Strut Your Mutt rolls with the changes, continues to inspire

By Julie Castle

The year was 1995. I was a determined twenty-something still fairly new to animal welfare and ready to change the world. During lunch with a friend who was a very successful event planner, I told him I was going to organize a huge charity walk to raise money for homeless pets. He laughed and told me I was doomed to fail. Which, of course, only made me want it more.

The first Strut Your Mutt took place in Salt Lake City that year. It rained, it snowed, everyone was cold, wet and miserable. To top it off, someone’s golden retriever decided to destroy our sound system. Not exactly a smashing success, but like a lot of endeavors Best Friends takes on, it was the catalyst to something greater than we could have ever imagined.

Over the last quarter century, Strut Your Mutt has grown into a national annual event with a dozen or more participating cities. Since its inception, Strut Your Mutt has raised more than $18 million to help rescue groups and shelters across the country continue their lifesaving work. For some organizations, participating in Strut Your Mutt raises a substantial portion of operating funds for the year. For others, it raises funds for their entire annual operating budget.

Every year has presented unique challenges in putting on Strut Your Mutt, but none more so than 2020. Like almost every other organization, Best Friends was faced with a conundrum during the COVID-19 pandemic. How do you reinvent a popular in-person event while keeping everyone safe? Because canceling was not an option, not when so many lives depend on it.

While there would be no in-person events, Best Friends’ first all-virtual Strut Your Mutt Day was announced for October 24. The fundraising structure for our partners was set up online, as always, plus new tools were added to engage donors.

Like so many things in 2020, the initial limitations ended up encouraging creativity and even revealed some unexpected benefits. For example, NorCal Boxer Rescue saw an increase in participation; 158 people joined their team this year, compared to 134 last year. NorCal Boxer Rescue volunteer and Strut Your Mutt team captain Rebecca Genauer says that the event going virtual is a blessing in disguise, making it impossible for people to ignore the role they can play as part of a team, regardless of being able to attend an event.

While COVID-19 has made it a difficult time to ask for money, the president of Pug Rescue of Austin, Dave Norris, says his group asked anyway and found that Pug Rescue was able to raise as much as last year. 

Strut Your Mutt certainly doesn’t exclude our feline friends. Shadow Cats, which operates out of Round Rock, Texas, has been a top fundraiser for years. The group has discovered that they love the virtual version, since they can’t bring cats to the in-person event anyway.

And let’s not forget about Lauren Ash, from NBC’s “Superstore,” who stepped up to be our celebrity spokesperson this year. Lauren not only participates, she’s a two-time top individual fundraiser in Los Angeles with her team, The Ash Pack. Lauren has been on numerous broadcasts promoting Strut Your Mutt, while also promoting it on social media and raising funds alongside her three pets, Fox, Sharky and Peaches.

Yes, COVID-19 was an unexpected curve ball, but animal lovers are a particularly passionate and determined group of humans. So even though we can’t gather, walk or celebrate together, Strut Your Mutt 2020 is proof that we will always adapt and come together for the sake of the animals who need us.

There is still time to be part of Strut Your Mutt, as funds are being collected until October 31. Please visit the website for more information or to register.

Julie Castle


Best Friends Animal Society