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Shelters and Athletes Team Up for Animals

Calendars featuring burly ball players and cuddly centerfolds help raise money and support

Calendars featuring burly ball players and cuddly centerfolds help raise money and support

The April photo of Hank Aaron and friend in the 1999 Atlanta calendar is enough to send a thrill through baseball fans and German shepherd lovers alike.
When you think of professional athletes, “warm and fuzzy” may not be the first thing that comes to mind. But if you add some furry critters to the picture, you can soften the edges of even the most defensive defensive tackle.

And you can raise a lot of awareness and a little cash while you’re at it. By partnering with hometown teams to create calendars with cuddly centerfolds, shelters in Georgia, Missouri, and New York have mapped out a winning strategy for punting their organizations into the limelight every day of the year. After all, who wouldn’t get a kick out of a picture of the St. Louis Rams’ 320-pound tackle, Orlando Pace, posing with a 6-pound chihuahua from the Humane Society of Missouri? Or a snapshot of Buffalo Bills wide receiver Eric Moulds playing with two kittens from the SPCA Serving Erie County in New York?

The Bills and Rams calendars were inspired by a similar one created two years ago by the Atlanta Braves and the Atlanta Humane Society. From the perspective of Braves management, the calendar was a good way to promote the team’s philanthropic efforts, says Sherry Greenblatt, vice president of capital development at the Atlanta Humane Society. And from the viewpoint of shelter leaders, the project offered visibility and the chance to raise extra dollars. “Both organizations were looking for ‘branding’ and ‘feel good’ with the community,” says Greenblatt.

The Atlanta calendar hit a home run with fans: The humane society earned more than $53,000 from the sale—and appeared to have had a great time with players while they were at it. In the February spread, manager Bobby Cox takes his shih tzu, Rosa, for a ride in his ’74 VW Bug. On the June pages, first baseman Andres Galarraga lounges on the field as Atlanta Humane Society kittens play around him. And in August, outfielder Andruw Jones lounges poolside with his bird, Groucho. But the calendar isn’t all fun and games; each monthly spread provides animal care tips, reminding readers that animals are the focus of the yearly chronicle.

A Superbowl Connection

The Humane Society of Missouri used its 2001 calendar to let the public know about the many different animals it shelters. Bonnie the horse and cornerback Dexter McCleon were happy to help out.

In the case of the Missouri shelter, it didn’t hurt that the Rams’ vice president for sales and marketing also happened to be on the board of a community agency that supports the humane society. And the Rams and the humane society already had a history together. The Rams’ Superbowl victory in 2000 had resulted in more than just major cash for players and the Vince Lombardi Trophy for St. Louis: An offer by Ralston Purina to give 1,000 pounds of dog food to a shelter in the state of the winning team resulted in a kibble bounty for the Humane Society of Missouri. (The Missouri governor at the time, the late Mel Carnahan, chose that shelter for the prize because of its extensive work on statewide animal protection issues, says Katherine McGowan, the shelter’s public relations manager.)

With their relationship already solidified by a truckload of good grub, the shelter and the football team decided to use players’ talents once again to benefit the animals—this time in the form of a 17-month calendar. Others in the area also helped with the effort: A professional photographer and longtime supporter of the Humane Society donated his time and equipment for the photo shoot, and Purina and a local radio station also contributed to the project. Players donated their time during the off-season, some posing with their own pets and others posing with animals from the shelter.

“They were all pretty excited [about the calendar],” says Marci Moran, the director of community relations for the Rams. The subjects of the photos were tailored to players’ personalities; the November 2000 page features linebacker and computer wiz London Fletcher introducing a shelter puppy to a laptop. And while many Rams fans may not know of defensive end Kevin Carter’s love of Harleys, they will find out if they turn to the October 2000 page of the calendar, where Carter is sitting on his Harley with his Great Dane at his feet. Fans will also see defensive end Grant Winstrom, who studied to be a pharmacist, posing with a shelter puppy in a pharmacist’s lab. “We asked the players what kind of animals they liked,” says McGowan. And since the humane society also has a large-animal rehabilitation center, the players had many animals to choose from. “[Cornerback] Dexter McCleon wanted to be with a horse, and we had a horse he could pose with. So we really tried to go with the personality and the choice of the player. And it was great because we were able to represent all the different types of animals we have for adoption.”

You Can Friend-Raise

Posing with burly ball players is a great way for animals to gain some celebrity exposure and, in the case of the Buffalo Bills calendar, attract groupies who want to take them home. While the Bills and the SPCA Serving Erie County collaborated on their project, Mary Wilson, the wife of Bills owner Ralph Wilson, Jr., learned about all the programs the shelter offers and ended up adopting a dog. She was so impressed with the shelter’s Teaching Love and Compassion (TLC) program—which pairs at-risk children with dogs in need of training—that she donated a 15-passenger van.

Although the SPCA has earned a small profit through the sale of the Bills calendar, the rewards are even more gratifying than cash in the coffers. “You can make some money on the calendar,” says Linda Soltis, a member of the shelter’s board. “But you also friendraise.”
 

Big tough Buffalo Bills wide receiver Eric Moulds wonders how he’ll ever get his helmet back from the SPCA kittens who’ve taken it over.
It was Soltis who first saw the Atlanta calendar and wanted to adapt the idea for the
SPCA. As the public relations manager for Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Western New York, which sponsors the Bills, Soltis was able to garner support from her employer for the project. Once the deal was set, Soltis made sure the calendar would be an ongoing effort, including it in a five-year sponsorship agreement between Blue Cross and Blue Shield and the Bills.

As in St. Louis, photography work on the calendar was donated. In the end, the SPCA paid $14,000 to produce 7,500 calendars. The organization has agreed to share any profits it receives from the sale of the calendar with the Buffalo Bills Youth Foundation.

Creating glossy and professional-looking calendars is not easy, say those who have coordinated their production. Challenges include working around team schedules, finding the right photographers and designers, and acquiring financial support. But in the end, “it’s about linking resources,” says Soltis.

Of course, to produce a calendar in conjunction with a major league sports team, an organization needs to be situated in a metropolitan area with at least 3 million people, says Greenblatt. “The purpose of the [Atlanta] piece was fund development,” says Greenblatt. “Calendars are an extremely expensive tool to be used for education—the audience is a little limited, the expense is high, and the shelf life is very short.”

Braves fans and animal lovers can find the calendar in Braves stores, in the Atlanta Humane Society shop, and through the Braves catalog; the calendar is promoted through the Web, newsletters, radio and TV advertising, and other venues around Atlanta. The St. Louis calendar sells for $12 on the Humane Society of Missouri’s Web site, www.hsmo.org; the SPCA Serving Erie County calendar sells for $10 at a local supermarket in the Buffalo area and on the SPCA’s Web site.

 

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