Laura Ewing was an old hand at hosting birthday parties—she’d thrown countless shindigs for her two children at their home in Austin. But as her daughter Skylar’s 6th birthday approached, Laura knew she wanted to create a fresh and memorable celebration. An idea crystallized: since Skylar adored dogs, why not use a canine theme? She did some online research and came across the website for Austin Pets Alive, an animal shelter that impressed her for its no-kill policy.

Austin Pets Alive does not euthanize the animals that enter its doors. The shelter often accepts unwanted animals from other shelters, providing food, care and foster and adoption programs. Laura noticed on its website a page encouraging birthday parties as opportunities for philanthropy. This capped Laura’s idea for the party—she would host an event that would celebrate Skylar and simultaneously benefit her favorite animal by requesting donations to the shelter.

To make sure Skylar understood the concept of a philanthropic birthday party, Laura discussed the implications with her daughter. Laura explained that since they would be asking for donations to the shelter, Skylar would probably not receive birthday gifts at her party. Skylar was enthusiastic—she definitely wanted her party to benefit the shelter. The two began planning.

The party’s theme and unique setting easily lent itself to creative party food and activities. Laura gleaned a multitude of ideas from Pinterest, party websites and recipe books. Synthesizing these ideas, she created a party that was fun and absorbing for all involved.


Laura let her imagination go wild when planning what to eat. With dogs in mind, she created funny titles for each food served, which the children found hilarious.

Arranged within easy reach of the guests, the party snacks included:

  • Pup-corn (popcorn)
  • Paw-sta (pasta) salad
  • Bonewiches (ham & cheese sandwiches shaped like a bone)
  • Chewsticks (beef jerky)
  • Fruit kibble (grapes)
  • Fire hydrant water
  • Pup-eroni sandwiches (pepperoni and bread rolls)
  • Dog treats (a large pan cookie cut into small sections)


The centerpiece of the party was a set of three cakes shaped like terriers, each with its own food and water bowls. Inspired by a recipe in a cupcake cookbook, Laura baked, shaped, assembled and decorated the cakes herself. The colorful cakes, iced white with chocolate streaks, had red gumdrops for tongues, purple ones for noses and chocolate candies for eyes.


Finding decorations for a dog-themed party was easy, Laura says. She found tablecloths and balloons decorated with paw prints, and paw prints for the walls at a party store.

Laura planned for several activities, but as it turned out, she did not have time to use all of them.

  • Stuffed Pet Adoption: Laura laid out a dog bed, on which she arranged a bunch of stuffed animals. As guests arrived, they were allowed to choose or “adopt” a pet and fill out an adoption certificate.
  • Collar Craft: Guests could create a collar for their adopted pet using colorful pipe cleaners and beads. They could also create a bracelet for themselves.
  • Water Bowl Craft: Each guest decorated a water bowl for his or her new pet. Laura had purchased paper bowls about the size of cupcake holders, but firmer. Party guests used stickers and markers to decorate their bowls.
  • Dog Parade: Laura planned for the children to form a parade displaying their adopted pets, collars and water bowls but they ran out of time.

The party invitation included a donation wish list that Laura pulled from the Austin Pets Alive website. This gave the guests an idea of what items to bring. Some guests brought both a donation and a birthday gift for Skylar.

By the party’s end, Laura and Skylar had achieved the goal of their party: to have a wonderful time with their guests and to help their new furry, four-legged friends at the shelter.


Laura Wolstenholme is a freelance writer.


“Pupular” Wishlist Items

(Check your targeted shelter for specific brands and types)

  • Collars and leashes
  • Rawhide chews
  • Peanut butter
  • Dog food, both canned and dry
  • Stainless steel bowls
  • Durable, washable toys
  • Poop bags
  • Blankets and towels
  • Carriers and crates
  • Gift certificates to pet supply stores

Local Shelters

Austin Pets

Austin Humane

Austin Animal

Williamson County Regional Animal

Texas Humane

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