Operation Santa Paws now underway at Gadsden Petco


Local animal advocate Christi Brown is demonstrating the power of grassroots conversation, dedication and kindness this holiday season. During a time when receiving gifts sparks excitement, Brown inspires others to give.
Earlier this fall, Retired and Senior Volunteer Program’s Traci Pondick asked for Brown’s help promoting their Angel Tree that featured a record number of 132 senior citizens in need. Before Pondick had the chance to inform Brown that each angel was adopted (for the first time ever before Thanksgiving), Gadsden Petco manager Susan Harrison contacted Brown and asked if any of the adopted seniors owned pets.
That question prompted Brown to reach out to living communities in need, while Pondick contacted the Department of Human Resources and Etowah Baptist Mission. By last weekend, Brown received 30 names of individuals whose pets needed assistance and Operation Santa Paws was born.
Operation Santa Paws functions like RSVP’s Angel Tree, allowing contributors to purchase gifts for others. Benefactors can visit the wall of Fur Angels at Petco and select from over 30 animal-shaped cards. On the back of each card, the pet’s name and Christmas wish appear. The Christmas wishes vary depending on the animal’s needs, ranging from food to toys. Interested patrons can find the desired gifts at Petco, purchase them and leave them at the store for Brown and her team to deliver.
Brown explained that if community members are unable to provide for themselves and their pets, often individuals will go without to ensure that their animals are taken care of. Brown wants to change this reality. Through projects like Operation Santa Paws, pet owners requiring assistance are provided for, ensuring that both the owner and pet receives the items or services they need.
“It’s important that everyone knows that you should not have to afford companionship,” said Brown.
“Financial status should have no bearing on whether or not someone gets companionship.”
Operation Santa Paws represents one facet of a larger message Brown hopes shines through the project. While Operation Santa Paws serves as a way to thank those who care for animals, the project also encourages members of the Etowah County community to practice kindness.
“There are some (people) that are more fortunate,” said Brown. “Their pets have everything that they need, including vetting and supplies. For those people to pay it forward at Christmas to help someone is an option.”
Brown understands that not everyone is in a position where they can open their homes to pets or make a long-term commitment, but she offers alternate ways the community can help its animals.
Before welcoming a new furry companion, Brown emphasizes that families should discuss with one another the realities of pet ownership and come to a decision together. Instead of purchasing a pet for Christmas, Brown urges pet-seekers to adopt from a local shelter. If adopting is not possible, fostering an animal is an option.
Individuals or families that cannot adopt or foster pets themselves, but still wish to spread kindness this holiday season, might sponsor a spay or neuter. Brown explains how sponsoring a spay or neuter benefits both the owner and the pet.
“If all your pets are spayed and neutered, reach out to someone in your neighborhood that needs help and sponsor their spay and neuter,” Brown suggests. “You’re helping your neighbor and you’re improving the health of the animal, preventing countless litters from winding up in shelters or on the streets.”
Brown hopes that Operation Santa Paws will inspire the Etowah County community to think of their neighbors with compassion this holiday season and participate in an event that helps improve lives. If circumstances permit, she hopes to expand this message of generosity to other groups such as veterans.
Those interested in helping neighbors and animals in need can contribute to Operation Santa Paws at Petco in Gadsden’s Coosa Town Center until noon Monday, Dec. 23. For more information, contact Christi Brown at 256-546-8633.

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