Search

STL Dog Blog

At Gateway Pet Guardians, community outreach is customer service with a smile

All rescues have their niche and it’s imperative that we rescue folks are in the know so we can maximize our efforts toward the greater goal – saving animals’ lives.

Allow me to introduce Gateway Pet Guardians’s fantastic community outreach program, which, as far as I’m aware, sets the bar in the St. Louis region.

Community outreach is critical. It helps people keep their pets in their homes, or at least helps prevent animals from entering shelters unnecessarily, where chances of survival are significantly diminished, even with no-kill measures in place.

GPG serves impoverished areas of East St. Louis, including Washington Park, Lincoln Park and East St. Louis proper. My friend, Community Impact Program Lead, Natalie Creamer, heads GPG’s community outreach and the program has come a long way from its humble, grassroots inception. Natalie is an all around awesome human being; she’s smart, funny and compassionate and I adore her.

Because of the community’s compounded socioeconomic problems, many pet owners who want to do right by their pets simply can’t afford to do so. Natalie and her team work hard to provide free and reduced cost services, without judgment. I often hear people say that if you can’t afford your vet bills, you shouldn’t own a pet. I couldn’t disagree more because while we are making some pretty great progress, shelter and foster programs across the country are beyond capacity and animals are euthanized all too quickly just because of limited space. That, and it’s a pretty superior thing to say. I love how GPG does all they can to help ensure that people who love their pets can continue to provide the loving homes their companion animals deserve.

GPG just hosted their 5th vaccination clinic in Lincoln Park, where 100 dogs were inoculated with free rabies and parvo/distemper vaccinations. The program is so successful, it has become a twice-yearly event. Check out this heartwarming video produced by our beloved Julie Tristan.

GPG also facilitates free spay/neuter services through Carol House Quick Fix Pet Clinic. If you’re not familiar, Carol House Quick Fix Pet Clinic is a non-profit clinic that focuses on spay/neuter services to reduce pet overpopulation. GPG staff will even arrange transport of the animal to and from clinic.

In addition to organizing and subsidizing health care for animals, GPG partners with Bi-State Pet Food Pantry, which helps low income earners feed their pets. By the way, Bi-State Pet Food Pantry accepts food, cat litter and other supplies. If you have extras or samples lying around the house, please consider donating to them. I recently said goodbye to my sweet Annie Banannie and will be donating her unused pet gear so that a family in need can put it to good use.

Part of Natalie’s responsibilities include fielding questions and organizing services for the residents who need them. She maintains the Google voice line and fields all questions, helps people exhaust all avenues before surrendering responsibly of their animals, organizes services and directs people toward their best options. In 2016, she responded to 582 calls and the service is so valuable, they’re seeing in increase in calls. As of April 30, Natalie had responded to 150 calls.

Kindness, compassion, empathy, respect, The Golden Rule. These concepts exemplify animal welfare, and GPG’s community outreach program does just those things with their excellent customer service. Income shouldn’t be a limiting factor in pet ownership and GPG  truly makes a difference for animals and the people who love them.

If you would like to get involved in animal welfare but you’re not quite sure how, consider the important work of community outreach.

Local attorney, Ledy VanKavage, advocates for the voiceless

The St. Louis region has some pretty great leaders in animal welfare. Some are on the front lines, bringing awareness to the animal welfare movement, while others, like Ledy VanKavage, Senior Legislative Attorney at Best Friends Animal Society, do their work behind the scenes.

I tend to see Animal Welfare as having two major branches; although they aren’t necessarily mutually exclusive. There’s Animal Rescue, where many of us work to save at-risk animals in the garden variety ways (pulling strays from the streets and high-kill shelters, spay/neuter, etc.). Then there is Animal Advocacy. It’s my observation (and just mine) that most of us stick to a comfort zone, the hands-on work of Animal Rescue. The various tasks needed for a successful rescue operation are in most of our wheelhouses. There is; however, need for people like us to join the ranks of Ledy and her colleagues.

