Thank you so much, everyone, for joining us today.
Sometimes it takes a crisis to pull people together and unite them for a common cause. Over the past 10 “Fireside Chats” for special friends of American Humane, we have found that unity and strengthened our ties to other animal lovers – and one another – as we share news about the state of the world’s animals during this global pandemic, and discuss how we can protect and improve life for animals living in every corner of the Earth.
Today, we’ve brought together not just our best friends and supporters, but some of the people who have been instrumental to helping us do our vital work, and those who are out there in the field making a difference for animals during the COVID-19 crisis.
I’d first like to welcome a very dear friend, an inspiration, and a friend to animals everywhere.
Janet Swanson is a philanthropist, animal rescue volunteer, and one of the very special group of National Ambassadors for American Humane.
Janet, welcome to our “Fireside Chat.”
Janet Swanson: Thank you, Robin.
Robin: We know that the pandemic has been hard not only on people, but on animals across the country. That may be especially true for the Swanson family, which at this point I believe consists of you, John, two dogs, six cats, a bunny and a parrot.
Janet Swanson: Yes, that sounds right. I, sometimes, have to stop and count, myself, but yes, I think you’ve covered everybody.
Robin: How are you all holding up during this pandemic time?
Janet Swanson: Oh, we’re all fine. Our schedules have been cut back, but everything that we do with the animals, we just still keep on doing, and they don’t seem to mind at all.
Robin: They’re probably seeing you and John a lot more than they used to. Am I right?
Janet Swanson: Well, they might be a little tired of us, but I think you may be right, yes, since our outside activities have been curtailed, and any travel that we normally would have done, we haven’t done. So, yes, they’re live versions of the cartoon that says, “No, I don’t want to go out and walk again. You’ve already walked me a dozen times today.”
Robin: I do love that cartoon, and we’ve shared that around a lot. Janet, I wanted to just talk with you a little bit, and share with the listeners on our Fireside Chat, about your work in rescue. You’ve been one of our dedicated American Humane rescue volunteers for a number of years, and I know you’ve been on the front lines of saving, sheltering, and caring for animals caught in disasters and cruelty cases. We’re getting ready to enter the season of storms in a huge way, with one of the worst storm seasons predicted, on record, coming up. And it will be especially challenging to send out our rescue team in times of natural disasters when we’re in the middle of a global public health crisis. Janet, I know you’ve deployed with our rescue team, and I’d love to have you share with us a little bit about your experiences as an animal rescuer.
Janet Swanson: Well, my first experience was back in 2013, after the tornado that went through Oklahoma. I had, actually, never seen the devastation of a tornado before. I’d seen it on TV, on the news, but I’d never actually seen it up close and personal. And the first day I arrived there, I went through part of the area that had been affected by the tornado, and it’s like something out of a disaster movie. I mean, it’s just incredible, and it was also amazing to see signs that people put up in their homes that were in the spirit of renewal and survival. And then, when I got to the shelter where we had the animals, that’s just such an amazing thing to see. These animals, I’m sure, appreciate where they are. They know what they’ve been through, and they know that they’re safe, and they’re wonderful to work with.
And then, of course, there are the people I was working with, who have such a deep concern for animals. I remember, at the end of the deployment, we had a big adoption event, and we all had different jobs during that event, and I remember talking to one of the people whose job it was to take potential adopters and their dogs out into an enclosed area, so that they could play with the dogs, and make sure that the people were right for the dogs and the dogs were right for the people.
And at the end, he was telling me how it felt to stand at the exit door people were going out after they had been approved for adoption. They had the dog, they had all the supplies that they would need, and they are now heading out, going to their car with their new family member, and he said it was like these people had not come to adopt a dog or a cat. It was like this animal had been a part of their family forever. It wasn’t like, “Oh my gosh, we have somebody new.” No, it was like, “We’re here with our dog, and we’re visiting, and now we’re going home.” It was just great.
Robin: I love that.
Janet Swanson: And I was in Houston after Harvey, the hurricane, and we had people coming into the shelter who were looking for their animal. I remember there was one case where the dog had been missing, not because of the storm, but because the dog had been frightened by something. And this woman’s elderly parents had the dog, and the dog had been frightened by something, and it got away from them. But we would have people coming through, including the daughter of this elderly couple I just mentioned, and finding their dog, or their cat. And when that happened, everybody took out their cellphones, and were videoing the reunion, and everybody’s hugging everybody, and everybody’s crying, because we’re all so happy, because they found each other. It’s just an amazing experience.
