A Hero’s Hero. Meet Steve Spiro, Co-Founder of Shelter Transport Animal Rescue Team

Steve & CHUNKY

I learned about Shelter Transport Animal Rescue Team (S.T.A.R.T) six years ago and have been a vocal supporter ever since. Story after story, they are champions for the voiceless. There are so many rescue groups doing amazing work, but START is special. Everyone involved in this organization is special. Not only open-hearted but creative too. Each week I read their newsletter and learn about a dog or dogs that they are raising money for so they can pull them from the Los Angeles shelter system.  The next step is they put the dogs on a transport van to a better life in the Pacific Northwest. I’ve spoken with Steve Spiro, co-founder, a couple of times and met him in person once.  (See the end of the interview to learn where. It’s likely NOT where you might think.) He is dedicated, authentic as they come and a real mensch.

Steve and Suzanna hanging out with some rescue dogs

Meet Steve!

DRS: So tell me Steve, how did START get started?

SS: Years ago, my wife, Suzanna and I were rescuing one dog at a time but wanted to do more to help; especially for the pit bulls who are truly one of the greatest breeds! We also wanted to find a way to fund spay and neuter surgeries for low-income families to help slow down shelter intake due to unwanted litters.

“The Beast”

In May 2011 we arranged a meeting at our house with some like-minded folk (Rene Ruston, Tom Rogan and Adam Tarshis), and agreed to set up a non-profit. We focused on transports and a Spay/Neuter program and were lucky enough to form a great little team. Adam Tarshis bought us our first van and we outfitted it with shelves that would accommodate crates.

We called ourselves Shelter Transport Animal Rescue Team (START).

Our friend, Candace Modrell was originally from Oregon and knew several humane societies and rescue groups in the Pacific Northwest that wanted/needed our California dogs. Candace had been a transport coordinator for another foundation and joined our little team.  We drew up an application form and contract to send to each group that wanted to partner with us (our requirements are very strict) and START was on its way!

DRS: How does your organization help both animals and people?

SS: I think our transport program has given shelter workers and volunteers hope.  They get to see many dogs leave their facility each month and know they are heading to new homes in the Pacific Northwest. We send out a weekly newsletter, with happy adoption stories and it is very heartwarming. We have also received emails in the past from families whose dog or cat we have funded for spay/neuter and are grateful for our help after learning how many unwanted animals end up in the shelter system.

A recent example of dog helping human helping dog is the story of 3 pitbull mixes we pulled from the Porterville Shelter. The dogs were scheduled for euthanasia as the shelter was full and they needed the room. (Most shelters have to kill for space!) All 3 dogs were very friendly and a shelter worker reached out to us for help as she had bonded with the dogs and didn’t want them to die. Our transport was in 2 days and the wonderful people at the Safehaven Humane Society in Oregon stepped up and offered to take all 3 dogs on our transport.

The dogs were adopted within a week!

We then learned that one of these dogs (who was very scared at the shelter) would be trained as a service pet for the husband who suffered from depression. They bonded bringing each other much joy and lifting each other’s spirits. When the shelter worker heard about the story she sobbed with happiness.

DRS: I’m sure that working in a shelter is so difficult. I can’t imagine it.  And it’s so powerful that you pull these dogs and not only give them a chance but their very existence helps people in a palpable way.

Do you have a favorite pet or animal story?


SS: I have many, but my favorite story was the emaciated stray found on the street and taken to the Riverside shelter.

The shelter director, a wonderful man named Robert Miller, was horrified at the dog’s condition and rushed him to the emergency. The dog had terminal cancer. Robert Miller asked us if we’d give the dog one day of happiness to experience love, and we agreed. We named him HERO.

But – the “ONE” day turned into 52 days. We received countless emails enquiring about him. He had a fan club! HERO felt the love. He affected thousands of people. He was obsessed with the tennis ball and people began sending him them to him by the dozen. It’s amazing what love can bring. We witnessed true selflessness. When HERO passed away he took our hearts with him.


You can read the heartbreaking and love-filled story here: https://startrescue.org/featured/52-days-with-hero/.






DRS: That story made me cry the first time you shared it, the second time you shared it and now as I’m posting it, I’m crying again. It is so beautiful.

Steve, can you offer 3 professional tips to my readers?


1. Every dog should wear a name tag and be microchipped. If your dog gets lost and isn’t wearing a name tag most people won’t take the time to take the pet to vet or shelter to scan him to find the owner. If the dog is wearing a name tag then a phone call will reunite owner and pet quickly.

2. Spay and neuter your pets. Find a free or low-cost clinic (there are many.) It’s good for the obvious reproduction reasons and it can prevent certain types of cancer too.

3. Be kind – compassion goes a long way.

Bonus tip:

4. Volunteer – Giving back to others is one of the most rewarding and fulfilling experiences. Whether it’s helping animals, people or the environment. Go do something. Amazing things happen when we stop worrying about ourselves so much!

Some of the START Team (Candace, Steve, Suzanna, Rene, Alicia)

DRS: Excellent tips, Steve! What’s next up for you and START?

SS: We are trying to expand our spay / neuter programs for low-income families. We fund around 90 spay/neuters a month at Riverside, CA and have now just set up funding 50 dogs/cats a month at Porterville, CA. We have also discussed getting our own property at some point. Stay tuned! 🙂

DRS: Fabulous. That is so exciting. Where can we learn more about you and your organization?

SS: STARTrescue.org

DRS: Is there anything else you would like for people to know about you or START?

SS: The START board members are all volunteers. We donate our time as we want to try and make the world a little better. Rescue work can be very stressful but also very rewarding. I truly believe that it has made me a better person and I have made some great friends in the process. To date, we have transported over 9,500 dogs and cats and funded over 4000 spay/neuter surgeries.

DRS: Thanks for your words of inspiration, Steve.  I’m consistently inspired each time I open your newsletter. I know it takes a village, lots of time, effort and funding and I’m proud to support your efforts.

