Did What: Raised $40K for a 2,500 sq. ft. Play Yard for Dogs
In this interview, Nashville Humane Association (NHA) Executive Director Laura Baker describes how her organization raised funds for a new play yard. Founded in 1946, NHA is consistently voted Nashville’s “Favorite Place to Adopt” by readers of Nashville Scene, an alternative newsweekly. In 2022, NHA found loving homes for 3,600 pets.
In 2003, Laura started volunteering at her local animal shelter and realized she wanted a career in animal welfare. Since 2009, she’s worked in government-funded and nonprofit animal shelters across the country. In 2017, she joined Nashville Humane Association as Executive Director.
ASPCApro: What led you to want a new play yard?
LB: Every year, Nashville nonprofits have one day of giving called “The Big Payback.” For 2023, NHA elected to fundraise for an additional play yard for the over 2,500 dogs we serve annually. We have one yard, but as Nashville has grown, we needed more space. Outdoor space provides a natural environment for the public to get to know our animals and conduct meet-and-greets with their pets.
NHA’s biggest lifesaving opportunity is with our larger breed dog population that often has a longer length of stay in our shelter. This new play yard creates placement opportunities for these dogs who might otherwise decline behaviorally.
ASPCApro: How many of your staff were involved in this project?
LB: All of us! We took a poll to determine what to fundraise toward, and the play yard won by a landslide. Everyone played their part in raising awareness and funds. It was cool to see multiple teams working together to make this happen.
ASPCApro: What tactics did you employ to raise funds?
LB: We pulled out all the stops over a 24-hour period, with email blasts and a heavy social media presence on Facebook, Twitter, TikTok, and Instagram. We made graphics with QR codes for easy donating. We tapped reporters, DJs, and athletes to spread the message through short testimonial videos to increase engagement. We asked our news media contacts to create selfie-style testimonials. Even Trisha Yearwood helped us spread the message! We love being in Music City! Afterward, we shared our success through videos on social media.
ASPCApro: Why do you think this project resonated with your community?
LB: Our stats show that large dogs are the most at-risk group at NHA, so we communicated the need for a play yard to our supporters, and they quickly and generously made it happen. NHA is transparent about the trials and tribulations of larger dogs who sometimes lose their lives through no fault of their own. We’ve found that our supporters want to be part of something bigger than themselves, so we are open and honest about our challenges and provide the community with an opportunity to make a direct impact.
“NHA is transparent about the trials and tribulations of large dogs who sometimes lose their lives through no fault of their own. We’re open and honest about these challenges and provide our community with an opportunity to make a direct impact.” –Laura Baker, Executive Director
ASPCApro: How successful was your campaign?
LB: This campaign was beyond a success! We were able to raise the funds in 24 hours—thanks to the generous support from our community and national organizations including the ASPCA—and build this play yard within 30 days after funds were raised. It was pure magic to see our supporters bring this play yard to fruition so quickly.
ASPCApro: Please describe the play yard.
LB: The 130 ft.-by-100 ft.-by-55 ft. area is surrounded by a 6 ft. tall chain link fence. There is a 10-inch baseboard along the entirety of the bottom of the inside area of the fence which helps contain the substrate and deters dogs from digging. We have a double-gated containment area at the entrance for safely entering and exiting the play yard.
Rio Grande Fencing has done all of the fencing on our property. They are huge animal lovers and community supporters.
The play yard will ultimately includebenches, a poop station for dog waste, enrichment items, and a radio for communicating with shelter staff. The yard could accommodate as many animals as our staff can monitor but for safety reasons, the maximum we allow is six dogs at a time.
ASPCApro: How many dogs does the play yard serve?
LB: We place around 2,500 dogs annually and have from 40 to 60 dogs available for adoption at any given time. We also have a successful foster program that serves more animals beyond the physical walls of our shelter. This play yard allows us to offer more meet-and-greet opportunities, socialization with volunteers, and playgroups with other dogs.
ASPCApro: What are the other benefits of having a play yard?
LB: With the play yard, adopters have a quiet, natural environment to meet their potential new pet; dogs have space to stretch their legs, socialize with canine friends, and shake off shelter anxiety; and staff members see a solution for animals that, in the past, would decline and deteriorate in front of their eyes. The play yard literally saves lives and is an inspiration to our team.
ASPCApro: Do you have plans for future pet enrichment projects?
LB: Yes! Enrichment is ever-changing and growing. We have programs like Doggie Dates and Rovernights where folks can come check out a dog for a day or night of fun. We look forward to building on programs like this that engage the community and get animals adopted. We hope to expand our free-roaming cat room, create an indoor play area for dogs, and provide more home-like settings for animals inside our shelter.