Rock-and-Rawhide-toysRock & Rawhide is an innovative pet charity that aims to increase adoptions and the quality of life for dogs and cats in shelters by providing distraction therapy and noise/stress reduction through the donations of toys.

Rock & Rawhide achieved $500,000 of relief for shelter animals in its first 18 months, which is an incredibly impressive and moving feat. I chatted with co-founders, Sean-Patrick M. Hillman and Kylie Edmond about their creative New York based charity.

1) What inspired Rock and Rawhide?
Originally, our dog Snickers did.  We went to a local shelter to find a friend for her.  While there, we realized how loud the barking and meowing was and how it led to more stress for the dogs and cats.  We didn’t adopt another dog that day, but realized that there was a way we could help.

Through Kylie’s music performances, we could ask people to donate toys, blankets, etc. to help bring stress relief and comfort to these furrever friends in their cages.  Through Sean-Patrick’s marketing acumen, we could get the word out in our area.  But then we started collecting items at other events and began growing, quickly.  That prompted the creation of our board of directors, marketing and retail partners and roadies (our volunteer core).

2) What is distraction therapy exactly?
When a dog is playing with a toy, it isn’t barking.  By chewing on or playing with a toy, cuddling up in a blanket and feeling more comfortable, the dog or cat is distracted from their current situation.  Essentially, Distraction Therapy is a way to deter the animal from stress-related issues in shelters so as to ensure that they are able to present their best paw to potential adopters.
Rock-and-rawhide-founders3) Could you give an estimate of how many toys you have raised through your events?
65,171 items (toys, treats, blankets & more), weighing a total of 89,862 pounds since September 2011.

4) What does the future hold for R+R?
Endless tail waggles, purrs and puppy licks!  We are about to launch local chapters of Rock & Rawhide in cities around the country over the next two years.

5) What is something most people don’t know about animal shelters, other than the fact that so many deserving animals are waiting for homes there?
Shelters need volunteers to help and foster families to take in animals. Volunteers are so important to help walk dogs so they can express their energy out of the cage, clean cages so they can live in a disease-free environment, play with dogs and cats, teach them basic commands, allow them to have contact with people.

Fosters are vital in allowing the animal to decompress from the shelter experience, and whatever they went through before they got there. Fosters allow animals to learn the basics of living in a home with people, and give them the best chance of finding a forever home. They also allow shelters to have less residents so more animals can be taken in.

Rock-and-Rawhide-dog-toys6) You are clearly dog toy experts — what toys would you most recommend this season?
Tough chew items for big dogs. Most shelters have larger breeds of dogs, and they need tough toys that can withstand large jaws. Think of Kongs, Nylabones and ropes. And don’t forget cat toys, scratch pads and bunny toys!

7) Do you donate new toys or used toys as well?
Both old and new. Of course, all pre-used items should be clean!

8) How can people help?
Contact us to find out what shelters in their area have needs. Not all shelters take all items. Contact us about volunteering, creating a collection drive, or donating money. We will go buy toys for you.

{First photo by Natalie Markova Photography; photo of founders by Rafe Baron}

Thank you Rock and Rawhide for taking the time to speak with me about your wonderful work! To discover even more amazing animal initiatives, be sure to visit our Giving Back column.