For those of you who are curious where I met Steve in person… He is also the author and star of a one-man show called UK Underdog https://pacificresidenttheatre.com/uk-underdog/. It is poignant and funny and Steve is masterful at keeping the audience entertained throughout. I wanted to support his plWhat to Expect When Adopting a Dog Bookay when it opened in November and I was riveted the entire time. Keep an eye out for UK Underdog as it will be playing larger venues soon!

Yes, Steve was an underdog but he “realized his strength” and now he helps the canine underdogs in our world. Kudos to you Steve. Keep up the amazing work with everything you do.

Professional Communication Skill Building in the Pet Industry and Beyond Thanks to Carolyn Shadle

Carolyn and I met after a conference we both attended a few years ago. I learned that she teaches communication which is so important, and I love that she helps veterinarians communicate better! That seems to be a skill that would benefit every pet parent.  As you’ll see, what she teaches is really transferable to any business or even personal interaction. Plus, she offers three excellent tips you can utilize in your everyday life, starting right now.

DRS: How did you get started in your pet business?

CS: I took a communication course when my children were very small and decided that I wanted to know more and to share what I was learning.  I returned to school to earn a Ph.D. in interpersonal and organizational communication, and I began writing and offering training to parents and professionals in all fields (including hi-tech, manufacturing, public agencies and non-profits).

About 20 years ago I was serving as Associate Dean of Professional Development at the University of Denver’s Daniels School of Business.  I had the good fortune of hiring Constance Hardesty to help us with our marketing.  A few years later she became Editor of Trends Magazine published by the American Animal Hospital Association.  She decided to start a new feature focusing on communication – with clients and with teammates.  She remembered that I had been doing communication training (through and around my job at the university), and she asked me to write case studies for the magazine addressing interpersonal skills (which veterinarians often don’t have time for in their formal training).  I teamed up with my husband, John Meyer, who also has a Ph.D. in communication and is a bit of a thespian.

After writing cases for several years, Constance asked us to put the case studies into a training manual, including principles of effective communication, tips, cases and how to use cases for training in the veterinary practice.  It was published by AAHA as Communication Case Studies: Building Interpersonal Skills in the Veterinary Practice.

So, for the last 17 years, we have focused on how enhanced communication skills can enrich the veterinary profession. During this interim, I retired from my “day job” at the university and have been able to focus on the communication training and writing.  Along the way, we have learned a lot about animals, the veterinary business, and the pleasure and power of pet ownership.  Through membership in VetPartners (an organization for consultants in the veterinary field), we have also learned a lot from other consultants in the field.

We’ve been invited to write for several veterinary publications around many practice management topics, and we’ve presented workshops at numerous conferences.

DRS: Indeed. We met at a conference! Thank you for sharing your expertise.

How does your business help both animals and people?

CS: Our training helps the people who serve pet owners and their animals.  In addition to communication training dealing with client engagement and team interaction, we have helped practices with other Practice Management issues, including how to define their brand, moving to electronic medical records, appreciating the ins and outs of veterinary dentistry, and understanding relationship selling as contrasted with transactional selling.

DRS: Do you have a connection with animal rescue?

CS: As we have worked in this field, we have become increasingly aware of the wonderful work the animal rescue centers do and the pleasure that pet owners get from fostering or rescuing animals.  We have visited and supported the local humane society both directly and through the fundraising events of local veterinary hospitals.  One outstanding event is called “Paws and Pints,” sponsored by La Jolla Veterinary Hospital in cooperation with a local dining venue.  It has become a popular gathering for pet lovers.

DRS: Do you have a favorite animal story?

CS: Yes.  I have a vivid memory of the power of the pet. Early in my working life, I directed a summer camp.  We housed the rabbits from the local winter nursery school.  That summer one of the campers was quite young and from a troubled family.  He was very angry and had difficulty controlling his temper and communicating with care and control.  The other campers avoided him.

One day I found him seated in front of the rabbit cage talking to the rabbits.  He was quiet and caring.  It was clear that he felt great warmth for these animals and that they appreciated him. They didn’t talk back; they didn’t judge him; they didn’t avoid him. His regular visits to the rabbit cage were the highlight of his week.  So is the daily welcome greeting many pet owners enjoy!  It taught me, early on, how valuable loving a pet can be – for both owner and pet.

DRS: The power of the human-animal bond!

Can you offer 3 professional tips to my readers?


1. Take time to understand the power of empathy (and how it contrasts with sympathy).

2. Learn why listening is difficult and different ways one can increase the ability to listen – to hear both thoughts and feelings.

3. It’s worth practicing “reflective listening,” whereby, instead of responding to another’s news or concern with your own story, you “reflect” back what you have heard or perceived.  It’s amazing how this practice opens up the conversation.

DRS: These are wonderful. And they can be applied to all areas of our lives. What’s next up for your business? What can we be looking for?

CS: We have been asked to write for a new publication, the American Veterinarian. We are also being asked to propose workshops that go beyond the veterinary practice to include dog training, pet holistic medicine, animal welfare, animal behavior, and palliative care.  Watch for us.

DRS: Fabulous. Where can we learn more about you and your business?




DRS: Is there anything else you would like for people to know about you or your business?

CS: The communication skills that we teach are transferable.  Although we focus much of our work on communicating with veterinary clients and building healthy and effective teams, we also address other professions and individuals who know that “soft skills” are the hardest – and essential to success.

As a primer and/or a review, we have assembled a booklet entitled “Positive People Experiences: 8 Ingredients for Business Success.”  It can be purchased from Amazon or at www.veterinariancommunication.com, A downloadable complimentary copy is available from our website.

DRS: Thank you for sharing that with my readers! What a gift. And thank you again for your contribution to What to Expect When Adopting a Dog.  I am most grateful. We will be looking out for your articles in American Veterinarian!




Holistic and Organic Products for Your Dog. Meet Elyse Horvath and Natural Paws.

