As the only open-admission shelter on the Hawaiian island of Maui, Maui Humane Society has an imbalance between the number of animals needing homes and the number of homes available. Add a community cat population like “any place you’ve ever gone that has a lot of community cats and multiply that by 10,” says CEO Jerleen Bryant, and the shelter’s roughly 90% and 95% save rates for cats and dogs, respectively, seem nothing short of miraculous.
Here’s another miracle: The shelter’s inaugural Spring Fling Slumber Party, brainchild of director of development and community outreach Nancy Willis, raised a whopping $47,000.
Held on a weekend in March and livestreamed on Facebook, the event featured 14 people spending the night (from 6 p.m. to 6 a.m.) in a kennel with a shelter dog. Willis and Bryant recruited social media-savvy participants and asked them to raise a minimum of $1,500 beforehand; they all smashed the donation goal. Visitors and Facebook Live viewers could watch participants perform various challenges during the event—eating dog biscuits, drinking out of clean dog bowls and singing love songs to their assigned dogs—in exchange for additional donations.
Singing his own lyrics to the tune of A Star Is Born’s “Shallow,” participant Jeffrey Heisel serenaded pit bull-type Mana Banana. A video shows the dog dissolving into her bed (and the camerawoman, and eventually Heisel, dissolving into tears) as he sings: “Darling don’t worry, there’s no need to hurry, there’s no reason for fear and doubt / ’Cause people here love you, take good care of you / You’re safe in the shelter now.”
The lyrics were especially meaningful, Bryant says, because MHS’s live-release rates were far lower as little as five years ago. Bryant herself participated in the sleepover, decorating her kennel with a small futon, a plug-in fireplace and a rug. She says her roommate, a 65-pound mixed breed named Bella, was “a bull in a china shop, just really active in her kennel” before the event, but “the moment she walked into her [decorated] kennel she jumped up on the couch, curled up and went to sleep. And that told me she knew what a couch was. … That really tugged at my heart.”
Bryant plans to make the slumber party an annual event and expects to fill every kennel, community cat room and even small animal room next year due to overwhelming interest and requests from cat and bunny lovers.
“The whole evening just felt very surreal,” says Willis, who spent the night in her office. In the morning, the fanfare was over; the music was off, the visitors were gone, and people and dogs alike were snoozing together in the kennels. “It hit me how magical the whole night had been and what we had been able to pull off.”