Helping Homeless Pets One Handmade Blanket at a Time

If you think outside the box, there are so many different ways you can help dogs and cats in rescues and animal shelters.

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During retirement, Donna Hilley of Tucker, Ga., had an idea of how she could help shelter pets from her home, while also adding a meaningful personal touch. Since 2009, she has donated thousands of unique, homemade blankets to more than 30 organizations and extraordinary canine citizens.

Hilley’s first step is to choose unique, animal-related fabric from a fabric store. She’s had two assistants over the years: Toy Poodle Peppie, who died of cancer in 2011, and her newest Toy Poodle, Buddy. “Peppie would always put his paw on the fabric that I am working with to give me his approval. Now Buddy does the same thing.”

Once the fabric is dog-approved, Hilley sews the blankets and quilts by hand. “Blankets can take about one hour (to make) and quilts several days,” Hilley says. “They are lined with fleece for softness to keep pets warm,” she says.


GINA CIOLI/I-5 STUDIO Donna Hilley's quilts and blankets are as adorable as they are warm and cozy.
Donna Hilley’s quilts and blankets are as adorable as they are warm and cozy.

Pets aren’t the only ones who get to enjoy her work. Hilley’s quilts can also hang on a wall for shelter staff and visitors to view.

Oklahoma City Animal Welfare Division is one of the many shelters that displays Hilley’s creations. Jonathan Gary, shelter operations supervisor, says, “We have hung a couple of her blankets in the shelter to show the public and honor the work that she has done.” Gary explains that the animals love the blankets, too, as they provide a soft, warm resting place until they can be adopted.

Usually Hilley donates to specific organizations after reading about them or learning about them on the news. “I always want to help because I am very touched by so many stories,” she says.

“Her blankets are a huge help,” says Harmony Verna, vice president of The Animal Center, which is a partner of the Catherine Violet Hubbard Animal Sanctuary, scheduled to open in 2016. The sanctuary received a donation from Hilley after she learned of the plans to build it in honor of 6-year-old Catherine Violet Hubbard, who was killed in the 2012 Sandy Hook Elementary School shootings, along with 19 classmates and six educators. “Donna’s contribution is truly an act of love,” Verna says. “It’s people like her who are making this world a warmer — literally! — and kinder place.”

COURTESY OF DONNA HILLEY Donna Hilley's Toy Poodle Buddy keeps her company while she sews.
Donna Hilley’s Toy Poodle Buddy keeps her company while she sews.

The majority of Hilley’s blankets make their way to animals living in shelters, but some end up with dogs in transport while they fly through the sky toward their forever homes. Cindy Smith, Wings of Rescue co-founder, uses Hilley’s blankets during transport flights.

“Donna’s little blankets fit perfectly in the crates and give the rescued pups some comfort and security en route,” Smith says. Hilley’s blankets have the ability to go anywhere in the world, and everywhere they do go, they touch someone’s heart and give an animal some comfort.

While many miles away, dogs are cuddling up to the soft fleece blankets that Hilley made by hand, she is at home, making more. “The joy of my life has always been to help and give to others,” Hilley says. “Now that I am retired, I am helping dogs and cats.”

Cassandra Radcliff

Cassandra is an editor and writer based out of Orange County, Calif. She lives with her rescued cat, Pickles, who loves to “talk.” While Pickles is her only pet now, Cassandra is a long-time rescuer. She also volunteers her time walking dogs and socializing cats at local shelters, and was a “shelter scout” for guinea pigs. When not caring for animals, Cassandra spends her spare time hiking, bird watching and restoring local habitats as a volunteer at Orange County parks and beaches.


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