Ledy is fighting the good fight daily, nationwide, but also happens to be one of our local treasures. She and her husband, Cliff, were doing TNR well before it was a commonly accepted practice.

I like to think of Ledy as the OG of TNR.

Always a lover and protector of animals, Ledy and a cohort of about 5 others were horrified to learn in 1985 that animals at their local animal control agency were sold for research. SOLD. FOR. RESEARCH. Let that sink in for a hot minute. Ledy is in an initiator; she takes ownership of social problems, so a year later she helped found the Madison County Humane Society, now known as Metro East Humane Society, so animals could have a fighting chance of survival at a shelter.

Thanks to Ledy and her colleagues, Breed Specific Legislation (BSL) (more appropriately labeled Breed Discriminatory Legislation (BDL)), is losing ground across the country. Short-haired, muscular mutts are often on the losing end of these ill-conceived laws.  Sometimes the laws are enacted out of ignorance and racism; BSL/BDL not only unfairly discriminates against animals, but they are racist and classist and discriminate against the people who own those types of animals. (Click here for more information.) Simply put, if you don’t allow pit bulls to live in your municipality, the types of people who own pit bulls won’t live there, either. This is real life and it happens in America, folks.

Besides BSL/BDL, Ledy and her colleagues focus on a variety of other initiatives, including demanding transparency in America’s shelters, saving cats’ lives through Community Cat/TNR programs and ending the atrocity that is the puppy mill. It’s unfathomable to me that the public is still generally unaware of the horrific conditions of puppy mills, nevertheless, they are. Here’s a great article recently published in Rolling Stone, but be aware of its graphic nature.

The more I learn about the spectrum of animal advocacy issues out there, the more I want to get involved but without a legal background, it’s a little intimidating. I asked Ledy how animal lovers, like us, who are really good at the rescue part, can make a difference in Advocacy.

Ledy offered the following suggestions:

  • Sign up for alerts. Best Friends has made it quite easy for us to learn about what’s happening in our own communities. If you sign up for alerts, you will receive email updates targeted to your community with tips on what you can do to help.
  • Attend city and county board meetings. There has been a flurry of activity in the St. Louis region: Florissant repealed its pit bull ban; the St. Clair County, IL Board approved a community cat ordinance and the Madison County Board just passed a No Kill resolution. Ordinances and laws are primarily changed at the local level, so progress happens in baby steps – there is no one-fell-swoop that will protect our companion animals, and they need our voices. Politics is not a spectator sport, y’all.
  • If all else fails and you feel the call, run for office. It’s not easy, but it’s actually really simple.

I would be remiss if I didn’t encourage you to watch (or re-watch!) The Champions. This is an awesome documentary featuring Ledy and she provides insight into the history and evolution of discrimination against pit bulls. Take my word for it, it’s worth the watch.

Truly, thank you for all you do, Ledy and Co.!

Rescuer Profile: Julie Tristan

IMG_2096

Julie Tristan is allergic to dogs. Well, at least she used to be. When she was a child, her pediatrician told her mom to re-home the family dog because of Julie’s allergies and Mama Tristan wasn’t having it. After some exposure, Julie developed an immunity to pet dander and thank goodness, because now she is one of St. Louis’s most active animal welfare advocates.

Mama Tristan is literally my hero.

I’ve known of Julie Tristan for quite some time. She’s a former KSDK reporter and you can now enjoy her spunk and passion for animals on 103.3 KLOU’s morning show, Billy & Julie in the Morning on weekdays, 6 – 10 am. Billy and Julie keep it light and fresh and it’s a fun show to listen to.

I finally got the opportunity to meet her in the summer of 2016 in my role as Marketing Outreach Lead for Strut Your Mutt – St. Louis (y’all, mark your 2017 calendars for September 23.)  She agreed to emcee the event (again) and I wanted to take advantage of the opportunity to deliver some Best Friends swag to her.  Julie is as lovely in-person as she is on air and she even gave me a tour of the station. So much fun!

After starting STL Dog Blog, I knew I wanted to interview Julie because she’s in a really powerful position to apply her celebrity status to paws-itively affect the local rescue scene.

