Passion for Paws

| 20 Jun 2016 | 12:41


We’ve all heard of Grumpy Cat and Pizza Rat. Some of us have heard of the Taylor Swift screaming goat, Boo the dog, and even the photobombing squirrel. All were caught in quirky poses or notorious act, and achieved fame — or infamy — via the internet. Furry things, it seems, have an uncanny ability to tap into humans’ warm-and-fuzzy places.

Shelter Chic, a boutique-y storefront on Chambers Street, is attempting to replicate that process by showing a more cheery side of animal shelter life. “Not a business, but a passion,” said Shelter Chic co-founder Brittany Feldman.

The no-kill shelter hosts adoptable dogs and cats and sells accessories for both animals and humans. Feldman and co-founder Amanda Folk got the nonprofit running out of Feldman’s apartment. At first, the co-founders themselves fostered the dogs and cats in their care. Having opened their first location in October, the company has since grown, in large part because of donations.

Though a for-profit could more straightforward to manage, Feldman said that operating that way would not be in the spirit of what she and Folk envision for Shelter Chic. “We’ve stayed true to our vision,” she said.

Shelter Chic operates out of a donated space, available to them until October but Feldman and Folk don’t want to stop then. Their long-term ambition is to secure a permanent location, similar to a cat café.

Feldman thinks of Shelter Chic as being “very transparent, very from the heart.” Her inspiration came from volunteering at an animal shelter. “It was just very sad,” she said. Through Shelter Chic, she and Folk hope to “change the stigma” around animal adoption and animal shelters.

About three volunteers work at Shelter Chic at any one time. They will often dress the shelter’s roughly 20 cats and three or four dogs in whimsical costumes — tutus, polos and Yoda hats among them. The social-media savvy shelter uses similar tactics when posting on Twitter, Instagram and the like. Feldman and Folk often turn their animals into memes. When Alex the cat, the longest resident of Shelter Chic, was adopted, a mock news report ran on the Shelter Chic’s Instagram.

The animals are christened with quirky names during their tenure — Khaleesi, Sugar Bear, Lindsay Lohan, Miley Cyrus, Princess Petunia, Pepperoni and Fries. Videos of dogs and cats playing or being stroked to hip hop beats also make their way online. Feldman says the nonprofit’s marketing is a way to reach a different kind of animal lover. “The goal with Shelter Chic is to expand the market of people adopting. It is lighthearted, to make people laugh; to draw attention, to get people to look,” she said.

Instead of those looking to adopt or foster pitiable animals, such as those glimpsed on TV commercials, all of Shelter Chic’s animals are promoted as warriors. “The ‘sad, three-legged dog’ is such a badass,” Feldman said.

Some of the shelter’s residents were picked from the streets, some were chained up, a few others otherwise discarded, including in a Dumpster or thrown from a window.

“Making [adoption] a happy thing,” she said, is the business’ standard. Feldman, a former special education elementary school teacher, often attends career days at local schools. That way, Feldman says, the students she speaks with will “have it in their head — adopt, adopt, adopt.”

Shelter Chic has also done community service days for these schools, allowing students to learn about and to interact with the animals.

“We’re small, we’ll definitely need some kind of sponsorship down the line,” Feldman said. “We’re a community place. We know our customers’ names.”

She often texts the families that have adopted from Shelter Chic, just to check in on the dogs and cats and their new kin. Sometimes the owners even beat her to it, sending her pictures of their pet.

All of Shelter Chic’s income goes to the care for the animals.

Though the shop is primarily foster-based, Feldman and Folk also host adoptable animals.

But not everyone can take home a pet. Feldman personally meets with each potential fosterer or adopter to make sure that the dogs and cats will be given a loving home. “I want people to adopt an animal because they love and respect it,” she said. “I would never adopt out to a person that I didn’t feel 150 percent comfortable with.”