When you think of an animal shelter, chic is not a word that often comes to mind. As awesome as the work is that they do—we are staunch supporters and have rescued several dogs ourselves!—shelters can be a heartbreaking place to visit. One NYC-based non-profit aims to change all that: Shelter Chic is on a mission to make adopting animals more...attractive. Instead of putting them in the traditional orange 'Adopt Me' vests, they dress the dogs (and cats) they rescue up in adorable outfits and accessories, and let them roam freely around their stylish Tribeca boutique. We spoke with cofounder and all-around animal lover Brittany Feldman about how she's changing the adoption process.
Ollie: Where did your interest in helping dogs stem from?
Feldman: I’ve always been an animal lover. While I was a teacher in the NYC public school system, I came across Pitfalls and Bullies on Animal Planet and got hooked, sent monthly donations. Then I started making yearly visits to New Orleans—it really touched me, and I decided to start volunteering at Animal Haven. I wound up leaving school and got a job there.
Ollie: Why did you start Shelter Chic?
Feldman: Even in a really nice shelter it can be depressing—the same types of people were coming in. I thought doing my own thing that went about animal rescue in a happy, funky way would appeal to a different crowd of people. I talked to my friend Amanda Folk about it and we decided to do it together.
Ollie: How is it different from other rescue organizations?
Feldman: The whole idea is to be a non-profit boutique where there's a fun, happy atmosphere, and the animals are free roaming—there are no cages. The boutique is a way to get people in the door, there are only a few animals at a time so it's not an overwhelming number. For a lot of people who don’t know the importance of adoption, a breeder or pet store is easier—you can walk out with that animal that day. So we’re not going to make it impossible for someone to get an animal
Ollie: How does the process work?
Feldman: We take an animal from a shelter or owner who can’t take care of them anymore, and have a foster lined up, immediately put them on our website and Pet Finder so potential adopters can apply and meet the animal. We don't currently have a permanent location so the fosters bring the dogs to our boutique, which is our home base for adoption.
Ollie: Tell us about the boutique.
Feldman: We sell leashes, collars, clothes, gifts, pillows. We carry a lot of small designers, everything has a hand-picked, funky vibe, there are edgy slogans and t-shirts to raise awareness about the cause. 50% of the cost goes to the designer, the other 50% goes to the cost of caring for the animals.
Ollie: What's your favorite adoption success story so far?
Feldman: There's Bella, a Havanese mix who we found at a municipal shelter in NJ—she had been neglected. We had an approved small dog foster on board who lived with her for a couple weeks, and when we sent a bunch of potential adopters to meet her, the foster couldn’t give her up, and decided to adopt her. And there's Cody, who was curled up in his cage and had been severely abused, was seized by the police. We put him in a foster home and his tail was wagging within 24 hours! They fell in love with him and adopted him too.
Ollie: What's the best way for people to get involved?
Feldman: We're all volunteer-based! We need reliable, committed fosters, especially if people live or work in the neighborhood and are able to drop the dog off at the boutique. Donating money, blankets, dog and cat food is helpful because we pay for everything to take care of them.