Elyse Horvath, founder of Natural Paws is a woman on the move. What started with a single product to help her dog’s sore paws and ear infections has blossomed into a multi-product organic and holistic line of soothing pet products. Elyse left a totally unrelated career when the synergy of Natural Paws just fell into place. Elyse is a true delight and I think you’ll feel that too when you read what she has to say.

DRS: How did you get started in your pet business?

EH: I originally started creating products to help my Cocker Spaniel, Sweet Pea, with her troubled paw pads and recurring ear infections. We realized early on that we weren’t the only ones dealing with the same issues that plagued Sweet Pea, so we brought the solutions to the marketplace in order to help more dogs find comfort as well. Thus, Natural Paws was born.

DRS: That’s awesome! How does your business help both animals and people?

EH: We help dogs by using natural yet effective solutions to alleviate their discomfort, and we help pet parents feel empowered by helping their pets feel better without having to turn to medicines and chemical solutions. Nobody enjoys watching their dogs suffer, so when the dog is comfortable, so are their humans.

DRS: That is so true. Switching gears here a bit, do you have either a personal or professional relationship with animal rescue?

EH: Yes, both! Our dog, Lilly, is a rescued mutt, and she’s awesome. And, as it turns out, our newest product, Dry Clean Dog (dry shampoo) was created because she likes to roll around in the grass, in the sand, in the mud…  (More about Lilly and Dry Clean Dog below). But she, like Sweet Pea has inspired new products!

We are also big proponents of rescue, and have made product donations to several rescue groups in Arizona as well as nationally via social media.

DRS: I love how inspired you are by your dogs. Do you have a favorite pet story?

EH: Well I have two. One of them I already shared with you in What to Expect When Adopting a Dog about how our dear dog, Sweet Pea got her name.  Here’s another favorite:

Once we decided to adopt a new dog, I was a little overzealous and wanted to adopt every dog we found on Petfinder.com. My daughter, 9 years old at the time, was much more selective. I kept hearing, “Mom, seriously, be patient.”  “Ok, fine. But how about this one?!”

So finally, I came across a cute picture of two puppies who had just recently arrived, surprising their mother’s foster mom, who was unaware that she was pregnant. I showed my daughter, expecting the same answer I kept getting about being patient and that the right one would come. To my surprise, her eyes lit up and she said yes! We showed the rest of the family, and everyone was on board. We received our home visit from the rescue group and met our new little one within a few days. She quickly crawled into our hearts, and helped us continue the healing process (we had just lost our beloved Cocker Spaniel, Sweet Pea, three months prior) with love and lessons aplenty. I really believe that every person and creature in our lives is meant to teach us some lesson. Sweet Pea taught me about unconditional love, and about perseverance in difficult times. Lilly’s very first lesson of patience and faith has been a continuing theme between us. I can’t wait to see what she teaches me next.

DRS: I can totally relate to falling in love with every dog on Petfinder.com. That’s how we found, Ninja, or most recent dog. Your daughter is very wise.

Can you offer 3 professional tips to my readers?


1- Never use a product on your pet that you wouldn’t be comfortable using on yourself.

2- When on a walk or hike, keep your dog leashed. Just because your dog is friendly, it doesn’t mean that other dogs you may encounter will also be friendly. Additionally, you may encounter sudden, unexpected dangers like wildlife, cactus, or a steep drop.

3- Know what’s going on with your dog. Check her paws and face after a walk, and check her ears regularly for dirtiness as well as odors, both which can be a warning of infection on the horizon.

DRS: All excellent tips! What’s next up for Natural Paws? What can we be looking for?

EH: As mentioned earlier, we just released a new bath-in-a-bottle, called Dry Clean Dog. It sprays on, and brushes off, taking dirt and allergens with it but leaving behind aromatherapy of Sweet Lavender Mint. It’s pretty fabulous.

DRS: It sounds fabulous! Where can we learn more about you and your business, and purchase your products?

EH: Please visit. www.naturalpaws.net.

We now also have a lot of retailers and veterinarians selling our products across the country. Finding one is easy here http://naturalpaws.net/natural-paws/find-us-locally/

DRS: Is there anything else you would like for people to know about you or your business?

EH: We are woman-owned, cruelty-free, and totally natural and organic. Veterinarians love us and your dog does too!

DRS: My dogs love Natural Paws and I do too! Thank you so much, Elyse for the amazing work you do to help animals.  And thank you for your contribution to What to Expect When Adopting a Dog. I am most grateful.






Meet Judy Helm Wright, Pet Grief Coach

I met Judy Helm Wright a few years ago and when I learned that her company was all about the animal human bond, I knew we were simpatico. Among other professions, she’s a pet grief coach. Judy is delightful and so real and I think you’ll enjoy learning about how she found her way to her business and what she’s doing now to connect with all types and ages of people.

DRS: How did you get started in your pet business?

JHW: Two years ago I did a spreadsheet of all my books (23) in order to see which ones were selling. I was surprised to see that “I Lost My Best Friend Today—Dealing With The Loss of a Beloved Pet” outsold my parenting books by 3 or 4 to 1.  Big eye opener that people would pay more for books about pets than parenting.

DRS: I bet that had some influence as to where to take your business. How does you business
help both people and pets?

JHW: We started a Veteran Owned business called Animal-Human- Connection and since I was already a grief coach, and a dog lover for years, it was a natural progression to be a Pet Grief Coach.

DRS: And you are so loving, Judy. The grief associated with pet loss is so deep. I’m so grateful that people can turn to you if need be. Do you have any experience with animal rescue or adoption?

JHW: Only in our dog Taffy who was a farm dog and killed the chickens and we rescued her from
being put down.  All of our animals have been given to us.

DRS: You always have great stories, Judy. Do you have a favorite pet story?

