This is a guest post from Kristen Auerbach, Deputy Chief Animal Services Officer at Austin Animal Center.
Easter is one of our favorite holidays at Austin Animal Center. There’s nothing cuter than a big dog wearing bunny ears or a kitten curled up in an Easter basket, and for us, that’s just where the fun begins.
We’re open seven days a week, including holidays, so we always try to make the holidays a time of festive celebration for shelter pets and the people who care for them. In previous years, we held an annual Easter egg hunt for shelter staff, stuffing plastic eggs with candy, prizes, and even dollar bills. To keep things safe for the shelter pets, we made sure to hide the eggs out of their reach.
Last year, we decided that the humans shouldn’t be the only wants to have fun. We created an Easter celebration, complete with an egg hunt, for our dogs. It was such a blast and so easy. It was also a big success, so we’re more than happy to have other shelters steal our idea!
Even if you’re not open on Easter, you can do this egg hunt a few days before. The cuteness will bring in a lot of adopters and it’s a great way to give the dogs in your care a unique enrichment experience.
Here’s how we did it:
We purchased several hundred plastic eggs of all sizes. You can get these really cheap if you buy them just after Easter and save them until the following year. We also got some Busy Buddy Kibble Nibble Egg enrichment toys donated through our Amazon wish list. We enlisted volunteers to fill the eggs with all kinds of donated treats, focusing on treats that give off a strong smell (think nosework!).
A week or so before Easter, we created a schedule for the festivities. We had the little dog egg hunt at 10 a.m. and the big dog hunt happening a couple of hours later. We enlisted volunteers to sign up to be egg hunt ‘escorts.’ Then, we got the word out to the public that they could bring their families to see adoptable dogs in their ‘Easter best’ hunting for delicious treat-filled eggs.
We got up early the morning of the hunt to hide the eggs. We’re lucky that we have a large field perfect for the event. If you have limited outdoor space at your shelter, you may want to consider an off-site location.
Fairfax County Animal Shelter held their Easter egg hunt at a local park.
Having a lot of space is important because you need to leave plenty of room between dogs and eggs to avoid any skirmishes.
Volunteers and staff got together before the hunt to talk the process and run through safety basics. The two most important rules are keeping dogs 10 feet apart and keeping a close eye on your pooch to make sure they open their egg successfully – you must make sure you end up with both pieces of ‘shell’ in your hand after the dog opens each egg.
We had a staff member on hand to explain the whole thing to everyone from the community who came to watch. The staff member would tell them about each dog and facilitate meet-and-greets.
Events like these really build community involvement. We had a great turnout of volunteers, staff, and members of the public. Of course, we had human treats on hand for everyone who celebrated with us.
What surprised us most was just how easy it was and how many people wanted to help. In the end, nearly 100 dogs got to participate and every single one had a huge smile on their face. Watching the dogs figure out how to open their eggs and then seeing the pride on their faces once they got their goodies was too adorable and left every human with a grin almost as big as the ones the dogs had.
We did dozens of adoptions that day and we gave our shelter dogs an experience they’ll probably always remember. So often, holidays are the saddest time in animal shelters. Shelters are often closed with only a handful of staff to meet basic needs. At Austin Animal Center, we take the opposite approach and use holidays like Easter as a way to bring people into the shelter. It makes life a little more joyful for the homeless cats, dogs, and other pets waiting for their new homes.
Here are a couple of other fun ways to make Easter special at your shelter or rescue:
Let Kids Be the Easter Bunny
Invite families to help pass out enrichment items. Give each child a donated Easter basket filled with enrichment items and take them around to help pass out goodies to cats, dogs, and other pets. You can fill the dog baskets with stuffed Kongs, the kitty baskets with treat-filled plastic eggs or little containers of cat grass and the bunny and guinea big baskets with carrots, lettuce, and other veggies. Kids will love playing the Easter bunny and you’ll bring in a lot of potential adopters.
Be sure to have some sweet treats for people too and you’ll give everyone an Easter they’ll never forget.
Invite People In
For many people, holidays may be sad reminders of lost loved ones or other hardships and they’ll welcome the opportunity to come volunteer. Invite the public to help you provide exercise and enrichment for shelter pets. Enlist a few of your regular volunteers or staff to help you manage, and expect a big crowd to show up. When we invited the public to help us pass out Christmas presents to our pets, we couldn’t believe it when nearly 300 people were at our front door on Christmas morning!
This idea works for any holiday. Don’t be shy about asking the public for help.