The economy has been rough the last couple of years, but that didn’t stop Nikki Moustaki, a writer who specializes in pet care topics, from trying to raise money and food for shelter animals. If anything, when she started the Pet Postcard Project in 2007, it came at a time when shelter animals needed help most.
Many shelters and rescues have been losing both private donations and corporate sponsorships. Couple that with families facing financial dire straits and foreclosures—and thus surrendering their pets—and there’s a recipe for shelter overload.
Moustaki launched the Pet Postcard Project at the 2007 Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show after printing up 10,000 postcards advertising the new program and plastering the show hall with them.
Like fundraisers for marathons or other tournaments, Moustaki’s plan was to raise either money or food for every postcard she received. For instance, $1 or a pound of food for every card. “At first I was using my own money,” Moustaki says. “I said, ‘I will donate a dollar for every postcard.’ Sometimes it was $300 a month and I would be like, Yikes! But I really wanted it to work. Then I got some small Internet companies that would donate a dollar per card.”
Other companies began following suit and, as the word got out, increasing numbers of dog lovers began sending in postcards. The expanding number of postcards meant an expanded number of donations from companies to shelters, as well.
The postcards feature pictures of everyday dogs and captions written by their parents that range from cute to confessional to philosophical.
To inspire people to send in cards and to be creative, Moustaki awards prizes for various categories, such as “Cutest Puppy,” “Funny Dog,” “Naughty Dog,” “Snuggliest Dog,” and more. “Not only are you helping shelter dogs by sending in your cards, you can win stuff, too.”
Moustaki’s efforts are paying off.
“Not only is it a fun thing to do, it’s a way to help shelter animals without cleaning out your pocket,” she says. “It’s the cost of a stamp to send in a card.”
To date, the Pet Postcard Project gives away more than $1,000 worth of prizes every month thanks to the generosity of companies’ product donations. “The companies don’t pay me,” Moustaki says. “The only thing they do is send a prize to a winner once a month.”
This March is a little special, though. Nutrish, Rachael Ray’s dog food brand, has agreed to increase the 1-pound of dog food to one postcard ratio. If the Pet Postcard Project receives 500 postcards by the end of March, Nutrish will donate a larger than usual amount of product. Nutrish’s contributions to animal wellfare are well-known. In addition to working with several organizations, including the Pet Postcard Project, Rachael Ray donates all of her Nutrish proceeds to charity.
When asked how much dog food she thought she might need, Moustaki responded with, “I don’t know. A couple thousand pounds?”
Moustaki was shocked when the folks at Nutrish called back and said, “How’s 64,000 pounds? Does that work for you?”
Because Moustaki set the March postcard goal at 500, “that translates to 128 pounds per card instead of 1 pound per card,” she says. “That’s a huge deal.”
Moustaki’s monthly postcard intake varies, but she has on occasion received as many as 2,000 cards, making 500 a realistic goal. Still, it’s not a guaranteed number to receive. Moustaki notes that what comes in can depend on what people are up to at home.
“Now that we’ve been around for about three years, I’m noticing that some months are a lot busier than others,” she says. “In the winter it’s busy because people are inside and they’re looking for stuff to do with their kids. Then summer’s not as busy because people are out running around. It depends on the month.”
If the 500-card goal is reached, two shelters will share the 64,000-pound prize: Sabbath Memorial Dog Rescue in Miami and the spcaLA in Southern California.
“I always support Sabbath Memorial because it’s my hometown shelter here in Miami and I’ve known the guy who runs it for many years,” Moustaki says. “He’s a friend of the family and he’s just a good guy. He cares about these animals so much. He’s just a passionate, passionate dog lover and he sacrifices so much for the animals. He has just impressed me to no end. Then to be geographically fair, I’ll choose another shelter in another place.”
To select another shelter, Moustaki enlists the help of a “spokesdog” who helps spread the word about the Pet Postcard Project. The shelters, Moustaki emphasizes, must be legitimate organizations with proper paperwork from the government.
For the month of March, i Love Dogs agility ambassador Gigi is doing her best to boost postcard entries. Gigi, an 8-year-old Rat Terrier, selected the spcaLA—the very same organization that gave her a second chance and found her a forever home.
The Pet Postcard Project couldn’t have come at a better time for the spcaLA. After decades of receiving food donations from manufacturers, pet supply chains and corporations, supplies have now dwindled to a fraction of what they once were before the recession. The food supply has gotten so low that i Love Dogs co-hosted a TweetUp event in Long Beach, Calif., to help raise money and food for the organization.
Moustaki would eventually like to expand into helping other rescue animals, such as cats, birds, ferrets and more.
In the meantime, Moustaki remains hopeful that the Pet Postcard Project will reach the 500-card goal for March and that larger-scale promotions, such as the 64,000-pound food drive, will continue. She’s also on the lookout for future spokesdogs who can help raise food donations and select shelters to benefit from the program.
“We’ve been pretty successful so far and we’re hoping for continued success,” says Moustaki.
To learn more about how you can help raise food donations for shelter animals, visit Pet Postcard Project for submission information.
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