JHW: Yes! Our son Andy when he was two years old was outside in our fenced yard in his diaper and cowboy boots, which was pretty good since he usually preferred just to go naked in his cowboy boots. I was in the house on the phone and when I went out to check on him, both he and our cocker spaniel Taffy were missing even though all of the gates were locked.  I started screaming his name and running around the neighborhood when a woman about a block away said: “are you looking for a naked little boy and a dog? You need to know that the dog kept him from going on the busy four lane street.”  We ran down there and hugged him and the dog.  He was hiding behind a car tire looking sheepish and said “I go to school too.” He had tried to follow his sisters to the school a couple of blocks away.

The woman said that Taffy had just herded him back to the safe side and when Andy got mad, Taffy pulled on the diaper and it came off! We all celebrated Taffy for her heroics and Andy for his cute little butt.

DRS: Well that one is definitely a classic! Glad it turned out the way it did, and Go Taffy! Do you have any professional tips you can offer?


– Do not be ashamed or hurried out of your grief over the loss of your pet.
– If you are feeling like you cannot cope with the grief, please call a Grief Coach for help.
– Grief is normal, natural and necessary.

DRS: Thank you for those tips, Judy. Grief is real and there’s no set amount of time that is should or
will last. What’s up next for your business?

JHW: It breaks my heart to finally admit that young people (25-45) don’t read and so I am doing more and more online classes.  Some are free, some are for a fee, some include one on one time with me. Please visit www.ArtichokePress.com and look under e-courses tab.  More are added all the time.

DRS: Sounds awesome. What else would you want people to know about you or your business?

JHW: People have often said “You can’t be an expert in so many fields.”  But, I really am. My gift is to study, observe and research topics and then share them with others in a clear and open way.  I am a wise, intuitive woman and am guided in my writings and speakings.  I come from a place of non-judgment and complete acceptance, so people can find me a soft place to land in life.  Feel free to call me today or schedule a free 30 minute session with me to see if we resonate.  My number is 406.549.9813 and my main website is www.ArtichokePress.com and the blog  is www.Facebook.com/AuntieArtichoke.

DRS: Thanks Judy! I know how delightful you are and I hope that anyone needing or even curious about your services will contact you. Thank you also for your contribution to What to Expect When Adopting a Dog. I am so grateful.

Meet Cindy Dunston Quirk, the big-hearted founder of Scout & Zoe’s chews and treats

Cindy, Scout and Zoe

Most of the dog people I know are super passionate about their dogs. Cindy Dunston Quirk is up there at the top of the list of passionate people. She started a business when she saw a need in the marketplace, which began with a need in her own dogs. Her passion shines through in this loving interview. You can hear the love in her voice as she tells us about her dogs and her relationship with them. Read on to learn more about Cindy, her passion for her dogs, and the resulting quality business she created out of all that love.

DRS: How did you get started in your pet business?

CDQ: My dog Zoe’s allergies lead me to start this venture [Scout &  Zoe’s dog chews and treats]. She developed allergies to beef among other things at the tender age of six months old. I searched and searched for a chew that wouldn’t irritate her skin or tummy.

In 2010 after years of trial and error, I hit on the idea of antlers. I gave antler chews to Zoe and Scout, who also has allergies. Lucky me! They did fine with the antlers and I shared them with close friends so their dogs could try the chews.

Zoe enjoying an antler chew

Eureka! A product was born. Once I saw the elk antlers were durable and wouldn’t irritate Scout or Zoe’s tummies, I developed packaging, branding and had the elk antler dog chews for sale in 14 days. It is an understatement to say I was driven to make this work.

That was back in 2010. In 2013, I added single ingredient treats in response to the Chinese chicken jerky that was killing precious pets. Those products are still in the assortment today….chicken jerky, sweet potatoes and carrots.

Beginning in 2014, I expanded the treat line to include novel proteins such as kangaroo, venison and duck and added bakery treats. The common thread with all the treats is that they are USA sourced and produced using human-grade raw ingredients. I eat all my treats to prove how safe they are. If the treats are not safe enough for me to eat, then I will never give them to my pups. If my pups aren’t allowed to have the treat, it will never be in our product assortment.

DRS: You are so resourceful, Cindy. My dogs love your antler chews and they last a really long time too. How does your business help both animals and people?

CDQ: Scout & Zoe’s provides healthy and safe treats for our furry pals. If the products are safe for me to eat, then my pups can have them. Then they are included in our product assortment. I tend to have an eye toward novel proteins and ingredients that will help animals with allergies. That is why most of our products are single ingredient or limited ingredients without any fillers or additives. All ingredients used are ones you can pronounce and know what they are. No bio-science degree necessary!

So, our treats help animals because they aren’t loaded with junk…. just healthy ingredients that are thoughtfully formulated into treats that will help our pets live their longest, healthiest and happiest lives possible.

We help pet parents by providing the same. Healthy treats that are consistently healthy and safe. When pet parents learn I eat my treats, that pretty much says it all. And many pet parents do the exact same thing, so we are on the same wavelength.

As pet parents, we all want our pets to live forever. While I haven’t figured out the forever ingredient listing yet, I can and do help give pet parents the peace of mind that the Scout & Zoe’s treats they are giving their precious fur babies won’t harm them. Healthy and happy for as long as possible!

DRS: Do you have any connection with animal rescue?

CDQ: I have a relationship with many animal rescues around the country but it all stems from Scout & Zoe’s. We help rescues by donating treats whenever possible. There are two local rescues that benefit on a regular basis. They are near and dear to my heart.

Following Hurricanes Harvey and Irma, Scout & Zoe’s donated treats and antler chews and coordinated donations with fellow companies to send to shelters in Florida. Texas was overwhelmed with donations so all the assistance went to the grateful organizations in South Florida.

DRS: I’m so happy you were there for the hurricane Irma victims.

Do you have a favorite pet story?

