Puppies Jessie and Andy explore a Max and Neo donation box. Puppies Jessie and Andy explore a Max and Neo donation box. (Photo: Cuba Mo Animal Control)

For animal rescue groups, Max and Neo is their secret Santa, no matter the time of year.

Every Friday, the company ships dozens of donation boxes to rescues throughout the U.S. They contain brightly colored, durable collars and leashes as well as a few surprises, such as toys, supplements and blankets. Typically, each rescue might get a box, or maybe two, in one year. But in December, every one of the more than 3,500 rescues on the company's list will receive a donation box for the holidays.

"I thought it would be a really cool Christmas present and a way for more rescues to find out who we are," Max and Neo founder Kenric Hwang tells MNN.

Several years ago, Hwang started fostering for a local Scottsdale, Arizona, rescue after his dog, Neo, died. He was surprised how many dogs came into the rescue and how often the group had to ask for donated leashes and collars. When people would adopt dogs, fosters often had to send them home to their new families with collars the rescue had purchased for them. It seems like volunteers were constantly restocking collars and leashes.

puppies wearing new collars Puppies sport donated collars from Max and Neo. Rescues are often sending collars and leashes home with adopted pets. (Photo: Fred Strobel Photography)

Hwang originally just went to the pet store to buy supplies to help. But then he realized with a background in selling clothing, he could use his experience to help source, buy and import items at a discount. First, he was going to help buy them for the rescues in bulk. Then he had an even bigger idea.

"It actually started as a way to donate collars and leashes to rescues," Hwang explains. "A lot of companies start their company and then they figure they give back or donate a portion of proceeds to help them get sales. This was started with donations first, then I tried to figure out how to fund those donations."

He named his business after Neo, and his brother's dog, Max.

Each time somebody purchases a Max and Neo item on the company's website or through a retailer like Amazon or Chewy, the company sets aside another product to donate to a rescue. It's similar to the business model used by Warby Parker, which donates glasses to people in need, and Tom's, which donates shoes.

You can't specify which rescue receives your donation; all the items are pooled together then doled out to the rescues that are next on the list. If you want to choose a rescue, you can send them one of three sizes of gift boxes, starting at $50.

Opening the rescue floodgates

Max and Neo founder Kenric Hwang with donation boxes Max and Neo founder Kenric Hwang shows off donation boxes with help from his foster dog Charlie (left) and Indy, an employee's dog. (Photo: Max and Neo)

When he first started, Hwang planned on just donating to Arizona rescues.

"I was just thinking if I could just give my rescue 50 collars or 50 leashes a month ... but then it just started spreading," he says. "As soon as one rescue hears about it, they tell another rescue and they tell another and we just opened the floodgates."

If a rescue applies or someone submits the name of a rescue for consideration, Max and Neo employees look at the website and social media and do a search to make sure the group is legitimate.

"We pretty much take everybody," Hwang says. "We basically give people running the rescue the benefit of the doubt."

The more word spreads, the more people buy and the more rescues get donations. The company keeps a master spreadsheet and employees work their way through the rescues. They announce each Friday on Facebook which groups will be getting boxes. The number varies depending on how many items they've sold.

Max and Neo donation box A typical donation box includes collars, leashes and sometimes even toys. (Photo: Home for Good Dog Rescue)

Each donation box contains eight leashes, 12 collars and five surprise items, for a total value of around $375. Since the company was started in 2015, Hwang says they've donated about $4.5 million in merchandise to rescues.

"I just want to donate as much and as often as possible," he says.

"Most rescues say it’s like Christmas when they see a Max and Neo box on their doorstep. It feels good when they tell me it saves them a lot of money and they can use the money elsewhere. They also tell me when a dog has a new collar at an adoption event, it makes it easier for them to get adopted. They look more dressed up and they look cuter."

Here's a look behind the scenes in the Max and Neo warehouse this December:

Mary Jo DiLonardo covers a wide range of topics focused on nature, health, science and anything that helps make the world a better place.

Dog gear company plays fairy godmother to thousands of animal rescues
Max and Neo sends donation boxes to thousands of rescue groups every year.