When I was working in the fundraising department at the Toronto Humane Society, a big part of my job was responding to donor mail. My favourite letters were those sent by children. There was one in particular I won’t ever forget, and not just because the envelope was lumpy. The author of that letter became my pen-pal for a summer. Then again, if I’m going to be completely accurate, this little boy became the devoted pen-pal of a beagle named Buckley. I simply wrote the letters back on Buckley’s behalf given the fact dogs can’t write.
The first letter I, or rather Buckley, received from this little boy was short and to the point. He was writing to Buckley after his mom had shared his rescue story with him. Tucked in the envelope with his letter were two milk-bones. The little boy was hoping Buckley could snack on the milk-bones while he patiently waited to be adopted. Since Buckley had gone home with me by that time, the milk-bones were donated to a couple of his shelter mates still waiting for their happy new beginnings. And so, a lovely exchange of letters between the little boy and Buckley carried on throughout that summer.
I learned a great deal about philanthropy in my position at the shelter. I learned about the importance of recognition for those making substantial contributions. I also learned not everyone needs to be recognized in some fancy way. Some people have held onto the same uncomplicated motivation they felt as children. For them, helping someone or some thing is reward in itself. There is no better recognition.
I always worried about repeating the same line in my Thank You letters – “You have made a difference.” And yet, that is the truth and that is what matters most to children and those of us who haven’t forgotten it as we’ve grown older.
On June 4, a little boy named Leo had a party to celebrate his sixth birthday. Just like my old pen-pal, Leo has a thing for dogs. And so, Leo’s mom came up with an idea. She asked him how he felt about raising money for homeless dogs in honour of his special day. Leo’s eyes lit up as I’m sure they do on a daily basis. He’s got this spark he can’t contain.
As it turns out, one of Leo’s favourite breeds is the beagle. That’s how it came to be that I met the boy with the sparkle in his eyes, and how that boy made a difference for our homeless howlers at Big On Beagles (BOB) Rescue. Through his own generosity and that of the many who love him, we most definitely saved the life of a down-on-his-luck beagle.
Leo didn’t need the wing of a building named after him. He simply wanted to meet some rescued beagles. And that he did when he paid me a visit after his birthday party. But before he cuddled up on the couch with my beagle, Matthew, he anxiously presented me with an envelope filled with money while that undeniable sparkle danced in his eyes. It was clear what mattered most to Leo was the knowledge that he’d made a difference. You bet your beagle’s butt he knew he had with the big hug he got in return from a teary-eyed me. Nevertheless, old habits die hard. I couldn’t help but recognize Leo as BOB’s first official ‘Kid of the Month’ just a mouse drag down from ‘Beagle of the Month’ on our site’s home page.
I’ve held on to that first letter from the other little boy who wrote to Buckley so many years ago. With any luck, that grown up boy still holds dear a couple of Buckley’s letters too.
This article is dedicated to Leo and the rest of our sparkly-eyed children who don’t need a dictionary to understand the true meaning of philanthropy. It’s also dedicated to the parents and guardians who encourage that sparkle to keep on sparkling.