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Following a Trail of Happy Tails

Animal shelters in one California county link resources to promote their services during National Animal Shelter Appreciation Week

Forget Sonoma County’s popular art tours, farm tours, and wine-tastings—the area’s animal advocates have a better idea: Pet Trails. Held in connection with National Animal Shelter Appreciation Week, last year’s first annual Pet Trails allowed visitors to navigate their way to the county’s six animal shelters with the help of this fun map.

When citizens in Sonoma County, California, wanted to applaud the work of their local animal shelters last November, they knew just the route to take.

The county’s six public and private shelters had created a roadmap to the festivities, helping people navigate their way to area facilities in celebration of National Animal Shelter Appreciation Week. Modeled on Sonoma County’s popular “Art Trails” and “Farm Trails” events, the “Pet Trails” adventure was developed to encourage people to shelter-hop and visit one or more shelters over the course of a weekend.

Participants received “pet passports” that were stamped upon entry into a shelter; the stamps made them eligible for prizes such as a quilt, cat prints, t-shirts, and a weekend getaway. The more stamps people collected, the better the prizes they could potentially win.

“Our goal was to get people in who’d never been to a shelter before,” says Nancee Tavares, manager of the City of Petaluma’s Animal Services. The plan succeeded, she says—about 2,000 people participated in the first Pet Trails. “We had people coming in and saying, ‘I’ve never been here before.’"

Prizes weren’t the only incentive; visitors found something interesting awaiting them at each shelter. One shelter offered free microchipping, another presented a large display of disaster preparedness kits for cats and dogs, and another created an “Ask the Trainer” forum. At Petaluma Animal Services, a groomer demonstrated the proper way to trim nails and brush fur. Experts from the Herpetological Society brought snakes and other exotics, aiming to teach the public about the special needs of the animals and the difficulties of caring for them. Along the Pet Trails route, visitors also had a chance to get their faces painted, and every shelter provided refreshments.

To help publicize Pet Trails, local print and radio media ran community service ads and public service announcements. A group of about 18 animal protection organizations had recently formed the Sonoma Community Action Network, and National Animal Shelter Appreciation Week gave the group a chance to unite publicly for the first time.

“We all joined together ... and that way we could pool resources for advertising and other things, too,” says Tavares. “It was our kickoff event to show that we’re all working together instead of sort of competing against one another.”

Sonoma County shelters are starting to work on their second annual Pet Trails event, but in the meantime, they’ve already established a hotline that provides details of shelter spay/neuter programs in English and Spanish; they’ve also designed a pro-sterilization billboard that says, “Have trouble using condoms? Try it with paws.”

This kind of creative collaboration is another benefit of getting involved with National Animal Shelter Appreciation Week. The event not only helps shelters promote their programs and services to the community but can also help local organizations coalesce into a stronger voice for animals. If you’d like to do the same in your community, check out the sidebar to learn more about all the ways The HSUS is offering to help you plan, organize, and implement successful National Animal Shelter Appreciation Week events.


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