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Presidential Fireside Chat #4

Welcome to our fourth “Fireside Chat” for the special friends of American Humane!

As you know, during the hard times of the 1930s and 40s, Franklin Delano Roosevelt came up with the idea of bringing the nation together by holding a series of radio addresses he called his “Fireside Chats.”

Today, as we weather the worst pandemic in modern times, and are physically – and often emotionally – isolated as we shelter in place, we also wanted to find a way to bring the nation together, share vital information, and continue our lifesaving work on behalf of animals.

Friends, I am so excited to welcome Danielle Fishel to our call today.  Danielle is a bright ray of sunshine during these dark days and a welcome addition to this week’s chat.

As you know, Danielle is an actress best known for her role as Topanga Lawrence-Matthews on Disney Channel’s “Boy Meets World” and “Girl Meets World.” She’s a television personality, director and entrepreneur who recently launched her own hair care line, “Be Free.” And most importantly, Danielle is also an animal lover and a judge on our own American Humane Hero Dog Awards.

Thank you, Danielle, for joining us. I wanted to know how you, your family and your dogs how they are doing – and helping to keep each other sane – during these dark, challenging times.

Danielle Fischel:  Thank you so much for having me.  We are hanging in there, riding the waves of emotion, and staying together with our friends and family using technology.  There are plenty of heartbreaking stories out there, but also many inspiring tales.  In New York, people are donating their subway metro-cards so that essential workers can get to their jobs.

Robin: That is wonderful.  And how is your beautiful new son?

Danielle: My son is 9-1/2 months old and learning how to pull himself up.  He’s forcing me to adapt to his schedule. I think I kind of lucked out.  Many of my friends have kids who are toddlers and older.  Now they’re in the position of being teachers (and we don’t pay our teachers enough).  My own son’s life hasn’t changed that much but we take our dog, Brunch, out for walks.  For my son, mommy and daddy are home all the time.  And it’s a big win for Brunch because we’re home all the time. My husband rescued him and he always stays right by our side.  Last night, he went for a sleepover with my relatives, because they lost their dog. We also have a very large cat, Bill, named after Bill Murray.  He weighs about 25 pounds and he is my husband’s biggest fans. Bill is not at all aloof and is actually very cuddly.  But he wants breakfast at 3 am…he walks around the counters and knocks things off until we feed him.

Robin:  We have been very fortunate to have you as a judge and a presenter for the American Humane Hero Dog Awards.  Do you have a particular memory from the awards that you would say is your favorite?

Danielle: Being part of the Hero Dog awards is one of the highlights of my year.  One of my favorite memories is from the first year I was involved. On the way to the awards gala, my husband asked if the dogs would eat dinner at the gala tables with us.  And when we got there, a dog was sitting at a table next to us in a little tutu. It was like someone had recorded my dream. And I loved the fact that for the past two years, you had puppies up for adoption, and seeing how fast people clamored to take them home. That’s one thing that’s for sure . . . when you leave the Hero Dog Awards, you have a smile on your face.

Robin:  Danielle, what is going on in Hollywood now?

Danielle:  Hollywood is on hold now, as it should be.  It’s going to be difficult as you can imagine. It is going to be hard to be one of those first groups back. We are all expecting there to be waves of COVID-19 so I am not sure that Hollywood knows what will happen yet.  The four shows I direct and work on are on hold. There are children on those sets, so I don’t think we will be back in production until it is safe.  For society and for businesses, we have to put the health and safety of our community first.

Robin: Thank you so much for joining us today, Danielle.  We are so appreciative for your friendship. And in your honor, we are going to give a grant in your name to a shelter in need through our new Feed the Hungry fund.  Please let us know which is your favorite shelter and we will make that happen.

Danielle: Thank you, Robin.

Robin:  That was a lovely addition to this week’s call. It is my hope to regularly feature a guest speaker in coming chats, so be on the lookout for future invites.  I want to share just a few updates about what we’ve been up to this past week.

First, we’ve truly been making the most of our remote work status and have taken to the virtual world like ducks to water.

Our Rescue Team just finished their very first virtual rescue training course putting 30 people on the road to becoming first responders with us.