Robin: These are the kinds of stories that warm my heart. I think about what our volunteers do every day to allow us to impact so many communities in crisis. One crisis I remember was the devastating flooding in West Virginia in 2016, and I believe that you had one of those special moments there. Can you share with us your memories of that experience?
Janet Swanson: Yes. We had set up two areas of assistance, and in one of them, not the one where I was working, but the other one, this local woman had these three kittens, and they were about a week old, and she had been caring for them. And she had seen the mother washed away in the flood, and the kittens, I think, they were floating on something, and she was able to get to them, and to save them. And so, she had taken them. She had quite a number of animals, and some of our people went to her place to give her assistance, and they saw these three kittens. They convinced her that she really had so much on her plate, because of all these other animals and asked if she would be willing to give them the three kittens. And she agreed, because she was taking care of all kinds of animals that she had rescued.
So, they brought the three kittens back to our trailer, two boys and a girl, and the responder who was really taking charge of them at that time, had them in her hotel room at night, fed them every couple of hours, around the clock. A week later, we were all leaving, and she was unable to find shelters that would take the three kittens, because they were so young. I mean, they needed special care. And so, she convinced a couple of us to get involved. And I kept saying, “No, no, no, no, no. I’m not going to, because I’ve got cats at home.” And then, of course, you make the fatal mistake of actually looking at them. You can’t look at them. You’re supposed to be having this conversation when they’re not in the same room.
But once you look at them, you’re basically finished. So, I took the little girl, and we still weren’t leaving yet since it was still a few days before we were leaving. We were still working in our own trailer, plus we were working with the Charleston Humane Society, helping them, because they were intaking animals. And so, I made a quick call to my husband, and I said, “You’ve got to make a slight change in my flight home.” Because I was flying in and out of Pittsburgh. And I said, “You’ve got to tell them that I now will have an animal on board.” Interestingly enough, my husband wasn’t all that surprised, which surprised me.
Robin: No, I bet John was not surprised. He expected you to come home with a little beauty. Please share with us the name of this great new companion of yours, because I love the name.
Janet Swanson: Well, her name is Hava, and I named her that, because ahava is the Hebrew word for love, so I just shortened it a little bit, because I fell in love with her as soon as I saw her. I found a Pet Smart, on the totally opposite side of town from where I was and got supplies and a carrier. And when I got her up to the Pittsburgh airport and I checked in, of course, everybody wanted to know about the animal that I had. And I said, “Well, it’s a kitten.” And they said, “Oh, you have a kitten!” So, there at the check-in desk, I had her out. All the counter agents were coming over to see her. There were crew members who were standing there, and they came over to see her. And then, when I was at the gate waiting to board the plane, of course I had to feed her, because I was feeding her every few hours. Well, we’ve all been around airline gates when we’ve been waiting to board, and everybody’s always talking. You could have heard a pin drop. Not one person was making a sound while I was feeding her.
Robin: They were just so happy to see that precious little life.
Janet Swanson: I mean, it was just amazing. Everybody was looking at her, and there was this father traveling with his son, and his son came over and asked about her, and I started educating him about kittens. It was terrific.
There’s one other thing I wanted to tell you, if we have time.
Janet Swanson: When I was in the airport flying back from Oklahoma, after the tornado, I was wearing an American Humane shirt. And everybody, people everywhere, came up to me and thanked me for being there. They were so glad that American Humane had come in. I mean, these are total strangers, and they saw the shirt, and I’m telling you even when I stopped off to by a snack for the plane, the woman there was talking to me about it. She said, “How did the adoption event go? I wanted to get there, but I couldn’t get off work.” And when I was sitting by the gate, everybody around said, “Did you come to help the animals?” And I said, “Yes, that’s what we do.” And, oh my god, these people, they were so grateful. I mean, who knows if these people even had animals, but they were so grateful to have us there. It was incredible.
Robin: Janet, you brought tears to my eyes with this story. Those are the kinds of stories that I know we’re going to be reliving in the months ahead, because of the predictions for this storm season. We know American Humane is going to be there.
