For The Love of Pittsburgh

What’s on the bottom of your to-do list?  On the bottom of mine, for too long, has been updating the WearWoof blog.  Running the shop, developing our programming, organizing and executing fundraising events, all as a volunteer, all while living a busy life outside of WearWoof, conspired to keep me from one of the things I’ve always enjoyed the most: writing.

Our recent signature event, the Scotch & Chocolate Party, forced me to sit down and write.  The party this year, unlike last year’s inaugural event, was going to be comprised largely of strangers.  Guests of guests – lawyers, business people, bankers, doctors and other folks who came because they were party of a table, or came for the scotch – had never heard of WearWoof before that night.

It terrified me!  I had just a few minutes to explain to a diverse group of people who may or may not care about animal welfare (or have even realized that they were at fundraiser!) why it was important for them to be there that night.

At the same time, a room full of people that may not have ever donated to animal welfare, let alone adopted a dog or cat, represented the very essence of what I am trying to accomplish with WearWoof, which is to find a way to bring new money into animal welfare.

Whether the tactic is running a trendy resale boutique or throwing a fancy single malt Scotch whisky party, the net effect must be a bigger pie of funding for our slice of charitable giving.

And so I wrote and delivered the following speech.  I modified it a bit to make sense to you, my blog readers.

I hope you enjoy it.

 

I want to tell you about two things that I love: Pittsburgh and animals.

In February of 2011 I was on a flight from Tampa to Pittsburgh.  There were a lot of Pittsburghers on that flight.  I know that they were Pittsburghers because when Pittsburghers travel, we wear our Steeler jerseys.  Even if it’s baseball season.  Well, there were a lot of grumpy, despondent Steeler fans on that flight.  We’d just lost Super Bowl 45 to the Green Bay Packers.

I watched Super Bowl 45 in one of the 187 Steeler bars in Florida, a Largo strip mall joint called Rudy’s.  Our waitress was from Pittsburgh.  ALL the waitresses were from Pittsburgh.  We lost the game, and a few days later I flew home, still stinging and deflated from the loss.

As the plane descended into Pittsburgh, the flight attendant made his announcements.  Tray tables up.  Seatbacks in the upright position.  Prepare for landing.  And then as we touched down, he said, “Welcome to the City of Bridges.”

A collective rumble of voices rose above the roar of the landing gear as the entire plane corrected him: “City of champions,” we said.

City of Champions.  Without thinking, fresh from the heartbreaking defeat, we accessed that reflexive civic pride, so unique to our city.

That’s the thing I love about Pittsburgh.  It’s the thing I love the most about Pittsburgh.  We believe in ourselves.  We are proud, even when we are defeated.  We care about our city and we care about each other.

Just a quick show of hands – How many of you know that you are at an animal welfare fundraiser?

Be honest, how many of you – before tonight – had never heard of WearWoof before?

You can put your hand up.  You won’t hurt my feelings.  I’m actually quite excited that there are so many strangers to WearWoof in the room, and I’ll tell you why.

Raising money for animal welfare is tricky business.

Let me explain.  Americans donate about 360 billion dollars annually to all causes.  That’s an enormous amount of money.  In fact, imagine, if you will, a gigantic money pie.  All kinds of charities share that pie.  Religion gets the biggest share – about a third.  Then education takes a big chunk.  And human services.  By the time animal welfare gets to the pie plate there is a tiny sliver left.  Less than two percent.

It’s not because animal welfare doesn’t need the money.  They need it.  Between 7 and 8 million dogs and cats enter the shelter system every year in our country.  9,000 of them will die in those shelters every day.

And it’s not because people don’t care about animals.  There are 150 million dogs and cats in American homes right now.  They are on Instagram, wearing sweaters and getting blueberry facials.

So there’s a disconnect.  A disconnect I am intrigued by and one that I became determined to solve.

We love our animals and yet we kill 9,000 a day.

I don’t remember when I became aware of the problems of pet overpopulation, abuse, neglect and euthanasia.  Of dog fighting and animal hoarding.  But when I first became aware, I was upset.  Someone should do something about that, I said.

And then I thought about it.   Maybe I should do something about it.  But what?

What could I, just one person, do?  First I set about learning as much as I could about the problem.  I knew two important things:

The problem isn’t that we don’t have enough shelters.  We do.

and

The problem isn’t that we don’t care about animals.  We do.

The problem is the PIE.  The pie isn’t big enough.

How do you bake a bigger pie?

My friend Brian Bonsteel is here tonight.  Brian is a dentist and he loves animals.  In his spare time he goes to as many of these animal welfare events as he can.  He donates money.  He donates time.    He bought a table for this event!

But the pie doesn’t get bigger by asking people like Brian for more money.

It gets bigger when you innovate, get creative and look for ways to bring NEW money to animal welfare.

So where does new money come from?

In the case of WearWoof, it started with my own closet.  One day I realized that 90% of the clothes in my closet were barely worn, I wasn’t going to wear them and yet I couldn’t part with them.  Some still had tags!  I could donate them but I had the somewhat shameful thought that they were too good for Goodwill.  The clothes have value, just not to me.

Then inspiration struck.  I wagered that other women were in the same boat as me, and decided to open a charity resale boutique where the fashion would be donated and the proceeds would go to local animal shelters and rescues.  The pie would get bigger.

I’m happy to report that I was right.  After just two and a half years we have quadrupled our retail space, added dozens of volunteers and increased our revenue by 500%.

We have distributed tens of thousands of dollars to local shelter and rescue partners for low cost spay neuter programming, medical emergencies and more.  We’ve connected small rescues to pro-bono legal services and held adoption events and benefits for our shelter partners.  Through our program, the Pittsburgh Spay Neuter Project, we have set a goal of funding 5,000 low cost, need-targeted spay-neuters in 2016.  Why targeted spay neuter?  Because we can’t adopt our way out of the problem.

So back to Pittsburgh.

Pittsburgh is a great city, and we have many incredible resources in animal welfare.

We are doing a LOT for our animals.  We are passing cutting edge legislation and building state-of-art adoption centers.  But other cities are saving more animals than we are.  Cities like Austin, Portland, San Francisco and Seattle.

We can do more and will do more to save more animals.  And WearWoof will help.  We will do our part.

You can help, too.  Ladies, if you have the same closet problem I did, I can help you solve it.  Donate your unwanted fashion – shoes, handbags, suits and jeans –  to WearWoof.

You can also support us by coming to our fabulous parties, as you have tonight.  We are happy that there are so many new faces here, because it means that we are doing something right.  We are making new friends and we are making the pie bigger.  Making Pittsburgh better for animals means that our city will be better for people.

In Pittsburgh, we don’t like losing to Green Bay in football and we don’t like losing to Seattle in animal welfare.