And, the Dog Breeder Certification Program is now conducting virtual audits and experiencing unforeseen positive outcomes as they can now observe behavior without the impact of a stranger being on site which is much less stressful for whelping mothers in particular. This is proving so successful our Conservation Team is looking at it as a model for the certification process of zoos and aquariums.

All of this virtual goodness has also led to incredible creative and dynamic team meetings and townhalls.  Our Hollywood Team’s recent virtual meeting featured Anthony Suffredini, a studio wild animal trainer who is also a master falconer, who provided a virtual falconing experience.

In the non-virtual world, we continue to beat the drum on the need to foster and adopt during this crisis and correct false rumors about pets transmitting the virus (which is just not true). And, because many shelters are struggling to provide critical essentials, we continue to raise much needed resources through our “Feed the Hungry” campaign. To date, we have provided grants for food, medicine and supplies to shelters in New York, New Jersey, Florida, Louisiana, Tennessee, Oklahoma, California, Mississippi, Washington, South Carolina and West Virginia.

One of our grants was awarded to Godspeed Horse Hostel and Humane Society in upstate New York. Godspeed is a rescue that provides food, medical attention and placements, free of charge, to large domestic animals, farm animals, companion animals and wildlife.

Their executive director, Mia Genovesi, told us:

“Godspeed took in 38 animals; 21 horses, two cows, six sheep, two goats and seven cats. We want to thank American Humane for the Feed the Hungry grant, which could not have come at a better time. We need to feed them all. We are very grateful for the grant.”

Other uplifting news is taking place in our American Humane Certified zoos and aquariums around the world.  At a time when so many species are under pressure and many are disappearing, these really good zoological centers are serving as Arks of Hope for endangered animals.

Here in the United States, Turtle Back Zoo in New Jersey welcomed the birth of a critically endangered Amur leopard cub.  She’s named Nadya, which in Russian means “filled with hope.”  An appropriate name as we are filled with hope that Nadya and other new arrivals help to bolster the numbers of these rare and beautiful animals so our children and their children will someday be able to appreciate them, too.

Woodland Park Zoo in Seattle, Washington announced the birth of two red-rumped “a-GOO-tee” pups. The mother, “Nutella,” is doing well . .  . and so are the pups.

And a rescued sea lion was rehabilitated at our American Humane Certified Vancouver Aquarium in Canada and returned to the ocean.

It’s stories like these that give us hope for the future of these beautiful animals.

I’d also like to talk about another area where we are making a difference.

One of the greatest frontiers in the humane movement has been the protection of animals living on our nation’s farms and ranches.  American Humane now helps ensure the welfare and proper treatment of some one billion farm animals through our American Humane Certified program.

That means that those of us who choose to consume eggs, dairy, poultry and meat can shop their conscience and make purchases in line with their values by choosing American Humane Certified products. We have nearly 10,000 farms across the country who are helping put food on our tables and doing it right.

Not only can you feel good about buying American Humane Certified foods, but they taste terrific.  One of my favorite recipes comes from our certified producer Springer Mountain Farms: “Chicken, Turnip and Kale Casserole.”  You can find it, and many others, at www.SpringerMountainFarms.com.

And, while your feasting on that delicious casserole, you might just want to vote for your favorite Hero Dogs of 2020.

We just kicked off the first round of public voting for the 2020 American Humane Hero Dog Awards and this year we have 408 courageous canines in the running – the best of our best friends.  And true heroes.

Let me read the poignant story of just one of our contenders to become the top American Hero Dog of 2020 named Karma, who is competing in the Hero Therapy Dog category, sponsored by World Pet Association:

On February 14, 2018 when a tragic shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School claimed the lives of 17 innocent victims, the Canines for Community Resilience dog teams were onsite in the Parkland schools and community the next day.

Karma, who was the lead dog in this program, was specifically trained to participate in traumatic situations and was invaluable in providing unconditional love, encouraging resilience, providing comfort and effective, safe mental support to the impacted community.

She worked tirelessly throughout the year, side by side with first- responders, school psychologists, families, students, faculty, teachers and the community at large to help the people exposed to this traumatic event.

Throughout the year, Karma attended community vigils, visited people at their homes, came to school and continued to be a resource for those affected by the shooting. Karma was taken into therapy sessions with the students. With the animals present, students were able to cry and talk to the animals about what had happened and how they felt.

