This Scruffy Stuffed Animal Is Encouraging Kids to Rescue Real Ones
Shelter animals have an image problem. When a family has been dreaming of a picture-perfect pet inspired by the puppies in pet store windows, how can a scruffy rescue compete?
“The popularity of certain breeds—particularly on social media—can place an emphasis on how animals look as opposed to their individual personalities and what great pets they can make,” says Emily Stott, press officer for the U.K. Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. Children especially learn about specific breeds through cartoons and movies, often becoming emotionally attached to an idealized picture of what their new furry friend will look like, leading them to overlook animals at their local rescue.
Now, toy company Worlds Apart is taking on the challenge of teaching kids to look beyond appearances. Enter Scruff-a-Luvs, a cuddly new stuffed animal sold in the U.S. and U.K. that lets kids learn that with a little love, even less-than-perfect looking pets can become the companion they’ve always dreamed of.
When a child receives a Scruff-a-Luvs toy, it just looks like a sad ball of matted fur. At first, kids won’t even be able to tell if the toy is a dog, cat, or rabbit. But with the right amount of care—like washing, brushing, and drying—their new pet comes to life, revealing the soft and cuddly best friend underneath.
In an interview with Mojo Nation, James Austin-Smith, head of research and development and product design for Worlds Apart, explains the inspiration behind the toy: “Scruff-a-Luvs was in part brought about by a bunch of viral YouTube videos of street dogs that had been mistreated or abandoned. They always culminated in some amazing people bathing, treating, and caring for these poor animals, followed by that incredible moment that the dog transforms from a matted, whimpering, scared mess into a happy dog licking its rescuer’s face.”
By allowing kids to replicate this rags-to-riches storyline in the form of a toy, the Scruff-a-Luvs team hopes to encourage kids to lead their parents to the shelter instead of the pet store the next time they’re thinking of adding a friend to the family.
There’s a critical need for would-be pet owners to look first to their local shelter instead of purchasing a pet from a pet store. Most pet stores source their dogs from puppy mills, which breed more than 2 million puppies in unhealthy and even cruel environments each year, according to a 2016 report from The Humane Society. Both licensed and unlicensed, these facilities often make sacrifices in the care and well-being of the animals they house in favor of increasing profit margins, resulting in cruelty and neglect. Breeding parents can spend their lives in 24-hour confinement, according to research from The Puppy Mill Project, often in stacked cages with little protection from the elements. When mothers are no longer able to produce, they’re killed.
It’s a common misconception that buying an animal is just as good as adopting one, because the animal in the store also needs a home. But when a pet is purchased, another is bred to take its place, continuing the toxic cycle of commercial breeding. At the same time, according to the Humane Society, 2.7 million adoptable cats and dogs are euthanized each year in the U.S. due to lack of space in shelters.
The Humane Society reports that shelter euthanasia in the United States is down 12 percent since 2009, which bodes well for the future of rescue animals across the country. The Ad Council’s Shelter Pet Project also reports that 37 percent of dogs and 46 percent of cats in American households found their forever home through adoption. But while these statistics are encouraging, millions of healthy or treatable pets still end up in shelters each year.
Stott says that toys like Scruff-a-Luvs, as well as the heartwarming viral rescue videos that inspired their creation, can help rewrite the narrative and show kids that abandoned animals needing a home have hearts of gold underneath the scruff. “Rescue pets come in all shapes and sizes,” she says. “We would urge people not to be led by how an animal looks or how cute they are, but to get to know their amazing personalities.”
Even the biggest animal lovers sometimes opt for buying instead of rescuing, despite the harm caused by the commercial pet industry. In a 2014 survey by PetSmart Charities, 36 percent of respondents said they bought their pet because their local shelter didn’t have the particular breed they were looking for, while 34 percent indicated that they wanted a purebred animal. Unfortunately, many people are unaware that all breeds end up in shelters (as many as 25 percent of shelter animals are purebred, according to The Humane Society), while rescue organizations nationwide also work with specific breeds—like the Mid-Atlantic German Shepherd Rescue or the American Kennel Club rescue network. Online adoption searches like Petfinder allow a person to filter search results by size, age, sex, and breed. Mixed breeds also have the same characteristics that make them a great fit for families
According to the PetSmart survey, people who purchase pets instead of adopting express concerns about health and behavioral issues—the idea being that you “never know what you’re going to get” when you adopt an animal from a shelter. But rescue facilities typically maintain high standards of care. Animals are usually examined, treated, rehabilitated, and pass temperament tests to best prepare them for adoption. Many can be socialized with other animals, receive behavioral and house training, and get used to working with many different human volunteers. As a result, these animals tend to be highly adaptable to new situations—like their new adopted homes.
For those who want to support their local animal shelters without a long-term commitment, fostering an animal gives a pet a temporary home and frees up space in the shelter. Shelters typically provide food and veterinary care, and in return the foster provides a place to stay and participates in various adoption events in their area.
It’s also important to remember that shelters and rescue organizations need money, resources, and time to continue providing care for the most animals possible. For each Scruff-a-Luvs purchased, Worlds Apart is donating a minimum of £10,000 of their proceeds to the RSPCA, “so that the charity can continue to rescue and rehabilitate those in need and real animals can find their ‘furever’ homes,” says Stott.
Can’t adopt but want to help? Personal donations of food, blankets, newspapers, plastic bags, toys, grooming tools, and cash or gift cards to local box stores go a long way. Many shelters also run small thrift shops to make extra money for animals’ care, so even donations that have nothing to do with animals—like books or kitchen utensils—can be helpful in the long run. Rescue groups are also always looking for volunteers to help walk, feed, bathe, and socialize the pets in their care. Even an hour a week can make a huge difference.
While shelters continue to look for the resources they need to rescue and care for animals in need, the only way to truly solve this problem is to help keep animals out of shelters entirely, by adopting instead of shopping and making lifelong commitments to rescue animals in need. By rescuing an animal—be it a stuffed Scruff-a-Luvs or a live pet in need—you can help make sure animals everywhere have safe and loving homes.