I want to talk about Rosebud for a minute, because you and I share a special bond with a special kitty. But before we get to my beautiful Rosebud, Janet, I want to thank you again, and I hope you don’t mind that I bring this up. You and John are remarkable for your philanthropy, and you’ve made an extraordinary commitment to support American Humane, in form of a legacy gifts. Can you tell me why you have chosen American Humane?
Janet Swanson: Well, mainly because, over the years, I’ve learned what American Humane does. I mean, I’ve learned from my own experience, and through meeting people and talking to people at different events. Ever since I got involved, when I’m at a movie, or when I’m going to a movie, I have to see that “No Animals Were Harmed®” seal. I have to know that the script was reviewed and someone was right there, protecting the animals. In fact, I did have the experience of being on the set with one of your reps a number of years ago, when there was a movie being filmed in Florida. So, I had that first-hand experience, seeing what was done there. But, basically, I know what you do.
Robin: Thank you, and we believe it’s terribly important to continue this kind of work in the months to come, the years to come. American Humane is our country’s first national humane organization, and we’re needed now more than ever, as we continue to build a more humane world. Well, I’ve got a quick update on someone very special….Rosebud. Rosebud and I came together because of you, Janet. Do you want to share the story of Rosebud and how she entered our lives?
Janet Swanson: Yes, Rosebud was found here, where I live, and through a couple of different phone calls, it got to me. And so, I went over to see her, and I was willing to adopt her at the time, because not long before we had lost one of our cats. So, I was willing to take her in. The two cats that I had at the time, they were very sweet to Rosebud. I mean, they accepted her, because I’ve always had multiple cats. So, it was not a big deal. They accepted her. But Rosebud didn’t want anything to do with them, and I watched these altercations. They’d either not bother her at all, or they would try to lick her, and she would just walk up to them and hiss at them. She was not happy, and yet I knew she was a people cat, because she would always want to be on my lap, always want to be with me, always want to curl up next to me or on my lap.
So, I knew she was a people cat, and I have a hard time rehoming, unless I am absolutely sure. I’ve only rehomed two animals in my entire pet- owning life. And I couldn’t think of anyone in my immediate area, and then you happened, and Rosebud, of course, took to you, because you’re a “people.” I was watching you interact with her, and I thought, “Hmm.” And so, I remember saying, “Would you like to have her?” And the rest is history.
Robin: And the rest is history. Rosebud and our family celebrate “Caturday” every day. We love Rosebud. She is a people kitty, and she really took to my oldest daughter, who is now in Atlanta. My daughter would never think of a day without Rose. Rose and Aiden both came to my home during the pandemic and when she recently had to go back to Atlanta, I said, “I will keep Rose” and she said, “No, Rose can’t leave my side.” So, Rose and Aiden are best friends. Rose also gets along with our family dog. She just didn’t want to have any other cat competition around. I will never be able to thank you enough, Janet, for bringing Rosebud into our lives, and I hope that serves to inspire others. We’re now in American Humane’s Adopt-a-Cat Month®, and I hope that all of you will join us in adopting a cat. More than one is great, except when it’s Rosebud. But we hope that you’ll open up your heart and bring one home this month. Or two. Isn’t that right, Janet?
Janet Swanson: Oh, absolutely. I mean, I’ve got six. I wasn’t planning on six, but should I tell you the story of the three additional ones? Well, I work Wednesday mornings in the office of our synagogue, and last June we found three kittens at the shed outside our synagogue. At the time, the local humane society had 150 cats and 50 dogs. This was June, during kitten season. I was not going to add to that number. So, I said, “Well, I guess I’ve got six cats now.” They were eight weeks old at the time. They weighed not quite enough to be neutered, but eventually I got them up to the proper weight. Actually, they were about five pounds, I think, when they were neutered. And yesterday, they went for their first annual checkup, and they are 14 pounds, 16 pounds, and 16 pounds.
Robin: They’re big kitties. I love it. Janet, thank you for making our adopt-a-cat month that much more special. And thank you, truly, for your generosity, and all you do here as a rescue volunteer, and certainly putting the American Humane in your legacy planning.
And friends, if you’ve been inspired by what’s Janet’s said, that she is giving, because of the important work that’s being done here, I hope that you’ll feel inspired, too, to consider us in your estate plans. If you are interested, you can call our planned giving officer, Kay Quillen, at our 1-800 number, 800-247-4645, or by email at [email protected]. Your legacy, my friends, can be about compassion, caring, hope, and love, our values at American Humane. Janet, you’re an inspiration. Thanks for being one of our rescue volunteers.
