dogs and cats will be getting new collars, leashes and bedding. Local animal shelters and rescue groups can put the used items to good use. Set up donation bins and encourage kids to collect gently used pet gear as well as old towels for donation.
2. Adopt a class pet
Even kids who cannot have a dog or cat due to allergies can help care for a classroom fish or bearded dragon. These pets help kids cultivate nurturing skills and teach them lasting lessons about kindness toward animals. A nonprofit organization called The Pet Care Trust offers grants to help teachers cover the cost of small classroom pets such as hamsters and guinea pigs through partnerships with companies like Petco and PetSmart. Teachers get a starter kit that includes a free pet habitat, lesson plans and coupons. Classroom pets also can help relieve stress and reinforce math and science concepts. With this solution, the health benefits of pet ownership can extend well beyond home.
3. Encourage kids to volunteer at shelter
If your child is a budding Shakespeare, channel those skills. Shelters are often short-staffed and have little to no time for marketing. Encourage your budding writers to fill the void by providing colorful shelter pet profiles. This could be a class project for middle- or high-school English students. They also can help out by cleaning cages, decorating reception areas and creating Facebook pages for the shelter. DoSomething.org offers more creative ideas such as hosting a dog wash.
(Related: 7 things kids need to know about safely interacting with dogs)
4. Adopt a (virtual) shelter pet
Every animal shelter or pet rescue organization has at least one pet that has been around longer than the others. For Atlanta Boxer Rescue, it's a furry ball of sweetness named Faith (right). When volunteers first met the pooch, Faith was so malnourished that she could not handle normal pet food. Now, she is thriving in her foster home, but still awaits a forever family. Pets like Faith would benefit from a little kid promotion. Encourage kids to virtually adopt one rescue or shelter pet, create a bio and spend time each month sharing the animal's story through Facebook, school newsletters and other channels - all to help the pet move from foster home to forever home. Petfinder.org is a good place to start searching for options in your area.
5. Let kids take glamour shots of pets
A picture truly can be worth a thousand words, especially when it comes to online pet profiles. That's why nonprofit DoSomething.org created a unique Pics for Pets program that encourages teens to take flattering photos of pets - and use their social networks to spread the word. The organization has even sweetened the pot with a $10,000 scholarship. To participate, download the Pics for Pets app and search for participating shelters by ZIP code. Shelters allow teens to conduct 30-minute photo sessions and write a three-word bio describing pets. A striking cat named Sullivan (that's him at right) from the Pet Placement Center in Chattanooga, Tenn., was described as "Enormous," "Handsome" and a "Talker." The Pics for Pets app is available for Android phones, iPhones and Facebook. Let the sharing begin.
(Related: How to photograph your pets like a pro)
6. Donate kibble to needy pets
The economy may be sputtering back to life, but plenty of pet owners still struggle to make ends meet. Save Our Pets food bank was among the first to offer resources for pet owners. Now, several organizations across the country work to fill that need - and kids can help. Encourage kids to set up pet food collection bins at school and seek donations along with food drives
SaveOurPetsFoodBank.org lists pet food banks around the country. Find one in your area and learn about what they need, then encourage kids to set up pet food collection bins at school. If there is no location in your area, ask local food banks or animal shelters about supplies they need.
We want to hear from you: Share your ideas for helping pets. We also want to see photos of your classroom pets. Send stories and photos to Pets@mnn.com.
• Help pets without taking in another animal
• Help your favorite charity without writing a big check
This article originally appeared on MNN. Follow @MNNPets on Twitter for more just like it.