Connecting Dog Lovers and Vendors to Raise Funds for Shelters and Rescues | Real Dog Moms of Chicago


Connecting Dog Lovers and Vendors to Raise Funds for Shelters and Rescues | Real Dog Moms of Chicago

It all started with a simple joke back in 2017. However, it has since turned into a fundraising organization that is well-known for its success in hosting events for dogs and humans at great places.

In fact, in 2020 alone, Real Dog Moms of Chicago has helped raise $50,132 and donated the entire proceeds to 19 local rescue groups in order to create a fun community of dog-crazed pet owners.

Yep, you read its name right. The “Real Dog Moms of Chicago” is a tongue-in-cheek wordplay that is in reference to the American television series The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills.

Doing Good While Having Fun With The Real Dog Moms of Chicago

Connecting Dog Lovers and Vendors to Raise Funds for Shelters and Rescues | Real Dog Moms of Chicago

Co-founded by Jessica Hiltner, the Real Dog Moms of Chicago aims to help dog lovers have fun with their pups and meet dog-loving people—all the while giving back to those who need it most in the rescue community.

According to Jessica,

“It started as a way to share a common love of pets and grew into a powerhouse fundraiser third-party for Chicago and local rescues… We’re doing the opposite [of The Real Housewives]. We are not rich. We just saw a great need and just decided to capitalize on the opportunity to host events and create a community.”

A community of dog moms trying to make Chicago a better place, the Real Dog Moms of Chicago basically connects dog enthusiasts with one another and offers fun local events that help promote local vendors. The objective is to help raise awareness and funds not only for these businesses but also for local animal shelters and rescues.

As stated on their official website, the members of the group “seriously love dogs”, regardless of the breed and where they came from. This passion and love for Fidos are what pushes them to strive to “do good while having fun”.

“I kind of developed this mentality: ‘If I have this platform and have these many followers on social media, and I do nothing with it, what am I doing with my life?’ Pre-COVID, we needed places to host events, and what we would present to the businesses was, ‘Look, we can’t give you anything, but we can market you. We have a market like your niche, you know, just dogs. And you’re a dog-related business. All we can offer is marketing, but we’re your target niche.’ So, it works out,”

Jessica shared.

Marketing With The Real Dog Moms of Chicago

With over 16,000 followers on Instagram and 6,000 ‘likes’ on Facebook, it’s easy to see where the Real Dog Moms of Chicago comes from.

As a matter of fact, it’s because of the power of their social media channels that they were able to collaborate with big names like Tiffany & Co., Amazon, and Olympic skier Lindsey Vonn in launching dog lines and shows that were related to dogs.

She added,

“We’ve had a lot of really awesome opportunities that have helped us grow. But, in return, like I said, all we get to offer are the target market for these businesses. But from that, we wouldn’t have been able to host things. So, we’ve created some really wonderful relationships with specific restaurants, dog shops, dog daycare facilities… So, you know, it’s kind of a win-win situation where you get stuff like that.”

Having worked in animal rescue since 2009, Jessica has volunteered in so many different capacities. Her experience made her decide to get a job in animal welfare since she wanted to do something that truly matters and filled her with purpose.

Aside from dogs, the group is also planning to help cats by showcasing the cats that need to be adopted and trying to educate the public about not taking kittens away from their mothers.

Jessica stated,

“I really think that is important because a lot of times, people just don’t know. And when you don’t know that you don’t know, you can’t do better.”

Connecting Dog Lovers and Vendors to Raise Funds for Shelters and Rescues | Real Dog Moms of Chicago

Aside from education and raising funds, however, the Real Dog Moms of Chicago also makes it possible for you to save on your canine baby’s expenses by partnering with dog-friendly brands in creating community perks and discounts just for you.

So, if you want to get involved in the group’s cause but don’t actually yet have the time, you don’t have to worry since there’s so much you can do.

You don’t even need to go volunteer in a facility or foster. Simply become a volunteer, help them raise funds, and spread awareness about their cause.



Want to know more about Real Dog Moms of Chicago?

Visit their website at

Have suggestions for who we should interview next?

Send us a message at [email protected]!

Jessica: Good morning.

I’m Jessica Hiltner, and you’re tuned in to The Animal Innovations Show.

Chris: Awesome introduction.

So, thanks for coming on today, Jessica. So, why don’t you tell us who you are and how you’re innovating to help animals?

Jessica: My name is Jessica Hiltner, and I am the co-founder of “The Real Dog Moms of Chicago”. We created what I refer to as a joke in early 2017, and it has since turned into nearly 16,000 followers on social media—just Instagram. 6000-ish on Facebook, and we’ve raised over $200,000 for local rescues from our events.

Chris: That’s amazing. So, what started out as a joke is now, 4 years later—

Jessica: Not a joke at all, although I do still feel like it’s the silliest thing on the planet. Because it’s an Instagram page, but it’s not just an Instagram page. It started as a way to share common love of our pets and grew into a powerhouse fundraiser third-party for Chicago and local rescues.

