How NFTs funded Berkeley’s new dog park

The $30,000 donation will go a long way to pay for not just the park borders and benches the volunteers had hoped for but the entire park.

Ziggy at the city of Berkeley’s animal shelter shows his appreciation for the $30,000 donation made by Dogs Unchained, Sept. 3, 2021. Credit: Jenny Maxwell

A mission-driven, cryptocurrency-based collectible company has donated $30,000 to the Friends of Berkeley Animal Care Services so the city shelter can build a new dog park for the dozens of canines in their care. 

Dogs Unchained, an online company that sells original pieces of digital art called NFTs (Non-Fungible Tokens), donated the money as what they say is part of their mission to give back to the lives of dogs through the company’s charitable arm. Although the company sells original digital images of cartoon dogs that are only owned online through the cryptocurrency blockchain Ether, the Friends of BACS received the real U.S. dollars in their coffers Wednesday to build the non-public play yard.

“This is going to be so meaningful for the dogs to have the ability to run free, and really be dogs, and shake off all that energy they’ve built up in the shelter,” said Friends of BACS board member Jenny Maxwell. “It’s really a life-saving thing for (Dogs Unchained) to do. I just cannot wait to open the space; it’s going to be great.”

The odd partnership between what is essentially a trendy online art dealer and the shelter’s fundraising arm came from a relationship that one of the Friends of BACS’s volunteers had with the two Dogs Unchained founders with the pseudonyms Pumpkin and Rex. Because Dogs Unchained is based in cryptocurrency and deals online with a lot of money, Pumpkin and Rex do not use their birth names, as is common in that world. That said, the volunteer told the pair about Friends of BACS’s plans to build the park and that they needed money to do so.

“I, personally, am a dog owner and Rex is a dog owner as well,” Pumpkin said. “We’re longtime friends. We wanted to do something where we really could give back. When we started this company, we wanted collections of really fun art, and we wanted to see if we can go beyond the virtual world. We wanted to tie this whole thing together, and part of our mission is giving back with the proceeds of the art sales.”

The five breeds of virtual NFT pups on Dogs Unchained are drawn by former DC Comics artist Iggy Noronha (also a pseudonym). They are each original pieces of art with special accessories like gold chains, unicorn horns, or laser eyes, which can make them more collectible. There will be a limit of 9,999 dogs sold. 

Dogs Unchained sells their “dogs” at auction and they go for about $300 each, on average, they said but could not be confirmed. They can then be sold to another owner and have been selling for $600-$700 each on the secondary market. The company gets a cut of all sales. 

They are also called “deflationary dogs” because the images can be altered and combined. Once one of those original 9,999 NFT dogs are altered, the two original dogs disappear and there’s the altered dog left from the 9,999. So in that case, now only 9,998 are available, which Pumpkin says makes them even more valuable. So far, more than 1,100 original dogs have been deleted from their collection.

“They are limited edition,” Pumpkin said. “We’ll never be able to make more than that.”

Courtesy: Dogs Unchained

There are stats on the Dogs Unchained website that makes the purchasing and trading of the dogs seem like a game, although real money is involved. You can’t just go onto Dogs Unchained and plop down $300 for an NFT through your credit card or PayPal account either. To buy one, collectors have to have money in a cryptocurrency form (through a cryptocurrency exchange operation like Coinbase) and buy the dogs on OpenSea, which deals NFTs and accepts only crypto.

Although Pumpkin, Rex and the Dogs Unchained business are based in the Central Time zone (they also don’t want their physical location known), they picked the Friends of BACS project as their first philanthropic project because it aligns with their values as a dog-loving, cutting-edge art dealers.

And the funding came faster than traditional ways of fundraising as well.

Maxwell of Friends of BACS said the organization’s volunteers put their heads together to find a space near the shelter for the new park, then started brainstorming ideas to get the money to develop it in 2019. When they made plans for various fundraising activities for 2020, the pandemic shut those plans down, she said.

Then, just two weeks ago, Dogs Unchained stepped up and offered them $30,000.

“We talked with them and they said, ‘Oh man this play yard is just something we’ve been looking to do for so long,’” Maxwell said. “They are really looking to do things that are extremely impactful and extremely long-lasting. It doesn’t help one dog for a small amount of time. This play yard will be in existence for years and years where dogs can blow off steam. It feels like this has been a gift from heaven for them to agree to help us fund this project.”

Now, Maxwell said, comes the time where volunteers can “dream big” on what the park will include. A kiddie pool? Agility play structures? Maxwell said they had initially just hoped to get fencing for the park borders and benches for the volunteers. Not only will $30,000 pay for more than that, but it also pays for the entire park. And the Dogs Unchained founders said they will kick in more bucks if they are needed for “stretch goals.”

Laura Casey is a freelance writer covering Berkeley and the East Bay.