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Want To Support Animal Rights? 5 Ways To Make a Difference

From adoption services to legal representation, these top-rated organizations are improving the lives of our nonhuman friends.

All across the country, animal rights advocates are working to prevent cruelty and protect our nonhuman neighbors.

In February, California introduced a bill to protect exotic animals in circus acts. In Ohio, a bill requiring vets to report abuse started making the rounds. Meanwhile, lawmakers in Virginia, Mississippi, Michigan and Utah are taking aim at abusers, and are seeking to increase penalties for those who neglect or mistreat domestic animals. Still, when it comes to protecting the lives and well-being of animals in this country and abroad, we have a long way to go.

From neglected, abused and hoarded housepets to the widespread dog and cockfighting rings, it seems that every day there's a new disturbing account of animals tortured at the hands of humans. The good news is that there are a growing number of organizations dedicated to providing safe havens and protecting the rights of animals—and many of them are looking for support in a variety of ways. If this is a cause close to your heart, but you're unsure how to help, we've done a little research for you. Based on research by both CharityWatch and Animal Charity Evaluators (ACE), two sites dedicated to reviewing and assessing the effectiveness of charity organizations, we rounded up five top-rated institutions who could use your support.

The Nonhuman Rights Project (NhRP)

The NhRP bills itself as "the only civil rights organization in the United States working through litigation, legislation and education to secure legally recognized fundamental rights for nonhuman animals." The project has filed groundbreaking lawsuits on behalf of an elephant forced into inhumane circus performing, lab chimps held in captivity and other wildlife who've faced trauma at the hands of humans. According to ACE's report, which named the project a "standout charity," it's the "only organization directly pursuing litigation and legislation towards this end, and they seem well prepared to make progress." If you're interested in offering support, there are a variety of petitions you can sign intended to secure the freedom and protection of individual animals. You can also donate financially and sign up for their newsletter to receive updates on their latest projects and opportunities to make a difference.

The Humane League

THL has a two-pronged goal: end the abuse of animals raised for food through corporate policy changes, and educate people on factory farming so that they may make "more compassionate" choices in their everyday diet. The organization is a hub for grassroots activism and empowers young activists to help enact their mission of farm animal advocacy. Included in ACE's shortlist of "top-rated" charities, THL doesn't just accept donations. It provides both job and volunteer opportunities for anyone looking to help in the cause—from college campus outreach to field organization and social media campaigning.

"Their corporate campaigns are especially strong, and they often take the lead in collaborating with other groups to facilitate knowledge-sharing about their strategic approach," according to ACE's report. "They have been flexible in using their grassroots network for a variety of advocacy efforts—including individual outreach, support for corporate campaigns, and grassroots legislative advocacy."

Performing Animal Welfare Society (PAWS)

Founded in 1984 by a former animal trainer, PAWS is known for its wildlife sanctuaries in Northern California, along with its greater mission: protecting those victims of the exotic and performing animal trade by providing rescue and humane living conditions. They also provide education and awareness about the mistreatment of wildlife. Their work has helped better the lives of bears, elephants, monkeys, tigers and other exotic animals previously in captivity. CharityWatch gives the organization an "A" for, among other things, financial transparency and effectiveness in using donor funds to carry out their programs. The PAWS website provides a host of ways to lend financial support, from feeding the animals to donating old cars and making planned donations. Those in the NorCal area can also volunteer or intern at one of the sanctuaries.

Animal Equality

Animal Equality envisions a "world in which all animals are respected and protected." To that end, they take a global approach to advocacy, investigating farm-related abuses worldwide in order to enact change through corporate, legal, political and educational channels. They're known for their innovative approaches to raising awareness from social media outreach to creating virtual reality videos that put humans closer to the experiences of farm animals. According to ACE's report, "Animal Equality achieves significant successes with very small amounts of money; in particular, they have conducted undercover investigations for a fraction of the cost of some other organizations." If you're looking to get involved, you can become a donor or sign up to volunteer. Opportunities range from leafleting and office assistance to helping with educational events and serving as a translator.

PetSmart Charities

The foundation of PetSmart's charity arm is to "find lifelong, loving homes for all pets by supporting programs and thought leadership that bring people and pets together." According to CharityWatch, which awarded the organization an "A+" grade, they're doing just that. With adoption centers in over 1,600 PetSmart stores, adoption campaigns on behalf of shelter animals and an extensive, proactive slate of emergency relief programs, the charity has managed to find homes for over 500,000 pets and counting. If you're looking to lend a hand, you can donate here or volunteer at one of the many adoption centers around the country.

Whether you're offering financial support to an organization you believe in or volunteering in grassroots efforts; your efforts can spark change and make a difference in the lives of our nonhuman friends. Giving back always feel good.