Janet Swanson: Oh, you’re welcome. You’re welcome.
Robin: Thank you. Well, friends, I also want to give a big shout-out to our governing board of directors for their support of our rescue program, over the years. They have been the force behind so much of our work in communities like Moore, Oklahoma, Tennessee, the fires in California, the hurricanes all throughout the southeast, and in Louisiana.
I also want to give a special thanks to our Feed the Hungry national spokesperson, Jean Shafiroff. Jean, as you heard from our last Fireside Chat, is championing our Feed the Hungry Program, which is helping shelters and rescues across our great country feed animals who are suffering in the pandemic crisis. Jean, thank you for your national leadership on this cause. And now, I’d like to turn it over to our chief operating officer, Jack Hubbard.
Jack Hubbard: Thank you so much, Robin. And again, I just want to reiterate a special thank-you to Janet, who’s a very special woman, who has done so much for our rescue program and countless animals. Her humility and care for animals comes through on the line. So, Janet, thank you so much for all you do.
Transitioning our call to a related area, we’re going to be talking about our Feed the Hungry program, and I’m excited to introduce a special guest, Jillian Sergio. Jillian is the executive director of the Companion Animal Alliance in Baton Rouge. Jillian, thanks for joining us. Welcome to our Fireside Chat.
Jillian Sergio: Thank you for having me.
Jack Hubbard: Can you tell us a little bit about what the Companion Animal Alliance does, and what sort of challenges you’re facing during these very difficult times, with Covid, and the pandemic?
Jillian Sergio: Of course. Companion Animal Alliance is the open intake community animal shelter for East Baton Rouge Parish. We take in about 8,000 animals each year, and that includes dogs, cats, livestock, and some exotic animals, and snakes, and all the fun reptiles that we get. In our time since operating the shelter, we increased the save rate of animals from 20%, to over 77%, and that number is increasing every day.
Covid-19 has been challenging for everybody, but Louisiana was impacted significantly by this virus. Obviously, I know that we’re all used to disaster planning, but this is something we couldn’t plan for, something we didn’t know was going to happen, and we couldn’t plan for it, which was definitely daunting. According to one report nearly 80% of Louisiana residents are living in an area considered vulnerable to economic stress. So, our community was impacted significantly, financially, through their work, through their families. Childcare has been limited, and also we did have a very high rate of the virus. So, one of the main challenges for people and their families is their pets. And during this time, when people are having to make hard decisions on what they’re going to do, if they’re going to need to feed their family, or their work, they shouldn’t have to worry about their pets.
During times of stress, we all know that there’s really nothing better than coming home to your dog, or your cat, or your parrot, and the love that they can provide. And so, we wanted to keep as many families together as possible and take out that burden off people having to wonder how they’re going to feed their pet. That’s been the main thing, and you helped us out with that tremendously, and we’ve made some significant strides in our Parish, regarding that.
The second challenge, at least for our shelter, is staffing. We need to keep our employees safe, because even though we got over, I think we had almost 290 animals in foster care during the stay-at-home order that was issued in Louisiana, but animals still are arriving every day, and we have to have staff to take care of them. We need our veterinary staff. We need our caretakers. We need our staff trying to reunite lost pets with loved ones. But how do you keep them safe at a time when we still have to take care of our animals? And especially now, when we’re getting up to capacity, and getting dozens of animals every single day. It’s hard to limit the amount of people in our building, staffing wise, because we have to take care of these animals.
That is our responsibility. That is our job. That is why we’re in this field. It’s challenging, and scary, and we’re doing everything we can, and preparing, and trying to be as safe as we can be, but having that many people in the building, and working so closely together, as you do in animal care, it’s challenging. We’re doing the best we can.
