Maria, right, and Sophia France play with a litter of puppies that are up for adoption. After the sisters’ ill dog had to be euthanized, the two decided to take action to help other dogs who might face euthanasia because of homelessness. They now sell lotions to raise money for a network of animal shelters.(Kathryn Scott Osler, The Denver Post)
In fall 2010, the approaching holidays didn’t look bright to the France family of Westminster.
Michael and Melissa and their two daughters, Maria, 6, and Sophia, 4, loved Christmas. But this time, a member of the family would be missing: Rocky, a 12-year-old pug, had to be euthanized after a lingering illness. The girls were devastated.
At the emergency clinic where Rocky died, Melissa France knew it was time for a heart-to-heart with the girls. She told them of the many other pets that had to be euthanized — not because they’re old or sick, but solely for lack of a home.
It’s a tricky, even pivotal conversation. The loss of a pet can stay with a person into adulthood, making it difficult to adopt an animal again, according to a recent study by the ASPCA.
The France girls saw a way to channel their grief.
“Maria said we had to do something to help these animals,” Melissa said. “Sophia agreed.”
They didn’t have to look far to figure out how. Michael France is CEO ofColorado Quality Products,a company that makes personal-care products. Melissa writes for skin-care trade publications. The girls decided to sell specially made Christmas lotions and donate the proceeds to shelters and groups that support them.
They called their project“Make A Sale, Save a Tail.”
Melissa told Maria she needed a business plan, so Maria penned a hand-written, one-page document.
Michael and Melissa hit the phones, using their contacts to work out the details. There would be shea-butter body creams and soaps in four holiday scents: Christmas Apple, Sugar Cookie, Cinnamon Sticks and Christmas Tree. They would sell the lotions online (through etsy.com); at mariasophia through retail vendors (listed at mariasophiaproject.wordpress.com); and face to face — and donate all their profits to animal-welfare organizations.
Selling wasn’t hard, Maria said. “Sophia and I practiced on each other.”
The major recipient has beenShelter-Me Photography,a nonprofit that takes high-quality pictures of pets up for adoption. Shelter-Me’s work has increased traffic — and consequently adoption rates — at every organization it services.
Nanette Martin, Shelter-Me’s executive director, is grateful for the help. “These two little girls and their parents are very special,” she said.
The girls also donated proceeds toBig Dogs-Huge Paws, Safe Harbor andAngels with Pawsand are doing so again this year. The list of organizations and the product line, continue to grow.
The project raised $5,000 total over its first two years, and the France family hopes to top that this year. They also started the MariaSophia Foundation, which has applied for nonprofit status.
Meanwhile, the girls have become celebrities at their Arvada elementary school, Excel Academy Charter School, where Maria draws a comic strip for the school newspaper, “The Dolphin Squeak.”
If this all seems like a lot for the France family to handle, it is. But Melissa France, for one, doesn’t mind.
“This is a family affair,” Melissa answered. “It’s busy, but it has brought us together. It’s good to spend weekends together.” This year, the family lost its second pug, Rocky’s litter sister Rosie.
But on a recent Saturday afternoon, Maria and Sophia, now 8 and 6, romped in the backyard of a neighbor, Michelle Jansick, who was fostering seven Labrador/collie pups. A chilly breeze blew in off nearby Standley Lake, but that didn’t stop the girls from enjoying the afternoon.
Members of Jansick’s rescue group,A Puppy’s Voice,assemble in the parking lot of a local Subway every Saturday morning to pick up the unwanted dogs they will foster. The organization is saving to build a permanent location, and members hope to get on the list for donations from Make a Sale/Save a Tail.
Says Jansick of Maria and Sophia: “They’re my heroes.”
Contact “Make a Sale, Save a Tail” at email@example.com