Cody and Marie Lucas had visited several animal shelters in Virginia in search of the right rescue dog to adopt. When they got to Richmond Animal Care and Control last month, something caught their eye.
There were two colorful notes, accompanied by sketches, attached to the kennel of a 5-year-old American Staffordshire terrier named Duquesa.
“I am cute and short haired. I can cuddle and bark,” one letter read in a child’s handwriting. “Please adopt me.”
The other message, written partially in Spanish, said: “Yo necesito to be adopted. Yo necesito food and agua. Please adopt me.”
After reading the letters, Marie peered inside to look at the brown dog with floppy ears, and once she saw her face, thought, “How could I not love her?”
When the couple looked around the shelter that day, they saw other drawings and letters penned by 8-year-olds attached to several kennels of dogs that were considered less desirable to adopt. Dogs with imperfections and health issues have a harder time finding a forever home. The notes were written from the perspective of the animals, directed to their adopters.
“Every dog had a little story posted outside their door. It was really sweet,” said Marie.
The Lucases were so moved by the plea on Duquesa’s kennel, they decided to bring her home with them to their house in Chesterfield County, Va., on Feb. 6. They renamed her Bonnie.
Their rescue pooch had already been at the shelter for about one month and might have had difficulty getting adopted because she has a limp. There are currently about 170 animals in the shelter, and, on average, most pets get adopted within three weeks. The majority of animals stay at the shelter until they find forever homes, though the shelter will euthanize severely sick animals that they deem cannot be rehabilitated or adopted.
“Going through shelters can be a heavy experience, knowing there are so many animals that just want to be loved,” Cody said. “The pictures and stories made the process a lot brighter and full of hope.”
The couple was touched to learn that the letters were part of a class project to help hard-to-place animals get adopted, coordinated by Kensey Jones, a second-grade teacher at St. Michael’s Episcopal School in Richmond.
Jones has been a volunteer at the shelter for the past four years and has three rescue dogs of her own.
“The idea just came to me to connect persuasive writing with these adoptable pets that need a forever home,” she said, explaining that she thought it would be “a way that I could make their writing real for [the students], and actually make an impact on the world and our Richmond community, specifically.”
She pitched the concept to Christie Peters, the director of the shelter, whose son is in Jones’s second-grade class.
“Yes, let’s do it!” Peters remembered telling Jones, adding that she thought the idea was “so wonderful.”
Jones visited the shelter website and selected 24 animals — 23 dogs and one cat — all of which had a difficult time finding a forever home because of age, personality, health or lack of training. Many of the animals she picked had been in the shelter for several months, and Jones believed her students’ work might help them get adopted.
As a class, students read through each animal’s brief description provided by the shelter, and Jones printed photos of every one. When the students were told about their new assignment, there were “audible cheers in the classroom,” Jones said. “As the project unfolded, they just continued to get more and more excited about it.”
Before they started the researching and writing process in late January, Peters brought a rescue dog to visit students at the school.
“We talked about the work we do at the shelter, and how their stories would help save animals’ lives,” Peters said.
The students, Jones said, reacted with “pure joy and excitement.” They took the project very seriously and wrote carefully crafted letters that used descriptive words they learned in class to persuade potential adopters.
“We were pretty impressed by what they came up with,” Jones said. One letter that stood out, she said, was one about a dog named Sunday Special.
“I would love to be adopted. If you do adopt me, I hope I will brighten up your Sundays like the sun,” the student wrote. “You’ll be my Sunday Special, and I hope I’ll be yours!”
“It just tore at my heartstrings,” Jones said.
To her delight, others had the same reaction, and the class project served its purpose: 21 of the 24 animals that were written about have been adopted since the beginning of February, including Sunday Special.
Peters said she is confident the project played a significant role in the animals finding forever homes.
“It definitely brought exposure to the pets that had the greatest need in our shelter and showcased them in a really different and beautiful light,” Peters said, adding that young animals generally get adopted from the shelter quickly, while older pets with health issues are often overlooked. Older dogs eventually do get adopted, she said, though the process tends to take more time.
That’s where the letters came in.
“It just sparked something within the community to adopt a pet that’s been in our care longer than others,” she said.
Cody and Marie held onto their letters and now have them tacked up on their refrigerator.
“You do feel connected to not just the animals and not just the shelter, but the broader idea of doing good in your community,” Cody said. “It brings about a whole purpose to the process.”
Marie said she often thinks about the second-grader who wrote the letters for Bonnie.
“It gives me goose bumps thinking about the kid that wrote that, thinking they did it, they got that dog a home,” Marie said.
The students – who were able to see their letters hanging in the shelter in photos and videos – said they are overjoyed every time an animal is adopted. And also proud.
“All dogs deserve a loving home,” said St. Michael’s second-grader Danielle Petroski. “I am so very happy to be able to help neglected animals find great forever families.”
Jones makes a class announcement every time an adoption is finalized, and the students squeal with glee.
“I think they are kind of in disbelief that they did this,” Jones said.