Jack Hubbard: Thank you. At American Humane, we’re also working through deploying to natural disasters in the midst of the pandemic, training service dogs for veterans, and being on movie sets to ensure the animals are treated properly. The nature of what we do every day is, certainly, made more difficult by these restrictions, and the dangers. And we’re all doing everything we can to work through it. One thing I did want to ask you about is this: At the start of the pandemic, there was a big push for folks to adopt and foster, and American Humane, alongside many of our partners, really led the charge on that front. And we were thrilled to see news stories of shelters in New York City and other places cleared out, of people stepping up adopting and fostering. But throughout all of that, we’ve been reiterating that just because one shelter in New York City, or several, may be empty and all the animals adopted, there’s a lot of other shelters out there, many in the south, that are still under an enormous amount of pressure….that have more and more animals being surrendered, because of the economic challenges that families are facing. And they also have had an inability, at times, especially in the earlier phases, to allow people to come in and visit with the animals, due to some government restrictions and safety restrictions. And also an inability to raise money with events. Is that something you’re seeing in your community?
Jillian Sergio: Yes. Luckily, when everybody put the call out for adopters, our community stepped up tremendously, and we can’t thank them enough. We got, about 80% of the animals in our shelter into foster care, because we had a stay-at-home order for about a month and a half. And so we were able to take care of the most vulnerable animals here, which was fantastic. We had people lined up out the door, and they waited for hours to pick up a foster. So, we are so grateful and thankful for our community. But, since we’ve opened, with people that found animals and were holding onto them, or that needed to surrender their pet, for whatever reason, our intake department has been full every single day.
And then, as we talked about earlier, it is also kitten season. So, we’re seeing quite a few kittens come in. We are getting fuller, and we had some time where we had this luxury of having empty kennels, and we could have less staff in the building, and we had foster care. And while we still have about 250 animals in foster care right now, we’re still getting animals in every day, especially our neonatal kittens, and animals that need some additional help.
We are still are limiting people in our building for adoptions. Right now, we can allow two people per hour, and usually in the summers our adoption teams, especially on weekends, we have 25 people coming in at once, just to adopt. So, it’s been a challenge to help them find homes. We do have a virtual adoption process, as well, but I’m sure we all agree, I think a lot of people want to meet the pet that they’re adopting. They want to see if they have that connection. We’re trying to drive more people to virtual, but a lot of people still want to hug on them, and have their kids meet them, and get to know them a little bit better.
So, we’re adjusting, and while we do transports, as well, transports are impacted right now. Certain things have limitations, and everybody needs a little help. It’s been a little complicated, especially as we’re a southern state, and our intake is overwhelming, especially in the summer time.
Jack Hubbard: Well, Jillian, I just want to personally, and on behalf of American Humane, all of our donors, our board, and our ambassadors, to thank you for all the work you’re doing to help those animals in your care. And as you mentioned, American Humane, with the support of our generous donors who have supported our Feed the Hungry campaign, made a donation to your organization, the Companion Animal Alliance in Baton Rouge to support that work. We wish you the best of luck. We’re so proud to know you, and all the work that you do. And please, please, take care of those puppies and kittens. They need you now more than ever. And know that American Humane is going to be there to help you in the future. We stand by our partnership, and we want to make sure that you take care of all these animals, and do right by them. So, thank you so much for everything you do.
Jillian Sergio: Thank you all for all of your support.
Jack Hubbard: I want to give some other updates on other areas. But before I do, I did want to encourage anybody who would like to support our Feed the Hungry campaign to visit www.americanhumane.org. You can literally save a life. You can fill a belly. You can help a shelter in need. You can help a shelter dog or cat, who is in desperate need of help right now. This campaign, which started just several weeks ago, has already provided meals to more than 400,000 animals. 400,000+ meals have been provided, and our goal is to provide 1,000,000 meals. So, we’re just about halfway there, and we can only do that with the generous support of so many people, those on this call, those who have already stepped up, and others who will be listening to this podcast online at a later date. So, again, if you’d like to support the Feed the Hungry program, please visit www.americanhumane.org.
There are a lot of other unsung heroes, in addition to all of the people, like Janet, who rescue animals in natural disaster, to Jillian, who’s taking care of all of these animals in shelters who are in need of forever homes.
There’s another group of people that deserve recognition, and these are our veterinarians and our veterinary nurses, who work day-in and day-out to keep our pets, our farm animals, and even our wild and endangered animals, alive and healthy. In fact, these are the people, when you go to a veterinary office, you drop off your four legged friend, family member, to these folks to ensure that they receive the medical care, the healing, the love that they need to get better. And if you think about it, what they do is nothing short of miraculous, in caring for these animals. We trust them with our family members’ lives.
