Images of Santa Claus heading south from the North Pole with a bushel of presents fill the holidays. At one Southern U.S. shelter, though, those holiday images also include photos of homeless dogs who will soon catch a ride north to a forever home.
In Columbiana, Alabama, the Shelby Humane Society’s Shelter Partners program helps shelter dogs by creating unique holiday ornaments each bearing a dog’s image. Now in its third year, the ornament campaign “has been instrumental in raising awareness about homeless pets in our area,” explains Michelle Amaral, a member of the volunteer transport group. Each ornament, which sells for $50, features the photo of an adoptable dog and helps fund the transport of the dog to partner shelters in New England. Since the partner shelter program began in November 2006, over 6,100 dogs have been moved to shelters in New Hampshire and Maine where they quickly found homes.
“Some donors sponsor an entire transport, and for them we drive the van - loaded with dogs - by their home or place of business on its way out of town to the shelters in New England,” says Amaral. “Again, the community is able to see the dogs face-to-face and celebrate their new lives. The ornaments put a face to the broad category of "homeless dog.’” Featuring professional photos taken by Jeronimo Nisa, the ornaments are sold at the local Whole Foods Market and other local businesses, but some have been purchased by dog lovers far beyond the Birmingham area. “People from all four corners of the country purchase these ornaments, some of them sponsoring the dogs in honor of a friend, family member, or pet. We've even been told that some people dedicate a second Christmas tree in their homes for these ornaments!”
Each ornament represents a chance to begin a new life for a homeless dog, ones like Luke, part of last year’s program. Found as a stray, Luke was transported via Shelter Partners to the NHSPCA in Stratham, New Hampshire. The somewhat timid dog won the heart of a shelter employee who adopted him and today brings him to work where he works alongside her as a welcoming committee to greet new pets, calming nervous and shy dogs and, in turn, helping to get them adopted.
Along with benefiting the lucky dogs in the transport, Amaral notes that the annual event serves as an educational tool as well. “We always get questions like, ‘Why do you send the dogs north?’ and it's a great opportunity to initiate a conversation about the steps that are taken in New England states to keep their pet population under control. These are initiatives such as enforced animal welfare legislation, inexpensive and easy access to spay/neuter, and leash/identification laws.”
Amaral explains that the eventual goal of the ornament program is “to someday be on the other side of these lifesaving transports - that our pet population will be under control and we will be in a position to help other areas that are overpopulated by receiving dogs from their shelters and finding them good homes.”
For more information on the program, which will continue to sell ornaments through Jan. 4, 2013, visit www.shelter-partners.org.
Photo courtesy Shelby Humane Society’s Shelter Partners