Snuggles Project Warms Cages of Shelter Animals With Knitted Blankets

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Humans aren’t the only ones who like a soft blanket under our butts.  The global Snuggles Project aims to place comforting, donated homemade blankets beneath animals in shelters awaiting forever homes. The Oregon-based organization has contributed in excess of one million blankets to shelters across the U.S. and beyond.

The purpose of the blankets — or “Snuggles” (with a capital 'S')  in the parlance of Project creator Rae French — is threefold: to calm the dogs and cats confined to cages, to make shelters more inviting for staff and would-be adopters, and to leverage the knitting, crocheting and quilting skills of good-hearted hobbyists around the world.

To say that the Snuggles Project has been a smash — while serving as a catalyst for countless satellite projects — is an understatement.

Since avid knitter and crochet-group member French debuted it in 1996 under the aegis of her non-profit org, Hugs for Homeless Animals (H4HA), which serves homeless and displaced animals through advocacy and information, the million blanket figure has been well surpassed.

“That was at last count a few years ago,” French tells Samaritanmag from her Portland office, where she also serves as CEO of web-services company Aplonis Solutions. The term "Snuggles" is a holdover from French’s childhood when she crafted blankets or “Snuggles” for her cat Fuzzy.

H4HA’s Worldwide Shelter Directory lists supporting shelters in nations including (but not limited to) Canada, Peru, Russia, Slovenia, India, Thailand, Norway, Jamaica, Lebanon, Israel, Croatia, Ecuador, Germany, France and Kuwait. Shelters actively seeking snuggles are denoted with a kitty icon.

Shelters can register online to participate in the Project and request Snuggles. Would-be participants can get pattern instructions from the site, or simply donate cash. Most patterns on the site are courtesy of French, who adds that blankets needn’t be perfect since the subjects they are intended for are unfussy customers.

Pictures of sweet, quiet cats and dogs snuggling on their Snuggles is proof positive the idea is sound.

“The main reason for the Snuggles Project is to get more people into animal shelters and participating locally so we can get more animals adopted and out of the shelters,” French explains.

According to a story its website, the Snuggles Project idea came to French when she visited a local shelter in the hope of placing a pregnant stray she had been feeding. The situation she encountered was distressing — too many animals with too few creature comforts — and French vowed to at least make the animals more contented while they waited.

“The Project just really snowballed from there,” French says. “At the start I belonged to a crochet group that had a few thousand members. I just put it out there and asked for Snuggles and everybody started sending them in.

“In the beginning and for many years, the snuggles were sent straight to us and we would then ship them out to the shelters. UPS was our friend and it was very expensive. Then around 2000 or thereabouts, I realized I had to do things a little differently.

“I wanted people to participate with their own local shelters so it made sense to have people deliver their Snuggles directly to the shelters. It has really worked out, not only cost-wise but it also gets people inside the shelters to see what’s going on, how else they can help by volunteering or doing different things.”

Today, the Snuggles Project gives would-be blanket-makers all the tools they need to get the ball rolling. “Everything that people need is on the website,” French says. “People can print out the project sheet which explains how it works and hand them out so people have a full understanding of what they’re participating in. Plus our Facebook group allows members to interact and share with each other.”

French says that, pre-Facebook, word of mouth was how most people found out about the snuggles Project. “It all stems back to the crochet group. You had this bunch of crocheters with closets full of yarn,” she laughs, “and all sorts of unfinished projects lying around. This was a way to do something useful. Then you have people talking to their friends.

“Teachers get their classes involved for extra-curricular activity. Retirement homes have an opportunity to tap into this resource that their clients have that is really valuable. People feel like they’re contributing to society. It opens the conversation, especially with children who are really learning about how animals aren’t just things around the house but actually beings. It makes everyone feel good.”

French encourages groups like Girl Guides, Brownies and Boy Scouts to make the Snuggles as a collective, then to present them to their local shelters. “The kids then feel really close to what they’re doing and there’s a lot of rewards for them that way,” she says, adding that social media offers the perfect outlet for participating children to share their animal stories and raise the overall profile of the plight of shelter animals.

Almost 20 years in, the efficacy of the Snuggles Project is without dispute. “We’ve seen first-hand the benefits of using the blankets,” French confirms.

“Any animal coming into a shelter is invariably scared. But then they have this thing that is tactile and warm. It calms the animal down. And it’s so much better than just putting them in a cage.  Plus people seem to stay longer in the shelter if they’re comfortable; there is color and warmth. And the longer people stay, the more apt they are to become involved with the animals.

“The most important thing that we try and convey to the shelters is that the Snuggles be used by the animals in their cages as they await their forever homes. The Snuggles shouldn’t be for sale or put in a gift basket to go home with the animal. Because when they go home, they have beds and rugs and things like that.

“Animals in the shelters are the ones that need the Snuggles. That seems to be the hardest thing to keep at the forefront as volunteers move in and out of the shelters. But we’re committed to spreading the word.”

Samaritanmag.com is an online magazine covering the good deeds of individuals, charities and businesses.