Funny how times change. In the late 1990’s, the shelter community greatly wrote off Mike Arms, president and CEO of the Helen Woodward Animal Center in Rancho Santa Fe, CA as either crazy or at best eccentric. Arms wanted to begin a campaign to adopt pets during the holiday season. To say there was resistance is an understatement. Back then, the conventional thinking was that people who adopt around the holidays are making impulsive purchases, and more likely would return the animals for a not so happy New Year. “I had a hunch that was more urban myth than fact,” Arms says.
Arms commissioned a study which resulted in real data. In fact, the data demonstrated people who adopt around the holidays are, in fact, less likely to return the animals. With the ammunition he needed, Arms enlisted the Iams pet food company for support, and in 1999 he was off and running with the first Iams Home 4 the Holidays adoption drive. In all, 14 Southern California shelters participated, adopting an impressive 2,563 animals. That was then. This is now. In last year’s campaign, which began in October and continued through Christmas, over 2,700 animal welfare organizations participated (some even outside the U.S.), adopting 491,000 pets into forever homes. Since 1999, an astounding total of over two million animals have been given a second chance through Iams Home 4 the Holidays, now the largest pet adoption campaign on the planet.
Arms is still not satisfied. Indeed, he may be crazy and eccentric after all. He says, “Our goal this year is to adopt one million pets. I refuse to believe we can’t do it. And the need is greater this year than ever.”
The trend in recent years of fewer animals being relinquished to shelters seems to be reversing in many parts of the country. People are leaving animals in foreclosed homes, and giving up on them because they maintain they can’t afford to keep them. “I realize intake is up in many parts of the country is on the rise, so these animals need us. Seeing wonderful animals die in shelters has to be avoided. When there is need in this country we come together. And right now, the animals do need us.”
Some of the Iams Home 4 the Holiday stories are prototypical holiday miracle stories. Last December 22, Kathleen O’Brien’s daughter, Erin Suggett, an Orange County, CA animal control officer called to say she was coming over with a kitten for her to foster.
It turns out that this tiny kitten was set on fire, suffering terrible burns. Typically, this kitten would have little chance, and just be put out of her misery. That was until Dr. Elaine Lakie noticed that the kitten was responsive, and purring. She just couldn’t put the kitty down only days before Christmas.
That’s where O’Brien came in as the ‘foster mom.’ “She was in terrible shape, and was on antibiotics and painkillers,” says O’Brien. “We gave her four baths, and each time the water was black (from the lighter fluid). Her ear was just about burnt off, there was a hole burnt into the top of her head, and her breathing was so raspy. I didn’t know if she was going to make it. Still, there was s spark in her " and I felt it. I held her, and rocked her to sleep, telling her she would be just fine.”
Somehow, she pulled through. The hole on her head healed, though her ear fell off; she doesn’t look in a mirror and doesn’t particularly care. O’Brien named the kitty Zuzu for Jimmy Stewart’s daughter in the holiday classic “It’s a Wonderful Life.” Of course, in the film Stewart is given a second chance at life, and carries Zuzu’s flower petals in his pocket.
O’Brien has has two other cats adopted from the Mission Viejo Animal Shelter, where she works as a volunteer. “Zuzu and I have a special bond,” she says, “She’s the most funny, wonderful and beautiful cat I’ve ever had. I can’t explain it, but I fell in love with Zuzu the moment we met. I can’t tell you how much she means to me.”
Usually it’s the folks who get the pet for the kids. However, it was four grandkids (ages 3 to 10 years) who conspired to get granny a dog. They convinced Grandma Sheryl to visit the Kankakee, IL animal control facility a week before Christmas last year. Hamilton agreed, not really thinking she was going to come home with a dog. Sadie, an approximately one-year old, 20lb. Heinz-57 had no problem convincing the kids that she adored children; she managed that in less than a minute. It may have taken about twice as long to win over grandma. “She’s a wonderful companion,” says Sheryl Hamilton. “Sadie sleeps with me, travels with me and is great with the grandchildren.”
“Now, is the right time to find a friend who will never tire of your hearing you talk and who will love you unconditionally,” says Arms. “And you may save a life.”
Learn more about Iams Home 4 the Holidays at www.home4theholidays.org.