It was 1995 when Rae French, founder of the Snuggles Project, stepped foot in an animal shelter for the first time. A blackboard with statistics hung on the wall. The data showed some dismal odds: Only 24 percent of cats that enter an animal shelter are adopted, and 71 percent are euthanized.
French was there to hand over a local stray she sometimes fed that was about to give birth. It was a Siamese cat, so French figured the feline and its kittens would be adoptable.
After seeing the statistics, “I turned to my husband and said, ‘I can't. Let's just take her home,’” says French. But saving just a few of the millions of cats that enter shelters each year didn’t seem like enough. “That knowledge was just so overwhelming, and I had to do something about it,” she says.
The Snuggles Project
Seeing the kittens born reminded French of the time her first cat, Fuzzy, had babies. Fuzzy died shortly after childbirth, and French desperately wanted to save the babies.
“When Fuzzy died and left those kittens, I put them in a little box and wrapped them with scraps of things I was knitting to keep them warm,” says French.
Even though French couldn’t save the kittens, she noticed that the blankets seemed to comfort them. At the time, she was running an online crocheting group with 2,000 members worldwide, so she logged on and told her story. She asked if anyone would like to make and donate a security blanket (what she called a “snuggle”) for shelter animals. To her surprise, boxes started arriving from across the globe, and the Snuggles Project was born.
The project helps people create and donate snuggles to local animal shelters in their area. To date, more than 500,000 snuggles have been donated to animal shelters worldwide. The blankets offer cats something soft and warm to curl up on rather than bare steel, concrete or plastic. Beyond that, French believes snuggles provide much needed psychological comfort that can literally save cats’ lives.
“Often, when scared cats get a snuggle, they calm down, stabilize and the shelter people see that they can be adoptable,” she says.
How to Help Save Shelter Cats
- Make a snuggle. You can crochet, knit or sew the blanket, with as simple or ornate a pattern as you prefer. Pattern ideas are available on snugglesproject.org. Once it’s done, search the project’s worldwide animal shelter directory to find a participating animal shelter near you. Then, fill out an online donation form (to update the project’s records and get a tax-deductible receipt sent to you). Last, bring the snuggle to the animal shelter.
- Donate a store-bought blanket in the name of the Snuggles Project. You can donate your time and energy by promoting the project through grassroots or word-of-mouth marketing, or by encouraging non-participating animal shelters to sign on. If a local animal shelter won’t sign on because they can’t afford to regularly clean snuggles, you could offer to clean them yourself.
You might get involved with Hugs for Homeless Animals, the nonprofit that French started to run both the Snuggles Project and other initiatives that support shelters and find homes for animals. Barring all that, you could donate money.“With the economic situation, it's getting worse,” says French. “Shelters don’t have the budgets, they cut back and crowding is a big problem because people lose their houses and abandon their animals. So money is always a big help.”