COMFORT FOR CRITTERS
By Daryl Brower
Since 2007, the volunteers who crochet for Comfort for Critters have been stitching up warmth and affection for shelter animals,
increasing the pets' chances of finding a forever home in the process.
The catalyst was a kitten. Six years ago, founder Linda Kozlowski walked into an animal shelter in the Chicago suburb of Glen Ellyn and walked out with a pretty little feline she named Anna. It was love at first sight for both of them, but Linda's joy for providing a welcoming home to an animal who so clearly needed one was shadowed by a bit of sadness: she couldn't stop thinking about the cats left behind. "I just felt so awful that I couldn't adopt them all," she tells us, "so I asked what else I could do to help." The shelter volunteers told her that they always appreciate donations of old towels and blankets, which they use to provide warmth and comfort for the animal cages. But Linda took things a step further: "I asked them if I could crochet a few blankets," she explains. "And they said 'Sure, if you really want to, why not!'"
And so Linda, an avid crocheter, got to work. With the help of her mother-in-law, she made 100 blankets for the Glen Ellyn shelter. Friends and others who observed her hook in constant motion began asking what she was so busily making. After she shared the story about the shelter blankets, many of them offered to contribute their own crocheting and knitting skills, often enlisting the help of like-minded friends and family members. Two years later, Linda had a website and a full-fledged volunteer group, dubbed Comfort for Critters (www.comfortforcritters.org), working overtime to supply local shelters with blankets. And it continued to grow. "People kept e-mailing and asking how they could help," Linda says. She told them to start stitching. And did they ever—thanks to the kindness and determination of handcrafters around the country, Comfort for Critters has supplied 80 shelters in 16 states with some 15,000 crocheted, knitted, and otherwise handmade blankets. It's a mind-boggling number. "We ship about 300 blankets a month," Linda shares. About 50 of those are hand delivered to the Chicago shelters where Comfort for Critters got its start, while the rest are mailed to shelters and rescue groups across the United States, where they are particularly popular for adoption days hosted by rescue organizations.
The blankets go not just to cats but to other abandoned animals as well, all of them in need of a little love and attention. "Dogs, rabbits, guinea pigs—we've even made [blankets] for lions and tigers at a wild animal sanctuary," Linda tells us. But why crochet a blanket when an old towel will do? Does a dog or cat really know the difference? Maybe not, but those facilitating adoptions are adamant that the blankets increase the odds that their charges will find a new home. "People see a cat or dog lying on a raggedy old towel, and they see an animal that nobody wants," Linda explains. "Put that same animal on a beautiful handmade blanket, and people see a pet that needs a new home. After all, someone cared enough to make something for the animal. You see the dog or cat on the blanket and you can picture [the pet] snuggling on it in your living room."
The blankets also provide some security and comfort for the animals, and not just as padding for cold metal enclosures. Shelter life is tough for pets. It's stressful being moved from place to place and cage to cage (many animals are shuffled to and from multiple shelters due to space or other constraints), encountering new people and ever-changing sights, sounds, and smells along the way. The blankets, which stay with the animals as they're transferred from one location to another, become the constant in an often unstable and confusing existence. "The blankets go home with the pets," Linda says. "So when they're adopted, they have something that smells and feels familiar to soothe them when they move to their new, hopefully forever, homes." That's a big deal for both the animal and the new owner. "We get letters from adopters who tell us their dog or cat slept on the blanket we made until the day he or she died." Linda shares. "The blankets mean a lot to both the owner and the pet."
It's not just the animals that take solace and strength from the blankets. Through Comfort for Critters, nursing home residents, developmentally disabled adults, scout troops, and school groups have all connected over yarn and hooks, spending time together and discovering the satisfaction that comes from helping others. Many volunteers say crocheting for the program has helped them with goals like quitting smoking or losing weight. "They grab their yarn and hook instead of a cigarette or a snack," Linda tells us. But that's not the key reason they stitch for shelters: "I think animal lovers are just happy with the idea that they're using their crocheting and knitting skills to comfort an animal they want to adopt but can't," Linda explains. "It makes us feel good."
How to Help
Comfort for Critters welcomes volunteers of all skill levels and ages to aid them in their mission to provide comfort and caring to shelter animals. Here's how you can lend a hand:
Make a blanket. Whether you crochet, knit, sew, or quilt, Comfort for Critters welcomes your contribution. You can crochet a blanket using the pattern we've provided on page 46, select a pattern from the Comfort for Critters website, or create a design of your own. The only requirements are that the blankets be machine washable and measure approximately 18" to 20" square. Other sizes are happily accepted: bigger blankets go to larger dogs and smaller pieces are set aside for hamsters, guinea pigs, and the like. Hand-sewn, quilted, and fleece-tied blankets are also welcome.
Donate supplies. Leftover bits of yarn, full skeins, and pieces of fleece fabric are always needed and will be distributed to volunteer crafters. "We'll take whatever you've got," Linda says. "We combine yarns to create different blankets, and small pieces of fleece can be used to make cat and dog toys."
Sponsor a shipment. If you don't have the time or inclination to crochet or knit for the cause, you can make a monetary donation of any amount via PayPal on the Comfort for Critters website. A donation of just $5 will cover the cost of shipping 15 blankets to a shelter.
To find out more about Comfort for Critters or to make a contribution, see www.comfortforcritters.org.
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