Taking the Plunge for Animal Rescue

What do you get when you combine 200 animal lovers, 18 degrees of icy January weather, and near-freezing water? More than $30,000 for animals in need.

By | Posted: October 17, 2014, 10 a.m. PST

The Humane Society of Washington County’s famous annual Polar Bear Plunge may take just five minutes, but months of planning time behind the scenes helps makes this giant fundraiser one for the books every year. Yet it’s not the only thing this Hagerstown, Md.-based animal organization does well. From adoption success to marketing prowess, raising money to community support, the HSWC sets the bar high.

Hollywood themed rescue event 

In one adoption promotion, HSWC made every adopter the star of a blockbuster movie premiere, and the adopter and her dog got a photo of their appearance on the red carpet.


Operating since 1921, this open-admission shelter takes in about 6,000 animals each year. Its adoption rates increased 87 percent last year, and it’s on track to perform just as well in 2014. This summer, it was chosen as one of 50 shelters to participate in the Rachael Ray $100K Challenge, a national competition by the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals to inspire animal shelters to increase pet adoptions, reunite lost pets with their families, and save more animals’ lives.

One way the HSWC is attempting to do that is through weekend off-site adoption events at local venues such as Petco stores. The animals love being out and about, and potential adopters seem more willing to visit.

"Sometimes people don’t want to come into shelters,” says Kirk Livers, HSWC marketing coordinator. "They are more apt to come into a pet store. We have had great success. We can move 20 animals on a weekend.”

At one event last spring, more than 50 animals were adopted in a single day, thanks to pre-event publicity, on-site media, food vendors, and a carnival-like atmosphere. Many of the 500 total volunteers donating their time and talents to the humane society were there that weekend to help, Livers says.

"It was an all-hands-on-deck type of day,” he adds.

Hosting in-house adoption events is also part of the group’s formula for success. Take "Snag a Dog Sunday.” Adopters can pick a "winning ticket” that  gives them a 100 percent discount on the adoption fee of the dog.

"You do not pay a dime,” says Livers, noting that the shelter does not see a lot of failed adoptions, even with this promotion. This, along with a newly streamlined adoption and counseling process, allows the HSWC to move more animals out of the shelter and into forever homes. "There’s no correlation to how much you pay for that animal and how much you love it,” Livers adds.

Like many rescue groups, a big part of the group’s ability to rescue large numbers of animals is determined by  how well it fundraises. Aside from the insanely popular and lucrative Polar Bear Plunge, the HSWC hosts the LuHowl Hawaiian event at a local historic home, complete with entertainment and a silent auction. The Bone to Be Wild motorcycle ride features scores of Harley-Davidson riders cruising down the highways and byways, all in the name of the animals. And then there’s Rich Guzzi and his comedy hypnosis show, which is now exploding through positive word of mouth. The first event raised $3,000 in just one show.

"We invite you to come and howl at the hypnotist,” Livers says. "(Attendees) are singing like Madonna. It’s just hysterical.”

One thing that really sets the HSWC apart is its dedication to each creature housed under its roof. Despite never turning an animal away, the group strives to know each adoptable animal in its care so it can help locate a forever home.

From the volunteer who regularly walks that dog, to the counselor who spends time getting to know her quirks and characteristics, to the medical staff who tends to her vaccinations, all those at HSWC have one goal in mind: to get this dog adopted by a loving owner. 

"They are not just a number,” Livers says. "Each dog is loved.” To learn more about HSWC, visit www.hswcmd.org

More Dog Rescue and Adoption: 


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Eileen - 249708   Port Perry, ON

10/19/2014 4:59:58 AM

What amazing work that is being done to find forever homes for animals.

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Karen   Hagerstown, Maryland

10/17/2014 5:13:24 PM

I remember this dog & adopter...I remember this adoption....It was a perfect match! I have to admit that I cried watching their picture being taken that day. Saving a life will NEVER grow old! I count myself as one lucky animal welfare advocate to be a part of this organization. So many dedicated employees, volunteers and community members....all striving for the loving care of our animals. Could I have a job that pays more money, yes. Would it be as fulfilling and would I feel I was making as big of a difference, I doubt it! My heart lies with the animals and our community! Together we can and will make a difference in the lives of the animals that we touch.

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