By Mary Krasn
A puppy found deserted on a remote highway in the California desert.
Her hesitant new “Mom.”
In 2003, the two seemed an unlikely duo to inspire Operation Blankets of Love, a California-based nonprofit which helps thousands of homeless animals by providing blankets, treats and other comfort items to rescue groups and shelters throughout the state and beyond.
A comfortable and contented dog or cat is more likely to be adopted than one that is frightened, cold and sick. The concept is simple and endorsed by veterinarians, explains Eileen Smulson, who brought “Ginger,” a five-month old terrier mix, into her home only at the behest of her animal-loving husband, Brad.
“I never had feelings for animals before, but I fell so deeply in love with Ginger, I couldn’t bear the thought of her lying on the cold, concrete floor of a shelter,” says Smulson. Although she had raised millions of dollars for “people” charities, Smulson only ventured into the humane community in 2008, when a local shelter she visited requested donations of blankets and towels. Within one month, she had collected 400 items from local businesses and another 400 two weeks later.
Today, Eileen and Brad Smulson are president and vice-president of Operation Blankets of Love, leading a small volunteer army with a big mission. From their home base in Granada Hills, a suburb of Los Angeles, they have collected more than 250,000 items, including blankets, towels, pet beds, leashes, carriers, vitamins, food and medical supplies; all of it donated to more than 500 rescue groups and 35 shelters statewide.
The comfort items also reach homeless pets as far north as Canada, as well as south of the border, and travel with animals being transported to other locales. Food and toys are also given to the pets of homeless people.
“Operation Blankets of Love has become an important part of our success,” says Jan Selder, Director of Operations for the Valley Division of Los Angeles Animal Services. “No longer do our geriatric animals have to lie on cold concrete. Our puppies and kittens have blankets and bedding to snuggle and lay in and our sick and injured animals have soft, comfortable blankets and towels to help soothe them to speedy recovery.”
All of this takes some serious transportation. Recently, the mood at Operation Blankets of Love headquarters was jubilant as the nonprofit bested hundreds of other charities in a public voting competition to win a Toyota Sienna minivan, a vehicle that’s vital for the operation, which averages 700 miles a week collecting and distributing supplies.
As news of their work has spread, Smulson has fielded calls from all over the country, and inquiries as far away as Sweden and Australia.
“We’re grassroots, but we are teaching people how to do a blanket drive, and there are now friends of Operation Blankets of Love all over the U.S,” says Smulson, who makes frequent presentations to K-12 schools about kindness to animals and proper animal care. .
As for the puppy abandoned on the highway, Ginger is now the “PR Director” and official mascot of Operation Blankets of Love. And after twenty years as a professional in the nonprofit world, Smulson is experiencing the sweetest rewards of her life. “It’s wonderful that I can be a voice for the animals, and inspire so many others to be their advocates as well,” she says.