Julie’s all over the map with her volunteer adventures. She first became interested in animal rescue as a college student. She couldn’t have a dog of her own, so she volunteered to walk dogs at the local Humane Society and APA. Julie keeps it real to this day and still walks shelter dogs at Stray Rescue and Gateway Pet Guardians. She is even a shelter buddy for GPG shelter dog, Ron Ron, a sweet, playful guy who is holding out to find the right companion. Julie says she likes to buddy up with the more difficult cases. So, she takes Ron Ron for car rides, trips to the park, Starbucks puppaccinos and will even hang out with him at the Slumber Pawty next weekend to raise money and awareness for the important work GPG does. (Follow the link for more information on adopting Ron Ron.)

Julie knew animal rescue was her jam when, as a young reporter at KSDK, she shadowed PJ from Gateway Pet Guardians around East St. Louis. They found a litter of abandoned puppies in a ditch. PJ lamented they couldn’t take the pups because they didn’t have enough foster homes. On a whim, Julie agreed to take one. Well, we all know you can’t just take one. Fast forward to today – Simone is the matriarch of the Tristan pack and Mama Tristan has Simone’s sister, Lulu. Check out the story here!

As a member of the news media, Julie is in a unique position to use her platform to advance awareness of animal rescue.  She emcees rescue events around town, features a Furball of the Week on Billy and Julie in the Morning, freelances for the HEC-TV and interviews other influencers in the animal welfare world like Randy Grim, Jamie Case and Ledy VanKavage. Insert praise emoji.

When I asked Julie her opinion on how the St. Louis area has made progress since her start in rescue work, we discussed what we call The Eyeball Test. Essentially, organizations collect, analyze and report all kinds of data for animal intake and outcomes, but the real proof is on the streets. There just aren’t as many strays out there.

Likewise, when celebrating your big wins, you have examine areas that need improvement. When I asked Julie for her thoughts on this, she identified, quite quickly, Community Outreach. Each organization has a mission to solve a specific and unique set of problems; part of the solution should include a solid outreach program to engage the community in a coordinated, non-judgmental and respectful way. Otherwise, you’re just trying to fix a community’s problems for them. I couldn’t agree more with this sentiment, and I’m excited to be interviewing Natalie Creamer, GPG Outreach Director to learn more about their outreach model.

Julie’s love and passion for animals is clear, but not everyone knows the breadth of her involvement in rescue. She’s my favorite kind of volunteer – she’s a kind and genuine person and does her work purely for altruistic reasons.

Thank you for letting me feature you on STL Dog Blog, Julie! It was a pleasure! Smooches!

Applying yourself: grant writing for people who have no clue what they’re doing

I fancy myself a smart lady. I have a master’s degree in education and I’m a small business owner. I’m also teaching myself the art of grant writing, which, turns out, is quite humbling. You’d think it’s easy and straightforward – just putting in time. I’m afraid it’s none of those things and it’s hard. I haven’t turned in a paper for a grade since college and I forgot how difficult it is to make something meaningful from nothing.

I find myself checking social media, which wasn’t even an option in the early 2000s; I get annoyed that I have to do my writing around my real job (first world probs); and stepping into your own Zone of Proximal Development and scaffolding for yourself is, in one word, irritating.

But I’m doing it all because I want to use my writing skills to make the world a better place, and honestly, I want to make a career out of it. (Did you hear that, Universe and everyone at Best Friends Animal Society?)

I’ve already experienced some success with it.  I scored a $15,000 grant for Soul Dog Rescue back in December 2016, which was freaking awesome because I learned, once again, that I am capable. My mama always told me I can do anything I set my mind to; sometimes I forget she was right. I imagine you do, too.

In the spirit of sharing (see point #2 below), here area few of my takeaways:

Engage your network – I was staring down the barrel of a question about Community Impact…with a 5000 character limit. Shoot me. I shared a post on the Soul Dog Rescue Facebook page asking our network how SDR has impacted them. I mean, it takes a village to carry out an organization’s mission, so why not consult the village, right?