CDQ: How much time do you have? Seriously though, I can’t choose just one. All my dogs have and do amaze me with their, silly personalities, loving dispositions and unconditional love and companionship. And every single dog I have ever had the pleasure of sharing my bed with has uniquely impacted my life. From my childhood raising Pekinese puppies to the dogs I have had as an adult, I love them all.

Harry & Schotz

Harry, my Keeshond and first dog as an adult, taught me to always go big or stay home. He thought he was much larger in life than his 35 lbs. He scared off much bigger and fiercer dogs from our rural property. He also taught me how to allow him to cross over [the Rainbow Bridge] with his dignity. I held his face in my hands as he left this earth. He was 15 years old and enjoyed every moment of his life. This was truly one of the moments I felt my heartbreak.


Schotz, our first German Shepherd, taught both my husband and I to love unconditionally and to do everything we could do to try and overcome the cancer that ravaged our precious sweetheart. Nothing we could do could save her. From finding the cancer to sweet Schotz passing away, it was only three weeks. She was only 10 years old. We mourned for weeks. It took us an entire year to even think of bringing another Shepherd into our home.

While Zoe, our second German Shepherd, could never replace Schotz, she had such a great personality. She was affectionately called, “Devil Dog” during her puppy years. She was always into something. But she was loyal, intelligent and willing to please, she was my heart dog.

Solving the challenge of finding something for her to chew on due to her allergies drew me into the pet industry. And I will be forever grateful to her for that. She helped me find my passion and my way in the business of pets.

She was my canine companion, lover girl, business partner and best pal.

When I made the decision to allow her to continue her journey over the Bridge without me, it was the hardest decision I have ever made. I held her in my arms at home while the vet helped her cross over. And I continued to hold her until the funeral home came for her. I simply did not want to let her go. But her dignity was much more important than my earthly feelings. She was in pain and had always been such a proud, beautiful girl. This was the last loving thing I could do for her. She was 14 years old. I miss her so much.


Scout, our German Shorthaired Pointer, is always happy. He is comical, happy and goofy, and a snuggle buddy. He can never get too close to me on the couch, in bed, in the office or car. Wherever I am, you’ll find Scout. His middle name is Handsome and he certainly is. He is now nine years old and it hurts my heart to see him age. The once spry pup now has a silver muzzle and is more than happy to stay inside on a cold, blustery day.

Zoe and now Scout have shown me the holes in product offerings in the industry. And we have introduced products to fill those needs. Zoe continues to be beside us in spirit guiding both me, Scout and our company to do bigger and better things for fur babies globally.


Then there is Ziva. She is our newest German Shepherd fur baby and is now 18 months old. Full of energy and drive, she is nothing and is also somewhat exactly like her German Shepherd predecessors in our home. Loving, alert, curious and playful, she gives Scout a run for his money daily.

Although I know Scout doesn’t remember, Ziva is giving him the treatment he gave Zoe when he was a pup. There is never a dull moment in our home. And the house is always covered in dog hair!

DRS: Cindy- you don’t have a favorite pet story. ALL of your pet stories are your favorite. It’s really beautiful. And what you share so elegantly is that despite our grief when we lose a pet, our hearts are big enough to love another one.

Can you offer 3 professional tips to my readers?

CDQ: Sure… this answer will be much shorter than the previous one. 🙂

1) Follow your passion. Find something you love, and make a career out of it. I can’t believe it took me so long to realize how much I loved dogs.

2) Old dogs can learn new tricks. I started Scout & Zoe’s at age 51. While I wish I had begun at a much younger age, the timing was perfect and the opportunity (along with my education, experience, and economic climate) was perfect. Sounds cliché but things always happen for a reason and the lesson will be presented when the student is ready. I wholeheartedly believe that.

3) Never underestimate yourself. In my sales career, it took me many years to learn how to say, “I don’t know the answer to that question, but I’ll find out.” You know much more than you ever give yourself credit for. Dream big! REALLY BIG! I did and look where it took me! This all started because I was searching for something for Zoe to chew on. Really because a girl loved her dogs. Can’t get more basic than that!

DRS: The beauty is in how basic it is. And I totally agree: When the student is ready, the teacher will appear. Such sage advice. What’s next up for your biz? What can we be looking for?

CDQ: I love developing great new products. So much fun!

Scout & Zoe’s just introduced three new treats made from the invasive carp that are taking over American waterways. We call this our Fish on a Mission! ® Why do we call it a fish on a mission? Carp is an invasive fish that is making its way to the Great Lakes. We want to stop that one treat at a time! That was our original mission. But then we initiated this wonderful chain of strategic partnerships making this truly a Fish on a Mission! ®

The carp is caught by local Kentucky fishermen, processed by a second-chance employer and packaged by intellectually disabled adults. All so we can get our yummy treats into the mouths of deserving dogs globally! To learn more about our wonderful carp products and their story, visit  www.scoutandzoes.com/carp.

DRS: I love that the people helping your products get to market come from such diverse backgrounds. Where can we learn more about you and your business?

www.scoutandzoes.com/carp for more info on the carp products
www.scoutandzoes.com/hopewell for more information on our partnership with Hopewell…providing intellectually disabled adults with job skills to live life on their terms.

DRS: Is there anything else you would like for people to know about you or your business?

CDQ: Scout & Zoe’s is a socially and environmentally responsible company giving jobs to those needing a second chance or an opportunity to learn. But our main focus always has been and always will be the happiness and health of the precious pets of our customers.

I didn’t form Scout & Zoe’s to make money. I started it as a way to help dogs with allergies have something to chew on.

It wasn’t about the money. I get to surround myself every day with furry critters of all kinds. I am the happiest I have ever been.

DRS: Thank you for all of this information about you, your big-hearted company and the inspiration behind Scout & Zoe’s.

Thank you also for your contribution to What to Expect When Adopting A Dog. I am grateful.

