Toy time!

By David Dickson

At the Sanctuary, Santa Claus comes at least twice a year. Once, when folks hang their stockings by the chimney with care, and once when Tom Fuller, retired marine, packs his Hummer full of toys and drives across the country.

Several years ago, Tom was planning a trip to Best Friends when he thought to ask his neighbors if anybody had items they wanted to donate. He was driving an empty vehicle, after all, and had room to carry along a few odds and ends. Well, the whole thing snowballed in a hurry. His neighborhood came up with all kinds of useful items for the animals at the Sanctuary. At that point, Tom got inspired to go out into the community to see if veterinary clinics and pet stores might want to help as well. In the end, Tom received such an enthusiastic response he could barely fit everything in his vehicle.

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Tom Fuller

The trip has become an annual tradition for Tom, and has truly evolved into something incredible. For one thing, Tom has connected several veterinary clinics with Best Friends. One in particular, Dundee Animal Hospital of Dundee, Illinois, pays regular attention to items on the Best Friends wish list. When they have items to donate that match the list, they tell Best Friends accordingly and place the items in a storage room that has come to be known as "Tom’s Closet." There the items accumulate — or empty into Tom’s garage when the closet is full, as they did more than once this past year — until Tom makes his journey from Chicago to Best Friends.

"Dundee [Animal Hospital] has been absolutely fabulous," said Chandra Forsythe, in-kind donations manager at Best Friends.

This recent outing was yet another amazing delivery chock full of items that will help the animals. With a combined valued of around $12,000, this year’s round-up included IV pumps, valuable medicines and myriad other medical supplies, chew toys, squeaky toys, food puzzles, a toy chest for storing stuffed animals, shade umbrellas, treats, tennis balls, carpet, towels, parrot toys, rabbit treats, peanut butter, crates, towels, even a gallon of fly spray for the horses. The complete list runs a mile long. If that wasn’t impressive enough, Tom’s gallant neighbors pooled together cash donations in the amount of $1,100. Talk about a community coming together! Tom himself brought a cash donation along with $200 worth of items from the wish list. He wanted every animal area to have something special.

"It’s so easy to do this," Tom says about involving others in the effort. He is forever telling his experiences to visitors he meets at the Sanctuary, in hopes of inspiring them to do the same thing. Truth be told, his method is quite simple. Tell people you’re coming to Best Friends and ask if they want to send along anything for the animals. Then watch it take off. For Tom at least, that’s all it took to rally an entire city to help: an incredible success story. Thanks as always, Tom and friends, for everything you do for the animals!

Photos by Gary Kalpakoff

The Best Friends animals have wish lists that you can check when sending gifts.