Director’s passion for animal rescue began in Guam
The show’s pilot will feature the Adams County Pet Shelter in Othello, WA.
The previous shelter burned down 5 years ago, and since then animals have been housed primarily in outdoor runs at the local pound.
The seed for the new show was planted about 20 years ago on the island of Guam. That was when 21-year-old Rebecca Rodriguez moved to the island with her husband who was stationed there by the Navy.
A lifelong animal lover, Rebecca was shocked to find feral/stray dogs everywhere she looked. The island, which is only 2 miles wide and 11 miles long, had over 40,000 feral dogs, and sending any of them to the animal control facility was a virtual death sentence.
An extremely determined woman, Rebecca made it her mission to start a humane society on the island, and after much hard work, including a trip to Washington DC testify in front of a Congressional committee (Guam is a U.S. territory), she founded Guam Animals in Need in 1989.
Upon returning to the states, she ran the animal care department for the largest humane society in the Pacific Northwest and as a program manager for an animal related foundation.
In 2000, she began her career as a filmmaker, and since then she has written, produced and directed a collection of short films, numerous commercials, several music videos and one feature film that is currently being used as an educational tool in domestic violence and child endangerment awareness programs.
Animal House represents her return to animal advocacy and allows her to combine it with her other passion, independent filmmaking.
Community involvement key to show’s success
Rodriguez brings a unique vision to animal rescue that’s the cornerstone of her work to end animal homelessness – community involvement. In her mind, it does no good to barge into a community, build a shiny new shelter, and then leave.
She firmly believes that the people in places where Animal House wants to build shelters must not only be involved in the process of planning and building a new shelter, but they must also buy into the best practices for reducing animal homelessness in their community.
Animal homelessness is a people problem
Without community buy in, places like Adams County will simply have a newer, bigger building that will soon be overrun with stray animals that have to be euthanized to make room for the more stray animals flooding into the shelter every day.
That’s why she says animal homelessness is a people problem, not an animal problem.
Animals can’t implement effective spay/neuter programs. Animals can’t create foster programs. Animals can’t develop more creative ways for marketing themselves for adoption. Animals can’t train and socialize themselves to improve their chances of being adopted instead of euthanized.
Over a year of prep work spurs community support
Before they began building the shelter last week, Rebecca and her partner Alycia Barlow-Hadfield visited Othello multiple times over the last year to meet with city/county officials and community leaders to cement their support for and active involvement in the project.
Alycia estimated she visited Othello 10 times in the last year. Not long after she began going, people started stopping her on the street to ask what they could do to help. She said over 200 people had volunteered to help by the time construction started.
As part of their commitment to community involvement, Rebecca and Alycia hired Ryan Krueger, a local resident, to manage the construction and behind-the-scenes work this summer. While I was there he convinced a local business to donate a tankless water heater for the new building.
Home Depot also brought a truckload of drywall and planned to send a few dozen of their employees to help with construction over the weekend.
“What I most appreciate about this whole process is how this community came together to help the animals,” Krueger told the Tri-City Herald. “Animal House has been a major player in making this happen because without their help in recruiting donations to finish the building, it would still be sitting there as an empty shell.”
When it’s finished, the new shelter will be a 3,900-square-foot facility able to house between 40 and 50 dogs, as well as provide an area for homeless cats.
Bringing key resources, building relationships
When they arrived to finish construction on the new building last week, Animal House brought a “Host Team” of groomers, trainers, veterinarians, and animal behavioralists, nutritionists to lend their expertise to current and potential shelter volunteers and staff.
One of Rebecca and Alycia’s most innovative ideas is to pair Adams County Pet Rescue with a “sister shelter” in Western Washington. Their goal is to both build relationships between urban and rural rescues and provide rural rescues with access to those that can lend them resources and new ideas.
The sister shelter for Adams County Pet Rescue is Motley Zoo Animal Rescue. A couple of days before I was in Othello, Motley Zoo’s founders Jme Thomas and Brooke Mallory were there to help the people that will be running the soon-to-be-open rescue.
Brooke, who has a pet photography business, also taught a photography class to volunteers at the local high school so they could learn how to take pictures of pets that would catch the eyes of potential adopters.
Animal House walks its talk
Rebecca and Alycia continually preached about the importance of community involvement with Animal House’s projects, but I wondered how well they practiced what they preached. Even those with the best of intentions run into problems with locals who are suspicious of outsiders blustering into town to show them the “right way” to do things.
To find out, I spoke with Mikki Kison, President of the Adams County Pet Rescue’s Board of Directors about her experience working with Animal House. Here are the highlights of her comments:
- “Rebecca and Alycia have pure intentions and no hidden agenda”
- “They are in it for the animals”
- “They showed the community they were committed to the project”
- “Their commitment generated an outpouring of support”
- “I can’t talk about them without tears” (happy tears)
Show generates massive support
Animal House did no marketing to generate interest in its idea – people heard about it through social media or word of mouth, which clearly worked. Rebecca said 8 networks were interested in the show. Almost 200 shelters/rescues across the country applied to Animal House to come build/rebuild their shelters. Its Facebook page has almost 110,000 followers. People in 6 countries have contacted Rebecca about bringing the show to their towns.
Even though no network has picked up Animal House yet, I’m confident that one day soon we’ll see it on TV because Rebecca and Alycia are two of the most determined people I’ve met. Rebecca said they would not quit “until the show is on the air.”
This is how community education works
Even though the shelter wasn’t opened yet, I realized the impact it would have on the community when I saw a litter of border collie puppies in one of the trailers at the building site. They belonged to a dog that lived under the lodge where the Animal House crew was staying.
While talking to the owner of the lodge, they learned that puppies’ mom was his dog. She had already produced several litters, but none of them survived as the puppies were killed by cars on a nearby highway.
When they told him the shelter worked with a local vet to provide a low cost spay/neuter surgeries, he agreed to have his dog spayed. This one conversation with a local pet owner introduced him to a service the shelter provided and prevented his dog from having dozens of unwanted puppies with little chance of survival.
Animal House ended up helping 45 animals through transfers, adoption, foster, or vet care while in Othello.
Another good barometer of the potential impact Animal House can have on shelters throughout the country (and maybe the world) is that little shelter that Rebecca started in Guam more than 2 decades ago.
She told me that when she lived there she saw dozens of stray dogs wandering the streets everywhere she went. Recently she went back to Guam for the first time since she left.
She only saw two stray dogs the entire time she was there.