by LAURA HAYES
Still looking for the perfect Valentine’s Day gift for your sweetheart? Winona Area Humane Society (WAHS) is offering “puppygrams” just in time for the love-filled holiday. For a minimum donation of $25, donors can gift a 10-minute puppy visit to their loved ones.
According to WAHS Cat Director Kelly Sackmaster, the humane society got the idea for puppygram visits from the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA), which sent local shelters ideas for Valentine’s Day-themed fundraisers. “We’ve always wanted to do something around Valentine’s Day,” Sackmaster said. “On a day where you’re supposed to celebrate love, it makes sense to involve animals in that holiday. We thought, ‘Let’s go for it.’”
At first, Sackmaster and other WAHS staff wondered if they would even have a dog at the shelter that could deliver the valentines. Sackmaster said that the humane society has a high-turnover for dogs. WAHS Dog Director Susie Lynn said that last year they had 117 dogs be reclaimed by their owners. It wasn’t always that way, she said. “I used to have all of the kennel filled all the time,” she said.
Now, the WAHS posts pictures of its animals on Facebook. Lynn said that within moments of posting pictures of the dogs on Facebook, the shelter typically receives a call from the owner or someone who knows the owner. In comparison, last year only 10 cats were reclaimed by their owners.
So WAHS Facility Director Amanda Dempsey offered her dog, LillyBelle — a 10-pound Papillon — to deliver the puppygrams. Sackmaster described her as a fluff of love. “She loves people,” Dempsey said.
Additionally, a three-and-a-half year old beagle named Macey was recently surrendered to the shelter. After a dog is surrendered, WAHS uses an intake period for staff to assess dogs for any illnesses and get familiar with the their personality. “She’s a sweet beagle that they could no longer take care of. She too is a people person,” Lynn said.
On Valentine’s Day, Macey will officially be available for adoption. Lynn hopes that the puppygrams inspire someone to consider adopting Macey permanently. “Wouldn’t that be an awesome story? I met her on Valentine’s Day and now I want to adopt her,” Sackmaster said.
How will it work? The puppygrams will be delivered throughout the day next Monday through Wednesday. Interested donors can call the WAHS or stop down in person to sign up. Staff ask for a minimum of a $25 donation. In return, puppygram recipients receive three things — a 10-minute visit from Macey or LillyBelle, a certificate acknowledging the donation, and a bag of puppy chow. “That’s for the humans, of course,” Sackmaster laughed.
WAHS staff said that a puppygram is perfect for anyone. “You’re giving them an experience as well as you’re literally helping homeless animals in the community for Valentine’s Day. I find that wildly romantic,” Sackmaster said. Love, she added, is synonymous with animals. “As far as what someone wants for Valentine’s Day, I think they want something memorable,” she said.
The proceeds from the puppygrams will go toward WAHS’ medical costs. “Whenever we fundraise, we’re going to put the money where we need it the most. And where we need it the most is in medical care,” Sackmaster said. As a no-kill shelter, Sackmaster has said in the past that the WAHS will do almost anything to keep an animal alive, which can often come with a high price tag.
WAHS has already had some puppygrams reserved, but spots are still available. Additionally, the shelter will be open for visits on Valentine’s Day. Visit the WAHS at its shelter on East Broadway or call at 507-452-3125 to sign up for a fluffy valentine.