Teens Help Train Shelter Dogs

I just completed volunteering at a two-week class with k9 connection- a Los Angeles based non-profit that pairs at-risk teens with shelter dogs. It is one of 10 projects under the parent agency, The People Concern. Over the course of two weeks (most programs last three weeks), the teens train shelter dogs helping the dogs to become more adoptable. What also happens is that the teens grow in emotional intelligence (the effects have been quantitatively studied) during their time with the dogs.

The program starts with six teens and six dogs. Often a few are adopted along the way. This session, two of the dogs were adopted in the first week and four remain. We all fell in love with them and want to see them find great homes -so please check my Pet People Planet Connection Facebook page for information about these fabulous (and now trained!) dogs. When a dog gets adopted during the program a “staff dog” joins the group so that the teen handler has a dog to work with.

Fernando and Peabody

Here’s a day-by-day overview of how the two-week program was structured. In general, the day starts out with dog training for the first hour followed by an hour of classroom time where the dogs hang out with their teen handler, accompanied by a volunteer or peer leader.

Day 1- The six students joined us in the courtyard for introductions. In addition to the Program Director, Juliet, the Program Assistant, Margaret, and the dog trainer, Sharon, k9 connection utilizes volunteers and peer leaders (graduates of the k9 connection program) to assist during the session. We all had a chance to meet and greet.

Brian and Angelina

Additionally, a skilled former high school teacher and k9 volunteer joined the program to guide the students as their facilitator during the classroom portions. Her name is Les and before we even saw any dogs, she started the program with a discussion about the difference between expectations and intentions. She also led a short chocolate meditation to open the student’s awareness to the concept of Mindfulness.

Later on, Les taught us another kind of breathing meditation called a box meditation. I noticed that kids seemed a little nervous yet excited about all of the newness, which is only to be expected.

Then the dogs showed up! The students and dogs did “speed dating” to see which dogs they thought they might like to work with. One young woman who is clearly terrified of dogs is facing her fears! She was really skittish around the big dogs but more comfortable with the little ones. After speed dating, while the program directors were deciding which students would be paired with which dogs, the volunteers and students took the dogs for a nice walk in the neighborhood. When we returned the students learned which dog they would be teaming up with for the remainder of the program. Then the dogs were loaded up in the van and went back to the shelter and rescue group where they live.

Day 2: We found out that one of the students had to drop out of the program. Such a bummer, but certainly lucky for the alternate student who got to take her place.  The dogs arrived and the volunteers brought them out to the training area on the field where each dog had a designated towel.  The first thing we did every day was lead the dogs from towel to towel so they could sniff and familiarize themselves with the other dogs without actually making contact. Sharon the trainer then taught the students how to properly hold a leash with the dog on their left, using their left hand to steer (lower down on the leash, closer to the collar) while the other end of the leash crosses their body and is looped over the right hand. Then the students were shown how to train the dogs to “sit” (by lifting a hand with a treat in it toward your shoulder and “making a muscle”, which guides the dog’s head up and butt down), as well as “touch”. With “touch” the dogs touch their nose to your hand and get a treat.  The instruction included the nuance of giving treats to the dogs even when they didn’t do it perfectly. The dogs were trying and rewarding effort was key. Plus sometimes the older dogs have back issues and on any given day sitting, for example, might be uncomfortable. This idea was valuable for the students to hear, reinforcing that they too are rewarded for effort.  After training was done for the day, we all walked a lap around the track.

Meredith, Jovi and Stuart paying close attention to the lesson. (Well maybe Stuart the dog is napping during class.)

During the classroom hour, we reviewed expectations and intentions. The students were asked to set an intention of something they would do between today and tomorrow (i.e spend time with family, do homework etc.). We also learned a bit of Qigong (a form of Chinese yoga that involves deep breathing and stretching) by following along with a video clip. We discussed the difference between Sympathy and Empathy and were treated to Brene Brown’s animated video on empathy.

To help deepen our understanding of empathy we played a few games.  The first game offered a possible life situation and some responses. Only one response was truly empathetic and the students had to figure out which it was. They did great.  In the next game, one student was pretending to be a dog that had not yet learned basic commands. That student left the room and the remaining students chose a command for the dog. Upon returning the pretend dog student had to guess what was being asked of them. They did well. Lastly, each student was paired with a volunteer or peer leader. Each person had a chance to share an embarrassing thing that happened at some point in their life and the other person practiced listening and being empathetic. Then we switched roles.

Day 3: As usual we started the outside training time with towel sniffing and then learned how to teach our dogs the “down” command and “come when called”. After training, we were treated to a drum circle. Everyone got to choose their own instrument and it was another opportunity to be mindful and try something new. Felix, the drum circle leader was fabulous and showed us all how to not only play our instruments but also get lost in the experience of playing together.

Andrea, Jovi, Khai, Nyla and Stuart (shelter visit)

Day 4: Today, instead of training, we took a field trip to West Los Angeles shelter where three of our six dogs live.  The students had never been to a shelter before and it was eye-opening seeing how many dogs, cats, rabbits (and more) live there. We found the k9 connection dogs- Peabody the senior Beagle, Jill the pit bull mix and Stuart the gentle soul pit bull type dog. By the end of the visit, we were able to bring the k9 connection dogs out of their kennels for a short playtime in the big yard.

Stuart Adoption poster

Day 5: During training the student/dog teams worked on “sit/down/sit” (as one command), “come when called” and leading their dogs through the tunnel, preparing for the agility course. After training, the students made posters to help the dogs they’ve been teamed up with gain some extra attention at the shelter. They included positive attributes about their dogs, photos etc. When people approach a k9 connection dog’s kennel, they learn that this dog has been in a training program, socialized and more.  The students had an opportunity to share about their experience at the shelter. All of them were sad that their dogs, and so many others were living there and didn’t live with a family. They were motivated to adopt a dog and help spread the word about dog adoption.

It was a great learning experience for everyone.

DAY 6: Today we worked on “come when called” using a 20 foot leash called a long line.  At first the bouncy dogs ran right past the students. But with practice and some fine-tuning, everyone (human and dog) improved.