To shine a bright light on these heroes, we honor the nation’s top vets, and vet nurses each year, at the American Humane Hero Vet Awards, which is sponsored by Zoetis Petcare. This is a program that’s been up and running for several years, and it’s been made possible by Zoetis, which is a company with a terrific philanthropic program that is so committed to the animals that they serve, as well as the professionals in the veterinary community that care for them. This year we received more than 250 nominations from across the country, and after review by a blue-ribbon judging panel of veterinary professionals and animal care experts, we selected 10 of the country’s top veterinarians and veterinary nurses as finalists. And I’d like to read to you just one of our finalist stories.
Doctor Mike Adkesson has dedicated his veterinary career to the conservation of wildlife and nature, and he passionately believes modern zoos and aquariums play a pivotal role in inspiring people to protect vanishing species around the globe. As Vice President of Clinical Medicine at the Chicago Zoological Society, Dr. Adkesson works tirelessly to ensure that the thousands of animals under his care are healthy, happy, and thriving. Whether that means a CT Scan on a rhinoceros, or a knee surgery for a gorilla, Dr. Adkesson focuses on how to make it all happen. And for the past decade, Dr. Adkesson has led marine conservation programs in Peru, that focus on protecting wild Humboldt penguins, fur seals, and sea lions. And through his work in the field as a wildlife veterinarian, he helps ensure the health of endangered species, and shares his expertise with other veterinarians and marine biologists.
And he’s just one example of the many people, all around our country, and all around the globe, who are protecting our animal friends, and keeping the world’s wonderful legacy of life alive. So, for all of our listeners, and everyone in our audience, I strongly encourage you to go and read the stories of the 10 hero vets and vet nurses at www.herovetawards.org. Vote online for your favorite in each category every single day, between now and August 13th, and the winner is going to be featured on American Humane’s 10th anniversary of our Hero Dog Awards, this fall, which is going to air on Hallmark Channel during prime time. So, please get your votes in, and let’s honor these incredible people who care for our pets, our friends, and our animals, all around the globe.
In closing, I’d like to first thank Janet and Jillian, for visiting with us, and sharing their stories and their love of animals. Together, all of us are making a big difference during this pandemic. We’ve been fighting false rumors about the virus, pushing for adoption and fostering, and fighting to feed those who have been left or abandoned. And I know that we can win each of these battles, if we continue to work together. And I hope each of you can help us spread the word about the work we’re doing. Our campaigns, our newsletters, and our new Impact Report are all available on our website, and you can help us recruit new support and awareness to our cause, which is more important than ever.
And lastly, I have some very, very exciting, good news to share. I am thrilled to announce that American Humane has received our third “Four-Star” rating from Charity Navigator. This is the most important seal of approval that a non-profit organization can earn. Four out of four stars from Charity Navigator. Only a fraction of the 1.5 million charities in the United States have done this, and we are so very proud of this recognition. And it’s a powerful sign of what you all have helped make possible. It also showcases our commitment to all of you who are donors and supporters, that we remain committed to the responsible stewardship of your support, making sure that funds actually get spent on programs, and that we make a difference in the lives of the people and the animals who need it most. Thank you all again for taking the time to listen.
And now, I’d like to open the conversation up to anyone with comments or questions.
Jean Shafiroff: Yes, hi everyone. I am the national spokesperson for Feed the Hungry. And Janet, I want to thank you and Jillian, both of you, for what you shared with all of us. I think your experiences are absolutely incredible, and so important, and really make all of us understand, even better, the important work of the American Humane, and the Feed the Hungry program. It is a great honor to be involved with this charity, and to see the work all of you are doing.
I hope that you’ll all support the Feed the Hungry program. As a human being, and someone involved with many different charities, I can say that American Humane is an extraordinary charity. Just the fact that 91% of their money goes to programs in itself says worlds about the work of this charity that we are all involved in. So, thank you very much for sharing your experiences, and Robin, thank you for all the great work you do. And it is a great honor to be involved, thank you.
Robin Ganzert: Jean, thank you so much. We’re so honored to have you as our leader and our spokesperson for our program.
Jack Hubbard: Well, I think that concludes our session. I just want to thank everybody for tuning in. We look forward to talking to you again at our next Fireside Chat. Please stay safe.