Chris: So, you’re kind of a playoff of “The Real Housewives” type of thing? Is that—

Jessica: Yeah, it started kind of tongue-in-cheek, although I don’t think it was received that way in the beginning because of the connotation that comes along with “The Housewives”. They’re rich and particular, I guess, it’s probably the politest way to put it.

And, I guess, I would say we’re doing the opposite. We are not rich. We just saw a great need and just decided to capitalize on the opportunity to host events and create community and work with local vendors to not just spread awareness for animals that are in need of a home, but also them helping the local businesses and spread their business and support them, market them, whatever.

And in return, they helped us have events, and we turn over 100% of the proceeds to local rescues.

Chris: Yeah, that’s what I really love about this program—it’s doing good, it’s helping the rescues. But then, you went one step above, and you really involved the local vendors so that it’s not just, you know, “Hey, give us money, give us money”. You’re really trying to help local brands to be seen as well.

Jessica: I kind of developed this mentality: “If I have this platform and have this many followers on social media, and I do nothing with it, what am I doing with my life?”

Pre-COVID, we needed places to host events, and what we would present to the businesses was, “We can’t give you anything, but we can market you. And we have a market like your niche— just dogs—and you’re a dog-related business, whether you’re a daycare facility, and we’re hosting what we referred to as “Ramps”, or you’re a pet store, and you want to donate something for a goodie bag.

All we can offer is a marketing book; we’re your target niche.” So, it works out. And we even got to the point where we hosted events at the Drake (Hotel).

So, it turned out to be a really cool—I mean, it’s just been such a unique experience. Like, we actually had Tiffany’s reach out to us once to collaborate and do something because they were launching a dog line.

We launched something with Amazon and their new show that was coming out with Olympic skier Lindsey Vonn. So, we’ve had just amazing opportunities.

We were in Chicago magazine as a, like, “the authority” on how to create a dog-safe balcony for your pet in the city of Chicago. And so, we’ve had a lot of really awesome opportunities that have helped us grow.

But in return, like I said, all we get to offer are the target market for these businesses.

Chris: Now, how has things changed with COVID? I mean, have you gone virtual and started do virtual events, or have you kind of just had to step back until we get back together again?

Jessica: As far as events go, we stepped back. What we did was a lot of call-to-action type of things where we were trying to help support people in pet food pantries.

Or we just did virtual fundraisers, but not actually like a function. Just like, “Hey, donate to this.” “Look at what’s happening.”

But interim, I had actually lost my job. I was the program manager for Illinois Pet Partners. And when COVID hit—just due to the predicted lack of funding—they shut down all of our chapters. What I chose to do with my time in that capacity was drive local transports.

I drove over 14000 miles and transported over 380 dogs and cats. Yeah, so I took that opportunity to say, like, “Look, saving animals hasn’t stopped.” And it’s actually gotten harder because the funding is missing, and they’re lacking the volunteers because people can’t go in person.

So, I took that opportunity to pivot in the capacity of—we’re not hosting events, but we’re showing even more just how important it is.

In the fall, we hosted one in-person event, and we did Halloween photos at Lost on Lake. So, that was the one event that we did post. Like, since the world changed with COVID, we’re very careful. We had someone—only one person—opening and closing the door and wiping everything down in-between and whatnot.

So, we had a pivot and all of our staff. We’re all volunteers. None of us take any money, but we all are vaccinated.

So, we just hosted our Mother’s Day pictures, which were just coming into the Internet right now. And it’s really exciting because they’re, like, the cutest pictures ever, I just died. And it’s lovely because people get to bring their children and their pet into a picture where they may not normally have had a photo. We even got a cat and a turtle in our sets. Yeah, so it’s really cute. I can’t wait to see all the pictures.

Chris: Yeah, I was going to say—I was going to ask if you’ve expanded out of just dogs, and it sounds like you have. You got cat and turtles, now.

Jessica: Yeah, we actually launched since—because of Real Dog Moms, I mean, and again, I’ve been in rescue since 2009, and I volunteered in so many different capacities.

I kind of decided to try to utilize my experiences to get me a job in animal welfare after leaving a law firm in 2019. Even though I lost my job in 2020, thanks to COVID, I knew I couldn’t go back to the profit sector.

So, I thankfully have a husband that humors me and knew that it was really important to me to not just get a job to get income, but I need to do something that matters.

And I need that purpose. I can’t just—”Time to make the donuts!” every day. It just doesn’t work for me. And so, that’s been a really great experience in being able to be every day with the shelter that I work at.

It’s dogs and cats. I’ve actually seen just how much more help cats need. Even though I’m not really a cat person—I’m allergic, and to be honest, their erratic behaviors kind of scare me—

But I’ve learned in the last—I mean, I’ve been there 90-ish days now, and I’ve gotten much more comfortable. I visit the cats every day. There’s one in there in particular who hasn’t been adopted yet, but I visit her every day, and we talk, and I pet her through the gates. 

