In the pandemic era, the go-to galas and other in-person fundraising events for nonprofits have, for the most part, been canceled this season in the name of safety. Instead, organizations that depend on donation dollars have had to get creative. Case in point: Blue Ridge Wildlife Center in Clarke County, which helps rehabilitate native wildlife found in Northern Virginia, recently held an online art auction. The artists? The center’s very own animal ambassadors. Nigel the opossum, Rufio the eastern gray squirrel, a box turtle named Sheldon and Snow the arctic fox all pitched in to create paintings for the auction. “We simply had the animals dip their feet in nontoxic paint and used positive reinforcement techniques to encourage them to walk back and forth across each canvas,” says Jennifer Riley, BRWC’s director of services. The animals were rewarded with treats for their efforts—and raised nearly $20,000. The goal at Blue Ridge Wildlife Center is to rehabilitate and get animals back out into nature, but several animal ambassadors—who for various reasons can’t be released back into the wild—have a permanent home at the center. BRWC generally cares for about 1,700 animals per year, but in the age of COVID—when more people are working at home and noticing the animals literally in their backyard—the center has seen a 20% increase this year. The staff took care of about 2,700 animals in 2020, including 13 bald eagles. While the animal artists have put away their paints for now, be on the lookout for additional creative fundraisers in 2021. Because even when the region can return to standard galas, colorful animal footprints on canvases will always be welcome.
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