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Turning a Shelter into an Open Book

A Wisconsin organization raises money through a collection of some of its best adoption success stories

A Wisconsin organization raises money through a collection of some of its best adoption success stories

Tails from the Heart raised $18,000 for the Coulee Region Humane Society by telling the amazing stories of adopted pets like Sparky (above), featured on the cover with one of the developmentally disabled adults who receives therapy from the dog. Solomon, a coonhound found injured on a country road, is featured in the book with his adopter, Sarah (below).

Looking for a way to increase your organization's visibility within the community? Need to do this on a shoestring budget? Perhaps you'll find the solution in the experiences of an animal shelter in the Midwest.
Last year, the Coulee Region Humane Society in La Crosse, Wisconsin, came up with a cost-effective way to promote its programs. The production of Tails from the Heart was a year-long effort by volunteers, local university students, and other community members. Featuring 50 letters written by owners of animals adopted from the shelter, the book presents "tails" that range from the humorous to the bittersweet. Although the stories are personal, the messages are universal among pet adopters, says Jeff Davis, Director of the Coulee Region Humane Society. "We wanted the stories to cover the change in the animal's life," says Davis, "as well as how [the adoption] has impacted the [owner's] life."

The letters include one by the adoptive parent of Scooter, a basset hound who is undergoing physical therapy for his broken back. Lear, a cat, is the inspiration behind another story that describes the company and comfort he gives to his human companion. And Sparky's owner writes of the pooch's patience in working with developmentally disabled adults.

Compiling these stories on the cheap took a little help from a lot of friends. Humane society staff identified successful adoptions and asked the pleased pet owners to write up their stories; local university students did the layout and donated paper for the cover. An area photographer took photos for a reduced fee, and the shelter requested funding from donors specifically to help pay for the book's production. In the end, producing Tails cost the Coulee Region Humane Society nothing but time and effort. The $18,000 raised by book sales was direct profit for the humane society.

Tails from the Heart has been sold only through the shelter. Almost 1,000 books were printed, and only a handful remain. The inclusion of 50 community members in the book has had a ripple effect on sales: The families and friends of featured pet owners comprise a built-in readership.

And the book has been more than just a financial boon to the shelter. "We've promoted it and used it in quite a few different education aspects and speaking engagements that we've had, showing the impact some of these animals can have on people," says Davis.

"... It helps everybody realize the importance of animals in our lives."


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