I was first inspired by Kristin Auerbach at the Austin Animal Center (AAC) to create an Easter egg hunt video after reading an Animal Farm Foundation article about the AAC Easter egg hunts. She organized a large Easter egg hunt for their shelter dogs in a field on shelter property and invited the public to watch the fun. The AAC Easter egg hunt provided multiple benefits to the shelter – shelter dogs got a chance to spend time out of their kennels, engaging in a fun and different activity, and were able to expend mental energy as well as physical whilst hunting down their eggs. Members of the public were able to engage in the shelter and its dogs in a positive way, seeing happy dogs having fun instead of ‘sad’ faces behind cage doors.

I absolutely adored the idea. I meet people every day who want to be involved with their local shelter, but are often scared away by images of sadness, whether those images are real or perceived. Let’s be honest – how many of us shelter workers change the channel when the Sarah McLachlan commercial comes on? I know I do, and I’ve been working in animal shelters for more than five years! Here at the Animal Welfare League of Arlington, we’re lucky to be in a county whose residents are pretty dialed-in to adoption culture, but I still hear this phrase regularly – “I can’t go into the kennels, it will make me cry”. Changing this outlook is one of my main goals. I am always looking for fun, unique ways to show the community that our dogs are just…dogs! Not different, somehow, because of their current surroundings, but just plain, adorable, loveable dogs. An Easter egg hunt was perfect!

I had to make some changes to the original concept to make it work at AWLA. Our only fenced, open space is a small-ish gravel yard, with no room to invite members of the public to watch. So instead, I decided to involve the community by recording the Easter Egg Hunt to post on our social media accounts. At first, the idea was to do a Facebook live video, but I quickly nixed that, since this was my first time organizing an activity like this. My worst nightmare would be trying to keep people engaged in a live video of dogs completely uninterested in their Easter eggs! So instead, I decided to just record clips of all the dogs during the hunt, and edit them together into a final video.

The first step: engaging volunteers

This was a very last-minute idea, so I sent out a quick email to our dog playgroup volunteers to see if any of them were interested in helping me out. About five volunteers showed up (along with one or two staff members) so that we had plenty of help handling the dogs. Since I was making a video, I opted to hide the treat-filled eggs around the grassy area in front of the shelter instead of in our gravel yard (which is surrounded by a big black fence and, honestly, just plain ugly), which meant we did have to keep the dogs on leash during the hunt, but it didn’t bother the dogs one bit!

The night before, I filled about 80 plastic eggs with Natural Balance raw food, and put them in the fridge overnight. The next morning, I ‘hid’ the eggs all around the grassy area. We didn’t want to make it too difficult, so we just placed the eggs in the grass, or slightly under bushes, etc.

Before we started the hunt, I gathered all the volunteers and staff to give them a quick rundown of how I planned the hunt might go. There were three main ground rules:

  • Dogs needed to stay on short leashes
  • There needed to be a safe distance between dogs, in case we had any food-guarding, etc.
  • Once they found the plastic egg, volunteers were instructed to open the plastic eggs for the dogs, in case any of them tried to eat the plastic.

That was pretty much it! The volunteers went inside to get the dogs, and then we started the hunt!

It was, in the end, hilariously chaotic. A few of our dogs were very into the game, and one dog, Sam, seemed to instinctively know how to open the plastic eggs safely and pop the treats out all on his own! Some of the dogs needed help finding the eggs, but once they figured out the game, had fun walking with the volunteers and finding their treats. One dog had no interest whatsoever and just kept trying to sit in people’s laps, which made the whole thing all the more fun.

The benefit of an edited video

The great thing about making an edited video is that you get to pick and choose the best moments, and throw away all those boring clips when the dogs aren’t doing much. I didn’t use any fancy camera equipment, just my cellphone, and I just recorded one long clip from the beginning to the end of the game. I was then able to go through the footage, pick out my favorite moments, add some happy music, and it’s done (If you’re looking for some easy to use, cheap video editing software, I use Filmora)!  All in all, the Easter egg hunt and editing the video together probably took about 3 hours. It was a fun, quick project that gave the dogs (and volunteers) a new and exciting enrichment activity and created content that our community loved – on Facebook, it reached more than 9,000 people, was viewed 2.6 thousand times, and got lots of engagement in shares, likes and comments! Best of all, I had several visitors over the next few days mention they had come to meet a dog they had seen in the video!

The great thing about this idea is that you can easily tweak it to fit any holiday or theme – turn it into a pirate treasure hunt, a Halloween trick or treat, an obstacle course with treats, picking out a present from under the Christmas tree – let your imagination run wild! Your community will love seeing your dogs out of the kennels, interacting with people and having fun.

I hope this gives you all some new ideas to bring back to your coworkers, and helps you engage your community in a fun and positive way. Planning your own shelter Easter egg hunt.

Happy hunting!