A certain R-rated movie opening today has been attracting a lot of attention, and Found Animals (a privately funded nonprofit dedicated to reducing shelter animal euthanasia) hopes a variation on its hashtag will draw attention to the fact that February is not all about Christian Grey — it’s also Spay and Neuter Month.
The campaign is called #50ShadesofSpay, and five eligible organizations who use the hashtag on Facebook this month are going to end up with a $2,500 grant each to keep those spay and neuter surgeries coming long after the movie leaves theaters.
The social media-based contest runs until February 28. Organizations that spay and neuter at least 1,000 publicly owned pets per year simply have to like the Found Animals page, and then post and tag five different photos on five different days using the hashtag #50ShadesofSpay. The programs also must state why they deserve the $2,500 grant.
This hijacked-hashtag contest is just one example of how Found Animals encourages organizations to make the most of social media — and it’s just a small percentage of the grant money Found Animals provides to organizations across America.
Executive Director Aimee Gilbreath has been with Found Animals since 2008. She came on board as the organization’s first employee after her rescue Pit Bull, Rufus, inspired her to leave behind a well-respected career in management strategy consulting to devote her work life to helping other animals. In the years since, the staff has grown to employ 65 people (about a third of who work in the organization’s Adopt and Shop pet stores in Lakewood and Culver City, California).
“At the end of 2014, we officially crossed over the one million pets threshold,” Gilbreath explains. The million animals were served through the various programs funded by Found Animals’ founder Dr. Gary K Michelson, a surgeon and inventor who holds a number of patents.
“He’s got the money to be able to invest in this cause,” she says. “He sees pets as an important cause to support.”
Thanks to Dr. Michelson’s philanthropy, Found Animals was able to use the same social media influence it is harnessing in the #50ShadesofSpay contest during a larger competition held in September of 2014, called the Saving Pets Challenge.
Through the CrowdRise online fundraising platform, Found Animals’ Saving Pets Challenge helped companion animal organizations raise awareness and money to address causes of shelter euthanasia in their communities. A grand prize grant of $50,000 from Found Animals was offered up to the organization that raised the most cash. The Santa Fe Animal Shelter brought in $130,615 and also took home that $50,000 grant.
“Our goal in doing this was to give some grant funding to worthy organizations,” Gilbreath says. “And also to give them exposure to amazing tools and resources that CrowdRise offers.”
The Santa Fe Animal Shelter was one of 175 organizations from the U.S. and Puerto Rico to enter the challenge. All told, the Saving Pets Challenge brought in more than a million dollars to the various groups in just one month through CrowdRise.
“That’s why we were excited to work with CrowdRise as a partner,” she says. “It’s a really great toolkit for the charities.”
Gilbreath says she recommends that any organizations looking to start a fundraising campaign take advantage of the free support offered by CrowdRise, which includes a calendar with specific fundraising prompts.
Providing grants to groups who are helping themselves through fundraising is not the only way that Found Animals works to make the world a better place for companion animals — through its beautiful Adopt and Shop retail stores in Lakewood and Culver City, it has helped many dogs and other pets find their forever homes.
“We work with shelter partners to pull in the pets, and they stay with us until they get adopted,” Gilbreath explains.
“The idea is that we don’t make any money on adoptions,” she says, adding that any money the stores bring in by selling pet accessories helps more animals become adoptees. “We’re for pets, not for profits.”
Found Animals is helping pets not just by finding them homes, but also by funding those who seek a scientific solution to pet overpopulation.
“We would like to encourage scientists to come up with a non-surgical sterilization for pets,” explains Gilbreath, who adds that Dr. Michelson has provided millions of dollars in funding to research projects since he founded the organization in 2005. According to her, the desired outcome of these projects would be a product similar to the forms of birth control that are injected or implanted in humans.
“Like doggie Depo-Provera and kitty Norplant,” she says, adding that more than 30 grants have been approved, with some applications coming in from as far away as Australia and Europe.
“While nobody is ready to go to the FDA with a product, they are making great progress,” Gilbreath says.
Found Animals continues to support scientific efforts in furthering non-surgical pet sterilization, but it’s obviously also harnessing the power of social media to help prevent pet overpopulation in other ways. The Saving Pets Challenge, #50ShadesofSpay, and a new fundraising competition to be announced in March are why Gilbreath, Dr. Michelson, and the rest of the team have earned the title of Dogster Heroes.
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About the Author: Heather Marcoux is a freelance writer in Alberta, Canada. Her beloved Ghost Cat was once her only animal, but the addition of a second cat, Specter, and the dog duo of GhostBuster and Marshmallow make her fur family complete. Sixteen paws is definitely enough. Heather is also a wife, a bad cook, and a former TV journalist. Some of her friends have hidden her feed because of an excess of cat pictures. If you don’t mind cat pictures, you can follow her on Twitter; she also posts pet GIFs on Google+.