Andrea and Maribelle

Then we started practicing the hurdles. Mouse, the black Chihuahua, despite his diminutive size jumped over a 4 inch bar. And Maribel the Pomeranian? Well, we had to take the bar all the way down for her. That’s ok though. She still went over the bar!

During indoor class time we learned about prejudice and micro-aggression giving examples and then offering ways to let the other person know that that’s not cool.

We also noted that some dog breeds, including our very own pit bull dog Stuart might look scary but he’s really a sweetheart. Some of the students could relate.

Day 7: We reviewed long line “come when called”, and did some more agility. The dogs had to jump over hurdles and then go through the tunnel…putting the whole agility course together!

In the classroom we were treated to an improv class, led by an improv teacher! We discussed how improv can help people think on their feet which would be great for any new social situation, or a job interview, citing a few examples. The students played a few games where they role-played and had to think on their feet. I was so impressed with how creative some of the kids got.

Day 8: We reviewed many of the commands and did a double agility course! This is how they will perform during graduation- just two days away.  Each day the dogs are learning but some days some of the dogs, especially the older ones aren’t up to full participation. The students were reminded that we are all different every day as are the dogs, so we meet them where they are. In the classroom, we learned how to do a nostril breathing meditation using either the left or right nostril to achieve different outcomes; the different techniques also relate to the right and left sides of the brain. I have to say, this was all new to the students and they were good sports and participated in everything. After the meditation, the students wrote their graduation speeches! They had former speeches to refer to for ideas and format and the volunteers were there to help give them a little extra support if necessary.

Khai, Jessica and Lisa with Mouse

Day 9: Dress rehearsal. Out on the field, we did a final run through of the skills the dogs learned, the agility course and the speeches.  One of the staff dogs is super bird and small animal motivated and has trouble focusing. Her student handler did a superb job getting her to focus during “come when called’ and I was sure to let him know that he played a big part in her success. She was one of the dogs who went flying right past him on the first day. Massive improvement for everyone. There was no classroom time that day as the dress rehearsal took up the majority of the class. Then we had a pizza party.

Day 10: Graduation. The big day! I was excited that I got to see how far the students had come in just two short weeks. They were empowered by having learned to train dogs. They were more empathic having visited the shelter and having a better understanding of what it means to be a homeless dog. They had all accomplished something new and wonderful and were getting ready to display what they had learned in front of their family and peers. They showed off the skills they taught their dogs. They beautifully led their dogs through the agility course. Each student gave a short graduation speech- for most of them this was the first time ever giving a speech. They shared their dreams and goals for the future and received a certificate of completion. And yes, I cried. The whole process was beautiful.

Hopefully, this experience has a lasting effect on the teenagers.  And hopefully, the extra training helps these wonderful dogs quickly find new homes.  We celebrated with a little party and then the dogs went back to the shelter. One of the girls had tears running down her face as she said goodbye to her little dog. And another, while not visibly crying, waited at the dog van until it was time to go to get one more look at the dog he had bonded with over the last two weeks.

Les, Khai and Mouse

In his speech, he promised to do his best to help her find a home. I trust that he will.

Sergio and Jill

If you are interested in learning more about k9 connection, you can visit their website: www.k9connection.org; there is a page about how to become a volunteer and you can contact them at: info@k9connection.org, and if you are interested in starting your own k9 connection type organization, you can find out about receiving their Start-Up Manual in exchange for making a small donation. You can also keep up with the latest events and activities by visiting their Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/k9connection.CA

Photo Credits: Les Klein and Margaret Winn

Meet Denise Fleck, Pet Safety Crusader, Dog Adoption and Senior Dog Advocate!

Grab a cup of tea and join me while I chat with Denise Fleck, Pet Safety Crusader. Denise and I connected the minute we met and she has been an inspiration to me ever since. She is an expert in Pet First Aid, senior dogs and so much more. I trust that you will learn a lot from her, enjoy her heart-warming stories and laugh out loud at least once. 

DRS: How did you get started in your pet business?

DFFor our first wedding anniversary, my husband and I “became a family” by adopting a dog from the local animal shelter. Her gentle cry and soft brown eyes drew us in while her excitement for life won us over the moment we approached her. We stood there wondering how such a loving canine could have ended up in such a predicament — it was her last day at the shelter before being euthanized. We adopted that yellow Labrador Retriever, named her “Sunny” for her color and disposition, and she quickly became the sunshine of our lives. All our friends knew “The Sunny-dog” (as we affectionately called her), and she loved everyone. The morning of February 14, 1997 began a harrowing day for Sunny. Upon waking, our precious girl was unable to move and in agonizing pain. We didn’t know what was wrong, though we deduced some sort of back or neck injury and we feared picking her up could make it worse. So we waited for a Veterinary Technician to come to our house, put Sunny
on a stretcher and quickly get her medical care. Sunny had ruptured 3 discs in her spine and needed surgery. After recovering, she bounced back to her full-of-adventure self, and I was determined to never again be unsure how to help when my furry child needed me. Thus, my company Sunny Dog- Ink began.

I left my job as a motion picture publicist and developed my proprietary Pet First-Aid & Cardio Pulmonary Cerebral Resuscitation (CPCR) program. I’ve instructed more than 15,000 humans plus millions more via television appearances (CBS “The Doctors,” Animal Planet’s “Groomer Has It” and “Pit Boss,” Kirstie Alley’s “Big Life” and more). It seemed a natural complement to create a line of Pet First-Aid Kits because people prefer having things ready to purchase! After Sunny crossed The Rainbow Bridge, I wrote an article about my next love, Sushi the Akita. Sushi’s story appeared in “Dog Fancy” Magazine which led me to a freelance writing career. The success of the classes coupled with adopting senior dogs (Mr. Rico the Black Lab, Rex the Border Collie-Akita & Bonsai the Akita) led me to writing books and developing classes on Senior Pet Care. Volunteering at my local animal shelter led me to teaching high school animal care and realizing that although kids don’t always listen to their parents, parents often do listen to their kids. This made me think that by writing books for children, I would also be capturing the attention of their parents and grandparents too, so I wrote the award-winning “Don’t Judge a Book by its Cover” series and the third installment will be out Fall 2018.

