“50 Shades of Spay” Hashtag Contest Aims to Reward Spay/Neuter Programs


Cute little kittens are a staple in Valentine’s Day card design, but the hard truth is, many baby kittens are unloved and unwanted by humans. Many are euthanized before they’ll ever get a chance to frolic like their cousins on the heart-shaped cards.

"In Los Angeles, the biggest group of animals who are still killed in the shelters are underage kittens," explains Aimee Gilbreath, the executive director of Found Animals, a California-based and privately funded nonprofit group dedicated to reducing euthanasia of shelter animals.

Found Animals promotes spaying and neutering all year round, but this February, the organization hopes a hashtag inspired by a certain R-rated movie will help spay and neuter programs get the cash they need to keep pets from reproducing.

It’s called #50ShadesofSpay, and five eligible organizations who use the hashtag on Facebook this month will get a $2,500 grant to keep those spay and neuter surgeries coming long after the movie has its time in theaters.

The contest — which runs until Feb. 28 — is social-media based. Found Animals is asking organizations who spay and neuter at least 1,000 publicly owned pets per year to like the Found Animals page, and then post and tag five different photos on five different days in February — all with the hashtag #50ShadesofSpay. The programs will also tell Found Animals why they deserve the $2,500 grant.

#50ShadesofSpay is just a small example of how Found Animals encourages organizations to make the most of social media — and it’s just a small percentage of the grant money Found Animals provides to organizations across America.

In September 2014, Found Animals launched the Saving Pets Challenge, a larger competition that used the CrowdRise online fundraising platform to help organizations raise awareness and money to address causes of shelter euthanasia in their communities. One-hundred and seventy five companion animal organizations from the U.S. and Puerto Rico entered the challenge, raising their own funds while completing for the first prize grant of $50,000.

"Our goal in doing this was to give some grant funding to worthy organizations," says Gilbreath. "To give them exposure to amazing tools and resources that CrowdRise offers."

The challenge raised just over a million dollars in one month using the CrowdRise website. The Santa Fe Animal Shelter raised the most money, $130,615, to win the first prize grant of $50,000.

Gilbreath says the Santa Fe Animal Shelter put on an amazing and clever campaign, making the most of video technology to really tell the stories of the pets it serves.

"Telling your story through pictures and video makes a huge difference," she says, adding that donors cannot resist those cute kitty noses.

The social media-savvy Santa Fe Animal Shelter wasn’t the only organization to walk away with a grant after the Saving Pets Challenge. Five other organizations, including Rescued Pets Movement and the Fort Collins Cat Rescue & Spay/Neuter Clinic were awarded grants. In total, Found Animals provided $115,000 in grants during the challenge.

Providing grants to organizations who are harnessing the power of social media is not the only way that Found Animals is working to make the world a better place for companion animals — cats and kittens included.

Since it was founded by surgeon Dr. Gary Michelson back in 2005, Found Animals has provided millions of dollars in funding to research projects aimed at preventing pet overpopulation.

"We would like to encourage scientists to come up with a non-surgical sterilization for pets," explains Gilbreath, who says the desired end result would be similar to the forms of birth control that are injected or implanted in humans. "Like doggie Depo-Provera and kitty Norplant."

While scientists use grants from Found Animals to work on these projects to prevent pet overpopulation, the organization is working to save the kittens that are already in this world. Through it’s Adopt and Shop retail stores in Lakewood and Culver City, Found Animals has helped thousands of kittens get adopted.

"We pull as many kittens as we can from our shelter partners and put them into our kitten nursery," says Gilbreath.

"People tend to find baby kittens and think that mom has abandoned them, so people scoop up the kittens and take them to the shelter, but they’re too young to be adopted," says Gilbreath, who notes that young, motherless kittens require nearly constant attention from shelter staff, and end up being euthanized if the shelter is lacking in resources and room.

Thanks to Found Animals’ kitten nursery program, many of these unweaned shelter kittens are saved from an early death and lovingly fostered until they are old enough for their forever homes.

"There is no kitten left behind — they all get adopted," Gilbreath says.

Thanks to their efforts with the kitten nursery program, the Saving Pets Challenge, #50ShadesofSpay, and a new fundraising competition to be announced in March, Gilbreath and her team at Found Animals have the hearts of many cats and cat lovers this Valentine’s Day.

Read more by Heather Marcoux:

About the author: Heather Marcoux is a freelance writer in Alberta, Canada. Her beloved Ghost Cat was once her only animal, but Specter the kitten,GhostBuster the Lab and her newest dog, Marshmallow, make her fur family complete. Heather is also a wife, a bad cook and a former TV journalist. Some of her friends have hidden her feed because of an excess of cat pictures. If you don’t mind cat pictures, you can follow her on Twitter; she also posts pet GIFs on Google +

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