Karma, thank you for being a hero when you were most needed.

Animals have the power to help us, and to improve and even save our lives.

To find more stories that will inspire you, gladden your heart, and maybe even make you shed a tear, go to www.HeroDogAwards.org .

Vote for your favorites in each of seven categories and help us select the 2020 American Hero Dog, who will be unveiled at the tenth annual Hero Dog Awards, presented by the Lois Pope LIFE Foundation and broadcast nationwide on Hallmark Channel this fall.

Those vying to be America’s next top dog are not the only heroes we are working with.

For more than 100 years, American Humane has been supporting our men and women in the Armed Services – often by supporting the military and service animals on whom they depend.

One of our programs called Pups4Patriots finds dogs in need of forever homes and trains them to become free, specialized service dogs for veterans coping with Post-Traumatic Stress and Traumatic Brain Injury.

These dogs improve and save lives for warriors coping with what we call the invisible wounds of war – and are especially important now, at this time of extraordinary stress and even greater isolation caused by the pandemic.

Recently, American Humane received a letter from one of the veterans in our Pups4Patriots program named Jose, telling us how his service dog is helping him cope with the crisis.  Jose writes:

In the military, we as “Soldiers” depend so much on our battle buddies in time of need or during stressful situations. During the past few years, I have struggled tremendously with anxiety, panic attacks and the list goes on.

Since leaving the military, I lost my dependencies – my “Battle Buddies,” if you will. I thought I had no one to turn to for guidance or help. In other words, I felt alone. I believe we all have a calling in life, we never know what that is or when it will come, but I believe we have a purpose in life. AMERICAN HUMANE answered that call and heard my prayers.

In October of 2018, I was paired up with STARR, my new service dog. STARR and I integrated so quickly by creating a bond that’s unbreakable the day we met.  Words can’t describe the connection we have. Sometimes words can’t describe how the heart feels, but actions do speak louder than words.

Earlier I spoke about having a calling in life, STARR, “My Battle Buddy,” once again answered the call. Sad to say, our country is facing a critical epidemic, so critical that we have to shelter in place, minimize gathering, limit the interaction with friends, family and loved ones.

Talk about a panic attack, anxiety and the list goes on . . . times two.

I have been reassigned to work from home, which has been very difficult for me given my medical issues. As I am setting up my desk at home to mirror like my office at work, my anxiety starts to flare up.

My mind is racing a hundred miles per hour: How long will this last, will I be able to make it and am I strong enough to stay away from the alcohol? 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, I struggled in the past for years because I had no one, I wasn’t strong enough and could I survive?

Moments later as am sitting down with my elbows on the desk, hands on my head, STARR sits next to me laying her head on my lap to indicate to me “WE GOT THIS” and then gives me a high five (a high paw).

Throughout the day, STARR knows when I need a break or need to move around. STARR has her way of communicating with me, communication that I can’t describe or explain but “I KNOW”!!

Since working from home, STARR has the freedom to be in the living room, her room, the kitchen where the food is, or go play, but yet STARR never does. Always by my side as I am working, STARR has been my “ROCK” since the day we met. STARR and I don’t see the past, but what we do see the PRESENT and FUTURE.

My thoughts and prayers go out to our Country, Soldiers and AMERICAN HUMANE. As STARR stated to me “WE GOT THIS”, stay strong, positive, motivated and have faith that WE CAN and WE WILL overcome this epidemic.

In closing, I want to thank AMERICAN HUMANE for all that you have done for me and STARR, but not just for me, but also for our VETERANS.

Thank you, Jose, for your service to our country…and thank you, Starr, for your service to our brave veterans.  America needs you both and we are grateful beyond words for each of you. 

As you heard in today’s update, there are so many animals who need our protection 24/7, year-round. As much as we are able to accomplish, we cannot do it alone.

Which is why I want to thank everyone who has been working with us to help animals in every part of our world.

Please help us spread the word. Our campaigns, our newsletters and our annual Impact Report are all on our website and can help recruit new humane warriors for our cause, which is more vital than ever before.

Thank you all for what you have done, are doing, and are continuing to do every day for the cause of animals.  Once again, thank you all for your support. I look forward to speaking with you next week. Until then, please stay safe.

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