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How One Woman Created a ‘Holiday Haven’ For Stray Dogs

Animal shelter worker Heather Friedman created a special foster program that pairs stray dogs with loving families for the holidays — which often turn into fur-ever homes!

The Power of Love

“Happy holidays!” Heather Friedman’s co-workers called out as they headed home to enjoy Christmas festivities with their families. Even though a few dedicated volunteers would be spending Christmas at the animal shelter, it struck Heather — just like it did every holiday — how devastating it was that these sweet animals would be spending this special day alone in a kennel.

“Holidays are about being with family and sharing love,” Heather thought, blinking back tears as she stopped to give a belly rub to a sweet-eyed pup. Sure, Heather was grateful the animals weren’t out on the streets, cold and hungry.

Her heart squeezed as she looked in on one of their older residents who had spent too many Christmases with no one to love him. “More people need to get to know these beautiful dogs,” she thought. “If they did, I just know every last one would get their forever home.”

An Amazing Outcome

As the chief marketing officer for LifeLine Animal Project of Atlanta (, a nonprofit dedicated to ending euthanasia in Atlanta animal shelters, Heather worked tirelessly to get the word out about the lovable animals available for adoption in all the city’s shelters. Programs like placing stray dogs in foster homes while they waited for forever families and Weekend Warrior, where folks took shelter dogs out on weekends for walks and playtime, had helped LifeLine raise Atlanta pet adoption rates from 39 percent in 2002 to its current 89 percent.

Just thinking about all those happy endings, Heather smiled. And suddenly, an idea sparked. “What if people took in a dog as a special guest for the holidays?” she posed to her co-workers and Home for the Pawlidays was born.

Kicking off Thanksgiving 2017, Heather and her team selected 20 hard-to-adopt dogs, and after they got the word out on Facebook, excited families signed up to host the pups. “All you need to provide is love,” Heather told them with a smile, giving folks food, toys and supplies when they came to pick up their furry holiday houseguest.

Heather grinned as, all weekend, LifeLine’s email was flooded with photos of content dogs reveling in the attention and love that can only be found in a home. And after the holiday break, she got the biggest gift of all: 16 of the doggie hosts adopted their fourlegged visitors!

“Adoption is always the hope, but this was more about letting the animals just have some fun,” explains Heather. “It was an amazing outcome.” And the families that longed to adopt, but unfortunately couldn’t keep their pup, were able to provide valuable information about their animal’s temperament and personality that made finding a orever home easier.

In fact, the remaining four stray dogs were soon adopted too.

Thrilled, LifeLine sponsored another Home for the Pawlidays that Christmas, with the same heartwarming results. And Heather and everyone at LifeLine knew, “We have to make this an annual tradition.”

Happy ‘Tails’

Since its inception, Home for the Pawlidays has given more than 100 dogs a special holiday, and almost all never set paws back in a shelter again.

“After the time we shared, I just couldn’t bring myself to take Poppy back,” says one Pawlidays host turned doggy mom. Shares another, “Fostering Bard was a Christmas surprise for the kids, and they were ecstatic. It was magical.” Knowing she is creating so many happy “tails” fills Heather’s heart with joy.

“There’s not a time when I’ve walked through a shelter and not cried looking into the beautiful eyes and souls of these animals,” she shares. “Each one deserves a loving family. Home for the Pawlidays is the perfect way to make a connection. It’s the season of giving. There is no greater gift we can give than our love!”

Home for the Pawlidays - CREDIT John Paul Van Wert
John Paul Van Wert

This article originally appeared in our print magazine, First For Women.

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