The responses I got were pure magic. They were filled with grammatical and spelling errors and more heart and soul than I could have put into that response on the grant app. And the breadth of responses I received was wider than I would have been able to come up with.  I got lots of replies expressing gratitude for medical services for people’s pets, which I expected, but I also learned that SDR has:

  • given hope to a community who was once hopeless
  • provided opportunities for people to volunteer and give back in meaningful ways, right in their own back yards
  • provided professional development for countless vet tech students and a even woman who went on to become the Executive Director of Blackhat Humane Society! Whoa!

I copied and pasted these responses and quickly filled up that 5000 character limit with a response I was incapable of providing. Use your resources, people.

The post also generated a lot of goodwill within the network. I see organizations who constantly post desperate pleas for money, in-kind donations and volunteers and that’s it. They never acknowledge the symbiotic relationship between the organization and its supporters. Quite honestly, it’s annoying. Engaging your supporters and learning about them demonstrates that you value them for more than just what they can do for you.

Share Everything – Share it all. It’s counterintuitive, but we are all in this together. There’s a lot of money up for grabs. A grant that may not be a good for your organization may be a good fit for another’s. Share information on upcoming grant cycles, ideas for grant proposals, techniques for writing a better proposal, tips for avoiding roadblocks and failure, contacts. And last but not least, share what you’re up to.

After I submitted my grant proposal Tuesday night, I shared a post about it on my personal Facebook page and it got a whole lotta mileage. So much so, that I quite literally felt an adrenaline rush as people interacted on the thread.

  • Professional credibility. Shamelessly selling yourself can feel gross, but the truth is, you probably take yourself way more seriously than anyone else, so it’s not actually as bad as it feels. I’m connected with several people whose radar I want to be on. Even if it’s just my name and a quick post that scrolls across their newsfeed, I’m building an awareness for what I do.
  • Momentum. The interaction gave me material for this here blog post and I’ve gotten more gigs.
  • Altruism. You can be a connector for other people. A friend who recently found a lost dog commented and I had a chance to connect her with the people who can point her in the right direction.
  • Lots of people sent well wishes, which is always welcomed.

For anyone else going through the growing pains of acquiring a new skill, what are you learning as you go?

No shame in our game: the honest truth about pet parents

Ten reasons to love a girl who loves animals

10.  She has a big heart – this is the most obvious reason. Clearly if she loves animals and their well-being, she has lots of love to give. This. This, alone.

9.  She’s used to sharing her stuff – we share our food with our dogs. We go out of our ways to make room on the couch so they can binge watch Shameless, with us. We share our beds. What’s ours is theirs, and while this means you’ll get slightly less than you’d otherwise expect (because we still sharing with them), you’ll always be considered.

8.  She will literally do anything for you – We do some pretty crazy things for the benefit of animals. We’ve been known to knit our old dogs sweaters because they get cold easily and why would you buy a sweater when knitting one comes from the heart and means so much more? We will do special searches for pet-friendly hotels and restaurants, so we can include them on our vacations. We will leave the television on Cartoon Network, Animal Planet or even our favorite news program during election season so they can be informed voters. No request is too big, too small or too outlandish for us.

7.  She’s spontaneous – We see the need for a foster or transport and we are right there, ready to help with whatever we can do. This may mean you’re on the hook for some work you hadn’t expected, but spontaneity is good for the soul, so consider it as a favor we are doing for you. You’re welcome!

6.  She’s committed – We have committed to the well-being of our animals for a lifetime.  We even know we will have to make a very selfless and heart wrenching decision one day, and we still make that commitment. Trust me. This is the type of girl you want in your life.

5.  That smile! – Have you ever seen the radiance and joy on a girl’s face when her dog greets her or even when she meets a stranger’s dog? Yeah. You can’t make that up. And it’s adorable.

4.  Your hoodie collection will increase, almost immediately – If your girl is in rescue, she will want to rock all the rescue gear loud and proud (and of course, support rescue by purchasing all this merchandise, you know, for advertising purposes).

