Every day, local firefighters and police officers are saving human lives. Now they’ve teamed up with Special Pals Animal Shelter to save furry lives, too.
Special Pals is Houston’s oldest no-kill animal shelter. Melissa Houser, president of Special Pal’s board of directors had the idea to create a fundraising calendar featuring their adoptable shelter dogs, and she was inspired by the “Tax-Day Flood” of 2016 to use first responders as models posing with the dogs.
“We saw so many first responders getting out there and saving people, and I said, ‘I really want to focus on local first responders. I want to focus on our local hometown heroes because they deserve so much appreciation, and I think it would be a great twist if we featured people who save humans saving the dogs,’” Houser said.
That was in September of 2016. In order to get the calendar out by January of 2017, Houser and the other volunteers at Special Pals had to scramble to contact first responders, shoot the pictures and print the calendar in three months. Professional photographer Glen Muse donated his time and skills to Special Pals, and several first responders readily agreed to have their pictures taken for the cause.
Special Pals named the calendar “Red, White and Rescue”, and despite the pressing deadline and hasty production, the calendar was a success. In their first year, Special Pals sold 500 calendars. Special Pals is a 501(c)(3) charity, so 100 percent of the funds went directly to the animals.
The Red White and Rescue calendar is in its third year of production, and there are now 13 different first responder groups that participate in the fundraiser: Katy Fire Department, Fort Bend County Sheriff’s Office, Sugar Land Police Department, Cy-Fair Volunteer Fire Department, Fulshear Police Department, Willowfork Fire Department, Atascocita Fire Department, Harris County Fire Marshal's Office, Harris County Sheriff's Office, Fulshear/Simonton Fire Department, Spring ISD Police Department, Missouri City Police Department and City of Prairie View/Town of San Felipe Police Department.
The first responders are proud to help dogs in need. Many of the police and firefighters have dogs of their own, and helping dogs find loving homes is an important cause for them.
Captain Mike McCoy of the Fulshear Police Department said, “This was our third year participating in the Special Pals calendar shoot. We were approached three years ago and asked if we wanted to help them with their theme “Red White and Rescue”, which featured first responders. We were honored, excited and happy to help with this initiative. Just about every officer in our department has a dog and many are rescues. We wanted to do what we could to promote the adoption of these loving animals who are in desperate need of a home.”
Anyone from the departments who wants to be in the calendar is welcome. “We don’t turn anyone down, although we do ask that people who have been featured in previous years not be in the calendar twice. We want to focus on new first responders every year,” Houser said.
If they do have more than 13 people apply for the calendar, Special Pals will do group shots so everyone is included. “For example, the Katy fire department had a few people that applied from that one department, so we put the fire department together on one page,” Houser said.
It’s important to Houser that everyone who wants to be a part of the calendar is included. “Every single one of these men and women are saving lives, and we want to make sure they all get a spot,” she added.
All the dogs in the calendars are adoptable from Special Pals with two exceptions: K-9 officer “Paco” from Spring Branch ISD Police Department and K-9 officer “Delta” from the Harris County Fire Marshal’s office were featured in the calendar because they’re first responders, too.
The other dogs in the calendar are available for adoption through Special Pals. Special Pals selects the dogs for the calendar based on how long they’ve been at the shelter. Dogs who have been there the longest or who are difficult to place get top priority. The calendar gives them extra exposure, which increases their chances of getting adopted.
Houser works closely with Valerie Murray, the Special Pals kennel manager, to make sure the dogs featured in the calendar are the dogs with the greatest needs. “She picks out the dogs that need highlighting and extra love and attention, and those are the dogs we put in the calendar,” Houser said.
One of Houser’s favorite adoption stories from the calendar is that of “Lexi” and “Giovanni”: a bonded pair who could not be adopted separately. Lexi is a large Doberman Pinscher, and Giovanni is a tiny Yorkshire Terrier. The pair could not be separated, but because of the size and temperament discrepancy between the two dogs, potential adopters were hard to find.
“They sat at our shelter for a really long time. Even if we did find people who were interested in adopting two dogs at once, the type of people who wanted a Doberman weren’t the kind of people who wanted a Yorkie. One’s ginormous and one’s little. You either want the big one or the little one, but you don’t want both,” she said.
Lexi and Giovanni were featured in the calendar. A young couple saw the pair and fell in love with them both. The dogs were adopted together and are now in a loving home.
In addition to finding homes for homeless pets, Special Pals is a full-service animal wellness clinic. They offer low-cost microchipping, vaccines, wellness checks, boarding and spay and neuter services to the public.
To purchase the 2019 Red White and Rescue Calendar visit www.redwhiteandrescue.com.
To learn more about Special Pals Animal Shelter and their services, or to donate, visit www.specialpalsshelter.org or call (281) 579-7387.