Project PAL connects shelter dogs with their forever homes

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By: Rachael Bouley

In our country, there has been a discussion for many years on how to combat the ever-present problem of overpopulation of cats and dogs. While some dogs are welcomed into families as young puppies and live a comfortable life, there are many more four-legged friends that aren’t so lucky and instead spend long months in crowded shelters. When there are so many dogs available for adoption and only so many households looking for a new pet, it can be a challenge to place dogs into their forever homes.

Four local friends have stepped up to create a brighter future for more shelter dogs in Arizona. Their new neighborhood project, affectionately named Project PAL, which stands for Promote, Adopt, Love, is a heartwarming effort to spread the word about adoptable pups.

Arcadia area residents Kim Bistany and Tristan Gertsch, along with sisters Nikki and Nina Maggio, combined their love of dogs and desire to help animals earlier this year to start the project. Their group promotes shelter dogs and shares their stories via social media in hopes of getting them adopted and inspiring others to join the movement.

The women bonded over their shared compassion for shelter dogs and desire to help them find good homes. Their idea for the project blossomed into a reality at the start of this year. Kim was determined to achieve one of her goals for the year, that being to serve as an advocate for shelter dogs, so she recruited her coworker Nina to make a difference with her. Together the young women came up with the concept of Project PAL, and they quickly invited friends and fellow animal enthusiasts Nikki and Tristan on board. Their plan was that they would take turns each week choosing a dog to focus their attention on. They would make a $25 donation to the shelter currently caring for the dog to cover adoption fees, toys and food. and spend the next seven days promoting the unique story of that animal in hopes of matching the pup with a family.The women post a fun and endearing blog description of the featured dog on the Project PAL Facebook page, and shares it across their other platforms, including Facebook, WordPress, Instagram and Twitter, along with hashtags such as “Adopt Don’t Shop.” They encourage their friends and followers to help them spread the word.

These four women, all young professionals with full-time jobs, share a desire to do everything they can to make a difference for these animals and their community. They are dedicated to spreading the word about these adoptable dogs throughout the local area, and strive to clear up clear up misconceptions that often arise when people are unfamiliar with shelter dogs. Many people mistakenly think that all shelter dogs are abandoned for a reason-whether that be they are mean or misbehaving.

“We want to show our networks and communities that there are great, adorable, loving dogs in the shelters and that it’s actually pretty cool to love a shelter pup and save a life,” Kim, who adopted her dog Reggie from a shelter seven years ago, says.” These dogs at the shelter listed as ‘adoptable’ are evaluated closely, most of them more than once. There are so many wonderful, loving, mild-mannered, tolerant, sweet dogs that end up in the shelter.”

Although the project is new, the group has already seen great success, both in expanding their social media following and matching their featured dogs with forever homes. Thanks to Project PAL’s outreach and the support of shelters and community advocates, nineteen of their featured dogs have been placed in their perfect home.

The group recently teamed up with local nonprofit One Love AZ to help fund their Shelter Dog Program and enrichment, education, sterilization and rescue efforts. The ladies created cute and comfy “Pup Tees” to sell, with 100% of every tee purchase going to the Shelter Dog Program.

Through their outreach efforts, the four women also connected with a volunteer at Maricopa County Animal Care & Control. As a result, the four women and their families take the time to walk dogs at the East Shelter once a month, an activity that allows them to interact with the dogs they are helping to save and introducing them to potential pups to feature on their pages.

The encouragement and support of local dog lovers has made this project so worthwhile. Community members can easily join in the effort by sharing posts or purchasing the pup tees. The women, all of whom grew up in the area, are thankful for the chance to promote these animals for adoption.

“The four of us are blessed to have grown up in wonderful neighborhoods with supportive communities where people treat their dogs like family members,” Kim says. “Promoting these homeless shelter dogs to our network is invaluable. We don’t just want the dogs we promote to get adopted, we want them to get adopted into homes where they are loved and treated well.”

Many shelter dogs are overlooked in favor of purebreed puppies, but Project PAL is encouraging locals to think twice before they pass by their local shelter.

“We have quite the community that has rallied behind our efforts and we could not be happier with how things are going,” Tristan says. “One dog adopted is one less dog in the shelter.”

After dedicating their time and energy to showcasing these dogs in the best way, it is very rewarding to see photos of their featured animals with their new families in a wonderful, loving home.

“There is nothing that can describe that feeling when we receive a notification that someone adopted a dog we promoted,” Nikki says. “It pretty much brings me to tears every time-it is the most rewarding and fantastic feeling!”

This wonderful success is due in part to the group’s approach to social media. When looking for followers, they target a specific audience: fellow dog-lovers in Arizona. The group also encourages their followers to share and repost, increasing traffic and in turn improving the chances of adoption.

As they look ahead to the future, the ladies hope to reach a 100% adoption success rate and expand their Pup Tees collection.

Nina says the community response has been amazing, and the group could not achieve success without such support. “It has been wonderful to have people reach out to us asking how they can help with our mission. Many help by sharing our posts while others have offered to help us with our graphic design or marketing,” Nina says. “People in our community really care about these animals just like we do and we are so thankful that they have been so receptive to Project PAL.”

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