3.  You’ll meet some pretty awesome people. And pets! – While there’s never a shortage of eccentricity in the animal welfare world, animal lovers are generally really awesome people. Spend time with a girl who surrounds herself with awesome people.

2.  Passion, purpose and ambition are attractive – We rescue girls know what we want and we are relentless. Enough said.

1.  You’re going to get lots of exercise – Whether you’re walking the dogs or doing heavy lifting at special events, we’ve got a special, physical task for you in mind, and lucky for you, you get to be the hero who does it. #winning

Needy Paws Rescue – A small rescue with a big heart

One thing STL rescue does really well is, well, rescue. Every dog lover in the area, and even many nationwide, know of Randy Grim and Stray Rescue and the wonderful work they do.  I was excited to learn about their sponsored adoption program last month and to share it here.

I’ve always wanted to learn more about the “underdogs” in the area.  For part of January and most of February, I worked on the planning committee for Barks & Beads, a Mardi Gras pre- and post-party in conjunction with the Mardi Gras Pet Parade that benefitted Needy Paws Rescue (NPR) and Frenchtown Dog Park.  For this project, I had the pleasure of working directly with Jill Henke, NPR’s Director of Operations, who has graciously welcomed me into their volunteer community, where I’m taking on a few cool roles. (I’ll share more about that later!)

NPR is a 100% foster-based rescue organization, operating all over the St. Louis Metropolitan Area, and even into rural areas of southern Missouri, where resources are scarce.  This means they do not have a shelter facility. Their staff of foster coordinators works quite adeptly with animal control agencies to strategically tag and pull animals for maximum efficiency. While some rescues focus on rescuing stray dogs off the cruel streets, NPR focuses on rescuing the sweet, unwanted souls who have been surrendered or otherwise turned in to county agencies. (Oh, how it breaks my heart to write out that sad, sad truth.)

Lora Pappas, President and Founder of Needy Paws Rescue, and Jill were kind enough to let me tag along on their trip to St. Louis Animal Control this past Sunday.  I think people view Animal Control facilities as run by heartless dog killers, but that’s just not the case. AC employees regularly communicate with their network of rescues to strategically re-home as many animals as they possibly can because the reality is that they are Animal Control and they do euthanize for space and health reasons. And the longer an animal is in Animal Control, the more he or she is susceptible to illness, so do the math. Just because these guys have shelter, food and water, does not mean they are in safe harbor.

As we surveyed the animals, Jill and Lora discussed which dogs may do well with certain fosters. For example, one foster may have a fondness for blue pit bulls, while another may only be able to take small dogs. In related news, Blue, the blue pit bull got his freedom ride that afternoon with Jill. (Yay for Blue and Jill!) I met the most adorable petite brindle boxer named Sadie, who I can’t seem to get out of my mind.

Another NPR volunteer, Megan Buchholz, joined us. I never quite knew if her intention was to simply observe or if she intended to find a foster dog, but she sure did leave committed to take home sweet, sickly Rayna who wasn’t going to make it out alive if she spent much more time in the facility.

This is just one of the many ways NPR rescues animals.  When Stray Rescue closed due to the distemper epidemic, NPR took in shelter animals who were medically cleared and those who would have otherwise been re-routed to St. Louis City Animal Control. When Diana’s Grove was shut down, NPR took quite a few of their animals who needed homes immediately.

NPR runs much of its volunteer/foster communications in a Facebook group and having access to that, I see a group of dedicated individuals who communicate in positive, friendly and helpful tones. They know each other’s strengths and they work together for the common good. I’ve seen rescue groups devolve into dramatics and arguments over inflated and needy egos, and this group truly exists for the sake of the animals and nothing more.

In February, NPR celebrated its 2000th adoption since its inception in July 2014, which for a rescue organization of its size, is remarkable. They’ve been around for not even three years and in my opinion, they are the ones to observe and take notes from because they’re doing it right and they’re inventing the manual as they go.

For a list of upcoming events and ways to get involved, visit www.needypaws.org.

