According to the Humane Society, as many as eight million cats and dogs arrive at animal shelters every year. While the number of euthanizations nationwide has decreased in recent decades, as many as four million shelter animals are still euthanized annually.
It’s a bleak statistic, made more unsettling by the fact that cats and dogs often find themselves in shelters and rescues because of human negligence: Irresponsible breeding, puppy mills and abandonment are among the most common factors contributing to the proliferation of homeless pets.
But in California, one small nonprofit is making every effort to ensure those animals stay healthy, happy and alive. Operation Blankets of Love helps hundreds of homeless pets every day by providing their shelters and rescues with food, comfort supplies, leashes, crates, collars, shampoo, and any other care items that they need. "That’s what we do," says cofounder Brad Smulson. "We’re like a Red Cross operation for the animal rescue world."
Comfort supplies in particular—such as blankets, bedding and toys—may sound like niceties, but they’re crucial to the health and welfare of cats and dogs.
"Shelter animals lie on hard, cold cement floors 24/7," says Eileen Smulson, who runs OBOL with Brad, her husband. "So we found out through scientific studies and experts that when an animal is dumped in a shelter, they’re miserable, they’re lonely, and when they’re on a hard cement floor, their immune system goes down and they get sick."
Because so many animal care facilities are underfunded, they find it difficult to provide enough food for all of their animals, let alone comfort supplies. Smulson says that’s why her work is so important. "As soon as you put down a comfort item, like bedding, the animal’s entire demeanor changes," she says. "They’re happier, they’re more relaxed and they feel safe and secure, just like you do when you’re wrapped in a blanket."
When cats and dogs are happy and relaxed, they’re not only healthier, Smulson says, but more adoptable: Potential adopters can see their personalities and imagine them as members of their own home. And, of course, more adoptions means fewer euthanizations.
Based in Granada Hills, CA, OBOL collects donated supplies from its 75 drop-off locations and in turn gives them to the shelters and rescues that need them the most.
On an average day, the Smulsons will provide vital inventory to six facilities that may be taking care of up to 1,000 animals collectively. It’s a job that requires long days on the road and, on average, 500 miles of driving a week.
While the couple’s generosity is seemingly infinite, the resources are not. "We need funds," says Eileen Smulson. "We have growing pains. We don’t have a staff. You’re talking to it—my husband and I."
That's why until last year, they were putting all of their mileage on Eileen's seven-year-old compact car. With a tiny trunk and a backseat loaded with supplies, the Smulsons could only pick up from one or two drop-off locations before they’d have to return home to unload.
A stroke of good luck solved that problem: The couple entered Toyota’s 100 Cars for Good program, an online contest in which Facebook users vote for the nonprofits they believe should win a new vehicle. OBOL earned enough votes to win a brand-new Toyota Sienna, and the Smulsons say the outpouring of support they received as a result was humbling.
But the nonprofit still struggles to meet community demand for its services. In addition to all the shelters they assist, Eileen Smulson also runs a humane education program, teaching schoolchildren the importance of animal kindness. And the couple also regularly donates supplies to homeless people who are pet owners and don't have the resources to provide for them.
“We help save lives of animals who have no voice," says Eileen Smulson. "So we feel very blessed that we’re able to do this."
If you’d like to help Operation Blankets of Love provide care to the shelter animals that need it most, visit its website.
To find out more about Toyota’s 100 Cars for Good Program, which is running through November 19, visit the campaign's Facebook page, and discover other nonprofits that need your vote.
This post is sponsored by Toyota's philanthropy program 100 Cars for Good. Starting October 1 and ending November 19, do your own good deed by voting for your favorite organizations and causes on the 100 Cars for Good Facebook App.