At 3 p.m. Friday, a crowd had formed outside the Macy’s in downtown San Francisco. Everybody was restlessly awaiting the stroke of five, when bright red curtains would open to reveal live puppies playing, prancing, and doing who knows what else inside the store’s soaring street-side windows.
It was part of a heartwarming annual partnership between Macy’s and the San Francisco SPCA, in which whimsical holiday-themed window displays are created to house live dogs and cats, which passersby can adopt.
“We’ve always had a great turnout, but this is incredible,” said the store’s media-relations manager, Megan Pardo.
“It’s a great opportunity to spread the holiday spirit,” she added as everyone from office workers to bikers to bearded hipsters — and the occasional curious canine — thronged the windows, clamoring behind velvet ropes and forming a queue that snaked all the way across the street.
The SF SPCA has staged its holiday-window project in various San Francisco stores, starting with Gump’s, for the last 28 years. This is its 11th consecutive year partnering with Macy’s. Since 1987, the window displays have led to more than 8,000 adoptions; 2013 was a record-breaker, with 343 animals finding new homes and $100,000 raised in donations.
This year, as for the past five, the displays were built in New York City by Spaeth Design, then trucked to San Francisco, where they were reassembled and embellished. These displays can take up to two weeks to install in Macy’s windows and one week to remove. Open to view through January 4, only some of the windows feature live animals; others are whimsical wonderlands with moving parts.
As the sky darkened and the moment of the unveiling drew near, students from the De Marillac Academy choir sang Christmas carols. Their elf-hatted classmates then dramatically swung open the drapes.
The crowd pressed forward, enthralled by a glorious display, in which child-sized figures ice-skated around a magical San Francisco landscape.
Other windows featured live kittens — and the event’s guest of honor, celebrity feline Grumpy Cat. (Read coverage of her appearance on our sister site, Catster.) But for many in attendance, the main attraction was the adorable fuzzy puppies that lolled, blinked, rolled, and gazed at the hundreds of human spectators smiling and cooing and snapping pictures.
Could some of those faces belong to the puppies’ new families?
“At this time of year, we have such a great need” to get animals adopted, said SF SPCA co-president Jennifer Scarlett.
The window displays are designed to keep the animals safe and at ease — “with plenty of ventilation and no carpeting,” explained Scarlett, a veterinarian who adopted her own dog, a blue merle named Huri, in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.
Ten to 12 animals are on display at any given time. As animals are adopted they are replaced in the windows. Volunteers ensure the comfort of the animals in the windows and of their replacements, who rest in cages in a temporary holding area inside Macy’s.
“We try to keep litters together, and if any animal ever seems stressed in the windows, we take them right out,” Scarlett said. “Occasionally, an older dog will be like, ‘What? Get me out of here.’ But most of these animals are young enough that they don’t mind” the odd environment or being a public spectacle. The windows are visible not only from the street but also via webcam.
Anyone who falls in love with a dog or cat who they see behind those windows need only visit the temporary holding area and ask to adopt the animal.
“It’s an open adoption program,” Scarlett explained. Rather than screening potential adoptees, she said, “We have conversations. We let them know that if it doesn’t work out, they can come back with the animal — but our return rates are lower at this time of year than at other times.”
And that’s a holiday gift for all of us.
All photographs © 2014 by Kristan Lawson.
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