“It’s a big fancy event, but it has such heart to it,” said Carol Anne Lajoie, director of development at the Richmond SPCA.
That event with heart is the 23rd annual Fur Ball, an end-of-year celebration that is vital to the operation of the nonprofit. It was held on Nov. 6 at The Jefferson Hotel, in-person for the first time since the COVID-19 pandemic began.
A reduced crowd of 250 gathered in the Grand Ballroom and Rotunda of the hotel to partake in a cocktail hour and dinner. Attendees also could participate in an auction and raffle and watch the Parade of Pets that shows off many of the Richmond SPCA’s pet alumni and others currently up for adoption.
All of the money raised by the Fur Ball goes to the Cinderella Fund, which is used to support any veterinary care that the nonprofit provides outside of spaying/neutering or regular shots. The fund helps internal staff have enough resources for sick, injured and neo-natal pets; these tend to be moms with kittens or kittens without a mom, Lajoie explained.
“The Fur Ball really is the star of the show for the Cinderella Fund,” Lajoie said. “Throughout the year other donors will designate their gifts to benefit the fund. However, the ball is the biggest way to fill that bucket. We didn’t want to lose the opportunity to connect with the donors who look to the Fur Ball as a part of their engagement with the Richmond SPCA.”
According to Lajoie, the internal veterinary services team has budgeted upwards of $960,000 for fiscal year 2022. The Fur Ball usually nets about half of that. This year, the event raised $620,000, down $60,000 from the record set in 2019, but still impressive considering the reduced crowd.
Lajoie said that her organization was excited to make the transition back to in-person this year after holding an all-virtual Fur Ball in 2020.
“People rallied around us [last year],” she said. “This year, you could really feel the energy in the room. We had to reimagine the event again.”
Richmond SPCA decided not to host a simulcast in 2020 and instead opted for what Lajoie calls a “choose your own adventure” event. Participants could buy catering through the SPCA and pick it up or have it delivered. Chef Joe Sparatta from Heritage was the caterer.
The raffle and auctions were both moved online last year. People could tune into videos or presentations at their own leisure.
Holiday Barn Pet Resorts, a boarding and daycare center, was the sponsor this year for the top-billed Parade of Pets.
“Someone from Holiday Barn came walking down with the most ridiculously cute kitten in his hands, and you could hear a collective gasp from the audience,” Lajoie said. “Of course, that kitten was available for adoption. It was a killer way to kick off the evening.”
Fur Ball attendees were allowed to bring their own pets with them since The Jefferson is a pet-friendly hotel. Volunteers were available to watch and care for pets if the owners wanted a break. The Richmond SPCA dubs them its “pet escorts.”
Despite having pets of all shapes and sizes gathered in one room, Lajoie said the barking and atmosphere stayed calm.
“One of our volunteers this year said that at one point they looked around it was completely silent; all of the dogs were sleeping,” she said laughing.
A big selling point of the Fur Ball is the chance for attendees to have their pet featured as the Richmond SPCA’s mascot for the upcoming year. This year, the prize was on the auction block.
“Winning the mascot package equates to a year’s worth of appearances,” Lajoie said. “The winning pet goes to the lighting of the Christmas tree at the Virginia State Capitol and various business openings. They are also featured in all of the promotional materials for the year. The mascot represents the organization.”
A dog named Arlo, adopted from the SPCA, was crowned the new mascot. The reigning mascot, a golden retriever named Lily, made one last appearance and relinquished her throne.
While it’s easy to get caught up in the fun and pageantry of the Parade of Pets, Lajoie pointed out that the presentation serves its own important purpose.
“So many of the pets in the parade have been adopted from us or other rescue agencies,” she said. “It’s a really good opportunity to advocate for adoption as the most responsible means to acquire a pet. Which is what we hope everyone does.”
Dominion Energy was the presenting sponsor for the 2021 Fur Ball, along with a number of other corporate, nonprofit and individual sponsors. Lajoie expressed gratitude to everyone who donated and helped organize the event after a year of being apart from one another.
“The Fur Ball is such an incredible pool of resources,” she said. “It fuels that part of our mission that makes us a no-kill community. We have the ability to go into shelters and pull sick or injured pets from other animal rescue organizations, leaving those municipal shelters with a more adoptable population of pets. It’s an example of how we have a ripple effect on animal welfare in the state. The folks who come to the Fur Ball and donate to the Cinderella Fund are making all that possible.”