You know, she’s really sweet, but we’ve actually launched “Real Cat Meowms.” There was already somebody who had a Real Cat Moms in Chicago. So, we did the play on “meow” for moms.

So, we’re trying to grow that now because we want to be able to help, especially with last year how TNR didn’t happen as much as it used to. A lot of places shut down so they weren’t able to bring in feral animals and get them spayed or neutered to help prevent all of this feral community that is now booming.

And so, I’ve seen just how important the need is there. So, we’re trying to grow that right now as well, where we just want to showcase cats that need to be adopted and help educate the public, especially with how many kittens are being born right now.

Chris: That’s really cool. So, now what is your vision? What are you going to do now? I mean, are you going to get back to doing events? Are you going to pivot things?

Jessica: Yeah, my team is chomping at the bit to host events, especially since we all got together for the Mother’s Day pictures at the end of April.

Everyone felt really good, and we were really happy to see each other. There was a lot of hugging and spilling.

So, we are working on events. We have been talking to the Northman Cider Bar on the Riverwalk. We’re gonna host twice-a-month Yappy Hours so that people can be outside, bring their pet.

We’re involving Figo, the pet insurance company. They’re going to come and offer giveaways and whatnot, just also spreading that news that we’re hosting outdoor events.

So, our goal is, where we would normally host a lot of indoor-ish events— whether we used to host dog swim parties at a local pool facility in Chicago— like we used to host those. We hosted indoor ramps. 

We’re trying to figure out if we can do things outside. We’ve already been in contact with Mercury Cruises to see what the situation is.

Because every summer, we used to host three cruises, where we rented the whole boat out. It was all of our community. We had a blast.

Maybe we got a local vendor to come in and bring some sort of giveaway to everybody so they can promote themselves. But we have something special to give away, so we talk to them. And things are still a little too wonky to sign up for a thousand-dollar boat.

Because given—like I said, we don’t keep any of the proceeds, so we don’t want to sign up for something that ultimately we can’t fill because people just don’t want to be outside yet. So, we’re kind of waiting to navigate how people really feel.

And we do poll our public. So, we’ll send an email out to our newsletter subscribers and see, like, “Do you want this event? Do you want to come to this? How do you feel comfortable and what would make you feel more comfortable?”

So, we do try to see how our community feels before we do anything for real. But I do feel really good about the idea of hosting these Yappy Hours at the Northman.

Chris: So, I know the last time you and I talked— a couple of years ago, there were other cities that we’re looking at, that they were kinda replicating your success, and having like, “Real Dog Moms of Seattle” or things like that. Has that taken flight?

Jessica: When… we first started there were a few that launched. There’s one in St. Louis, they call themselves “The St. Louis Dog Moms.” They’ve done great things, the co-founder of that had a baby and so, I think they might have even step back further. Just because she had a baby, and then COVID. So, I don’t where they’re at. We had one in Fresno called, “The Hella Dog Moms.”

We do have a lot of, kinda like, mimic accounts, that will just post pictures. But I don’t think we have actually anybody, who’s doing what we do.

My husband is determined to make this a regional thing— where we, you know, bring it to other cities—and help create the awareness.

Chris: How many volunteers, you have working with you? How big is the organization?

Jessica: So, it’s myself and co-founder Lindy, she is an ER Pharmacist and has a small child with two legs, not four. She moved, but she’s really active. I talk to her about all the stuff that we’re doing. We’ve got Carrie, is our special events manager. Anisha, is our graphic designer. I’ve got Claire, Mandy, and Mel.

Mel – does the website. Claire – does a lot of the social media stuff on the backend for me as well. Mandy – helps with events.

Like everybody always comes together, and in events, all of us show up. It’s the six of us always working together. We’re trying to bring in people to help with The Cat Meowms. I think it’s the 6 of us, we’re a pretty solid team. We talk every day, whether it’s business-related or just—you know, because today is the day, and holy crap I have to share it with you. So, we really supported one another through COVID, and had grown very close, because of that—you know, you can’t see anybody, and we are the ones who talk to every day. So, we’re more than family than co-workers.

Chris: That’s really cool. Well, Jessica, where can people go to learn more, follow you guys, get involved, come to an event?


Our Instagram is @REALDOGMOMSOFCHICAGO—all aptly named. They can find out all of the new events on our website.

Again, we’re a little slow just because of COVID, but we are always doing something, always trying to collaborate and fundraise.

We love having people guest-blog for us because I don’t have time to write, and I’m not a writer. So, it’s really fun.

Chris: Absolutely.

Well, if you’ve got an idea or a joke like Jessica did that’s turned into something, and you want me to interview them, just tell them to go to INNOVATIONS.SHOW, and we’ll have them on the show like we did Jessica.

So, thank you so much again, Jessica, for coming on today. It’s really great to talk to you.

Jessica: Awesome. Thanks, Chris.

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