Stray Rescue of St. Louis – From tragedy to triumph and beyond

As many of you know, Stray Rescue of St. Louis was forced to shut down for quite some time at the end of 2016 due to a devastating distemper outbreak at the shelter.  Once operations were up and running again, they shared the exciting news that moving forward, (most) adoption fees will be sponsored by local businesses, which got me intrigued and excited to do some investigating.

I love, love, love a small business doing community outreach for our awesome rescues and shelters. The idea of the sponsored adoptions excites me because there is endless potential to connect and learn. Connecting and learning are what make the world go ’round.

Stray Rescue’s Marketing Manager, Natalie Thomson, was kind enough to sit down with me Tuesday afternoon and answer my questions.  I don’t think she expected an interview, so I really appreciate her taking the time to chat.

As I mentioned, Stray Rescue was closed from October – December because of the distemper outbreak. Shortly after the shelter closed, a team from University of Wisconsin came to St. Louis to provide Stray Rescue employees and volunteers with in-service training on best practices and protocols to help them manage the distemper epidemic and to address holes in intake and adoption procedures.

Prior to the outbreak, vulnerable animals (those who were gravely ill or pregnant) were not vaccinated. Now, all animals are vaccinated immediately upon entering the shelter. While the vaccinations can pose a risk to those vulnerable animals, it’s important to maintain a Greater Good mindset for the benefit of all animals in the shelter. I’m sure there are other changes to policy, procedure and protocol, but Natalie couldn’t speak on behalf of the veterinary staff.

Once there was a strategy for treating all animals and abating the distemper outbreak, staff members focused on expediting the adoption rate,  implementing what’s known as fast-tracking.  The more time an animal spends in a shelter, the more stress and learned negative behaviors can render that animal unsuitable for adoption. With fast-tracking, rather than fill the shelter to capacity, shelters focus on providing those animals who are already in the facility with high quality training and socialization, resulting in faster adoptions.

It’s really a paradigm shift from emotionally-based rescuing to application of pragmatics and rationale.  As they say, work smarter, not harder.  By applying fast-tracking, overall numbers for rescuing should be the same.

Another way to expedite adoptions is through sponsorship.  For the months of November, December & January, all adoption fees were sponsored by Tito’s Handmade Vodka. February adoptions will be paid for by Ashley Furniture HomeStore. Natalie couldn’t confirm who will be springing for March adoptions, as it’s not a done deal yet, but there are some businesses out there who are interested. Sponsorship encourages people to adopt from a shelter rather than purchase though a breeder, pet store or Craigslist. (FYI, shelters have puh-lenty of pure bred animals who need homes.)

As a business owner, I think the sponsorship is brilliant! It’s a wise investment into something truly meaningful, the community loves it and therefore, you just can’t lose. Tito’s and Ashley Furniture HomeStore will get social media mentions and tags each time an animal is adopted and Stray Rescue currently has 125,000+ followers.

If you’re a business owner considering sponsoring adoptions:

  • $5000 for one month
  • $2500 for two weeks
  • $1250 for one week

I’m really curious to know what feedback Tito’s has gotten from the public.  I’m also really curious to know how fast-tracking and free adoptions will affect Stray Rescue’s adoption rate in the long term.

It’s important to note that free adoptions at Stray Rescue apply to adult dogs, only. However, any long-timers who are adopted qualify for covered veterinary expenses and food. The thinking here is that these guys would be getting free medical care and food in the shelter, so why not continue to give them those while they are living in their forever homes?

If you’re looking to add a pet to your family, I urge you to consider adopting from Stray Rescue. All adoptable animals have been medically treated and cleared and properly trained, the adoption fees for most have been covered.

I’m a firm believer that all things in this world happen exactly as they should and in perfect timing, and that there will always be a greater lesson learned from tragedy. Congratulations, Stray Rescue! Even in times of trial, you continue to be leaders and examples in animal welfare.

Lenny Lew Gets a Massage – Ash & Oak Canine Massage

Blog at WordPress.com.

Up ↑

%d bloggers like this: