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An overnight success

Shelter slumber party tugs heartstrings, raises funds

From Animal Sheltering magazine Summer 2019

Maui Humane Society’s Spring Fling Slumber Party had community members, staffers and volunteers sleeping, singing and performing challenges in the kennels with the dogs.Jeffrey Heisel poses with his assigned sleepover buddy Mana Banana.

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.”

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About the Author

Bethany Wynn Adams is a senior editor at Animal Sheltering, a quarterly magazine for anyone who cares about the health and happiness of animals and their people, and From tales of shelter mascots to guidance on backyard chickens, Bethany works with experts from across the country and within the Humane Society of the United States to bring wide-ranging, engaging print and web news to the animal welfare community. Winner of the Cat Writers' Association's MUSE Medallion and finalist in the 2019 Content Marketing World and 2018 Eddie & Ozzie Folio awards, she lives in Maryland with her husband and two naughty rescue dogs.