A striking black German shepherd, Asha always draws attention. But when talk turns to her special medical needs, potential adopters shy away. She was born with a subaortic stenosis and will always need a canine cardiologist. “Not everyone wants to take a chance on a dog that could spontaneously die at any time,” says Grace Herbert, president and co-founder of the special needs rescue at Finding Shelter Animal Rescue in Norristown. “It’s a big ask. Hopefully we find that person for her. If not, she’s safe with us.”
It’s likely Asha wouldn’t be alive if it weren’t for the PHestivaL of Trees. The event features 200 holiday trees, all for sale, with proceeds going to local animal shelters and rescues. This year’s spectacle runs Nov. 12-14 at the Fairgrounds at the Greater Philadelphia Expo in Oaks. The eight-foot artificial evergreens are sponsored and decorated by local designers, artists, florists, sports teams, businesses, individual patrons, and school and community groups.
Dues to the pandemic, last year’s inaugural Phestival was an outdoor drive-by affair under tents. It benefitted six shelters and rescues—Finding Shelter among them. Each received $4,000, distributed by organizing founder Turn Key Events. This year’s plans are to reward the six original rescues and two new organizations. In 2020, 4,500 cars cruised the exhibit. Organizers are hoping for 10,000 attendees this year.
Funds from the Phestival covered Asha’s diagnosis, medication and cardiologist visits. It also allowed the rescue to maintain her foster care in-house. “She’s alive and doing wonderfully,” says Herbert, who’s rescued 1,000 dogs so far in memory of her special-needs Chihuahua. “We don’t have the number of animals others may have, but we have high medical bills not everyone else can handle.”
The event’s recipient rescues must field two tasks: They need to find six community supporters to buy and design trees, and they need to be on site for three days with adoptable pets. Last year’s Finding Shelter tree featured its colors—blue and yellow lights—and handpainted dog and cat cutout ornaments. “Our tree did sell,” says Herbert. “I’m not sure who bought it, but hopefully they’re still enjoying it.”
Last year’s drive-thru exhibit took about 15 minutes. This year will be more elaborate, with holiday choirs and bands, animal acts, training demonstrations, and craft vendors. “We have a great Santa and Mrs. Claus, but last year all they could do is wave,” says BJ Zellers, TKE’s president and founder. “Now, they can engage with people.”
TKE does much heavy lifting for the Phestival. “We have 200 trees no matter what,” Zellers says. “It’s the way we raise funds. We ask people to purchase and decorate a tree, and pay a $100 fee to do so. But it costs us $180 per tree, so we’re losing money to start.”
There was some hesitancy with COVID-19 last year, which likely explains why just 120 trees were purchased by the community. TKE covered the rest. “This year, we hope there’s a competitive spirit among the participants,” Zellers says. “Last year, everyone wanted the Philadelphia Eagles tree and the Acme trees, which featured 50 gift cards. We knew they would sell, and they sold quite quickly.”
Last year, Acme decorated two trees traditionally—one in red and gold, the other with a gingerbread theme. Both were covered with $10 Acme gift cards. “Events like this say that we still own Philadelphia,” says Dana Ward, communications and public affairs manager for Acme’s Mid-Atlantic Division store support center in Malvern. “We make sure our name is where it needs to be. People trust Acme because their parents went to Acme and their grandparents went to Acme.”
Now, funds raised with help from the supermarket giant can go to dogs like Asha.
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