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Puppie Love raises $50K to help fix Gulf Coast Humane Society’s hurricane damage

GCHS shirt.JPG
Puppie Love
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Special to WGCU
A special effort produced by Maryland T-shirt company Puppie Love raised more than $50,000 for the Gulf Coast Humane Society for repairs of damage caused by Hurricane Ian.

A Maryland T-shirt company's creation for the Gulf Coast Humane Society is helping the animal welfare organization recover from the impact of Hurricane Ian.

Puppie Love, a family-owned T-shirt brand based in Baltimore, created "Hurricane Pup", a shirt to sell as a fundraiser for the GCHS. That effort raised $50,000 and counting.

The brand, started in 2017, is known for donating 10 percent of all net profits to animal shelters and rescue groups nationwide with the goal of helping to facilitate dog adoptions. However, Puppie Love donated 100 percent of the profits of the special shirt to the humane society.

“We didn't feel right, making money off of someone else's tragedy,” said Ali Pfeifer, a co-founder of Puppie Love, said. “So, we just thought that we could create a cute design and raise funds to go directly to the shelter.”

Puppie Love approached the GCHS about this fundraiser idea.

hurricane-pup.jpg
Ali Pfeifer
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Special to WGCU
Puppie Love Co-founder Ali Pfeifer presented a check for $50,000 to the Gulf Coast Humane Society for the money raised by the selling of the Hurricane Pup shirt.

“We have a lot of family that lives in Southwest Florida, specifically Sanibel Island. So that whole area is close to our hearts. We've been going there for vacation and work and things for years and years,” Pfeifer said. “From time to time with Puppie Love, when there's a natural disaster and locations need extra help, we try to find a way that we can do our small part and help that area and help shelters in the areas that are affected.”

The money raised will help fix the damage that Hurricane Ian caused to the GCHS. The biggest damage was to the administration building, where part of the roof came off. In the cat section of the humane society, there’s a cat lanai for cats to safely go outside, and it was destroyed by the storm. The breezeway between the adoption lobby and cove and the rehabilitation play area was damaged. The fenced intake play area for dogs was damaged due to a fallen tree.

Brian Wierima, the community relations coordinator for GCHS, said the lobby and cat rooms were just renovated by Rescue Rebuild a few months ago.

“Fortunately, the best news was our five staff members that stayed overnight with the 178 animals we had at the shelter over the hurricane, all we're safe,” Wierima said.

Wierima said one of their water mains was ripped out from a wall. He says they didn’t have power in areas for up to two weeks.

“We had to transport about 90 percent of our animals to other shelters or shelter partners around the state which were not affected by the hurricane because we couldn’t have taken care of that many animals with no water or power for that long,” Wierima said. “So, it was a substantial loss of revenue because we were closed for two and a half weeks. The veterinarian clinic, which is a revenue producer, nonprofit, but they were also closed for just over a week and our spay and neuter clinic also was closed for over a week.”

As operations started returning to normal, Wierima started seeing staff and volunteers wearing the Hurricane Pup shirt around the humane society.

Mike Bell has been a volunteer at the GCHS since he moved to Florida for retirement four years ago.

“Being on a fixed income, most of my contributions are my time, but I can always find a little for fundraising,” Bell said. “I thought the T-shirts was a fun idea. Apparently, a whole lot of people felt as I did and when Tammy and Brian shared the results so far, I was beyond amazed.”

Bell is one of many volunteers who dedicates their time to help the humane society.

“So many besides myself care for GCHS and I'm very proud and humbled to be a part of this success for the place I love,” Bell said. “I found a family of like-minded animal lovers and a home and happy place.”

Laurie Simpson-Plouffe has been a volunteer for two years now. As a retired teacher, she lives in Fort Myers seasonally.

“I wasn’t in Florida during the hurricane, but I was so worried about the animals in the shelter. Being so far away, I felt helpless to do anything to help out, and by purchasing this shirt it was just a little something to help,” Simpson-Plouffe said. “I look forward to returning to Florida next month to help out.”

Simpson-Plouffe hopes that by wearing the shirt, she’s spreading the message of what happened to Lee County because of Hurricane Ian.

When Pfeifer and the Puppie Love team launched the fundraiser, they weren't expecting to sell as many shirts as they did. The Hurricane Pup shirt is the bestselling design in company history. The short sleeve shirt is $21.99, and the long sleeve shirt is $27.99.

“We couldn't believe our customers stepping up like that and wanting to help the area. I mean, it was just unbelievable,” Pfeifer said. “We could not believe it. I literally get emotional thinking about it every time.”

This story was produced by Hayley Lemery, a student-journalist in Democracy Watch, a news service provided by Florida Gulf Coast University journalism students.