Teaching Pet First-Aid led me to teaching all types of animal people and groups. One, the Southern California Animal Response Team, taught me how to rescue animals from disasters. Couple this with another decade of training, practice, workshops and being deployed and I drafted Burbank California’s Animal Disaster Plan and then wrote my 9th book, “The Pet Safety Crusader’s My Pet & Me Guide to Disaster PAWparedness.”

DRS: Wow Denise- you are so accomplished. I know you’ve been a champion for senior dogs as well as pet safety. In fact, I attended one of your Pet First Aid and CPCR classes last year and learned so much!

How does your business help both animals and people?

DF: The tagline for “Sunny-dog Ink” is “Helping People Help Their Pets,” which is my main focus.  Since I can’t be everywhere, other humans need to know what I know so that they can help an animal in need.  By teaching them to bandage a wound, alleviate choking or actually being the pump for a dog’s heart (aka performing CPR), I help people to save their pet’s lives or at least keep them from further harm until they can reach veterinary help.

DRS: Can you tell us about your relationship with animal rescue?

DF: PAWSitively!  I thrive on getting down and dirty doing rescue work. Over the decades I have volunteered with the Best Friends’ animal helpline and brigade, Southern California Labrador Retriever Rescue, Akita Buddies (where I adopted two amazing fur kids) and the Burbank Animal Shelter where I served as both Publicity Director and President of the volunteer organization. For two years, each week I would take animals from the Shelter onto KTLA in Los Angeles to share their furry faces and bring their plight, as well as educational tips, to viewers.  I worked with Warner Bros., Disney and other corporations to help the shelter get much-needed assistance but found the greatest satisfaction in working hands-on: walking dogs, bathing & brushing them so they would look their best when potential adopters came by, as well as spending time with cats and rabbits.  I always say that I get my best ideas hosing poop, because I’m in the moment, clearing my head and can let the thoughts flow. LOL

DRS: Denise I love that! While it is Laugh Out Loud funny, it is true that it’s in those moments that we do get out of our head and can really listen.

What other types of organizations are you involved with?

DF: Though I just recently moved across the country, I’m already in touch with several rescues and animal welfare organizations, but am spending most of my volunteer energy as an active Board Member with The Grey Muzzle Organization (GMO).  Grey Muzzle is a non-profit that funds hospice and dental care, senior adoption, medical screenings, and other special programs for senior dogs at animal welfare organizations across the country.  GMO’s vision is a world where no old dog dies alone or afraid. Being able, for now, to work for GMO from home allows me the time I crave to devote to my buddy Haiku, my Chikita – part Chow/part Akita as he embarks on his 13th year.

I am also an honored Board Member of the Emma Zen Foundation that supplies pet oxygen masks to First Responders.  Founded by a dear friend who got the idea after taking my Pet First Aid Class in 2008, she has made amazing strides in supplying professionals so they can help our four-legged friends.

DRS: Do you have a favorite pet or animal story?

DF: I will never forget the concern exhibited by our doggie friend and neighbor, Pooches, the day Sunny suffered her back injury. It was one of the most touching moments I have ever experienced and proved beyond the shadow of a doubt that humans are not the only ones who express emotion (as if I ever doubted it). The Vet Tech was strapping Sunny to the stretcher preparing her to be carried down all those steps while I stroked her head trying to reassure her that all would be okay. Pooches wandered into our yard through the open gate and with such a look of concern on her graying face, licked Sunny’s cheek. She then nudged Sunny’s ear several times with her nose to comfort her and whimpered a gentle sigh. As we lifted the stretcher, the small black dog stood back to clear the way and then let out a sharp and forceful bark addressed to Sunny as if to say, “Don’t worry pal. You’ll be alright, and I’ll keep watch until you get back.” Pooches paced self-confidently back and forth at the top of the hillside as we carried the ailing Sunny-dog down the long and winding steps. It just melted my heart in my time of pain.

DRS: Oh Denise- that’s the sweetest story!

Can you offer 3 professional tips to my readers?



Thinking “It will never happen to my pet” is just tempting fate, and emergencies often happen after business hours and when we are home alone, so it’s important to have a plan.  Know how to lift & transport your injured animal (especially if it’s a bigger dog) and know where the closest Animal ER is located.  I encourage people to drive there, learn where to park or pull up for assistance BEFORE you need it.


Sitting down weekly and gently feeling your pet from head-to-tail can be a life-saver. If you notice any changes you can get medical attention quickly. But it’s also time to tune in and notice if your pet is properly grooming himself, if he has any sores, in need of a nail trimming or anything that isn’t quite right.  It’s great bonding time, and a chance for us to observe the more subtle aches and pains, whether he’s eating and drinking enough or needing to go “out” more often.


Although veterinarians are the experts, most of us aren’t lucky enough to have one velcroed to our hip 24/7, so we MUST know what to do BEFORE we can get our ill or injured pet medical care.  Learning to check vitals, knowing pressure points to stop bleeding, how to properly cool down an over-heated animal or induce vomiting in one who has ingested poison are priceless skills.  And should the worst happen, being able to alleviate choking or perform CPCR can mean life or death for your best friend!  Additionally, just like a plumber or carpenter needs the right tool for the job, you need to have a well-equipped Pet First-Aid Kit (and know how to use the items in it) to best render help when needed.

DRS: What’s next up for your biz? What can we be looking for?

DF: January will see the release of my 10th book “The Pet Safety Bible”, a 260+ page compendium that takes the reader from thinking about adoption, through making that choice, building his pet’s team of humans, pet safety, senior care and of course…Pet First-Aid & CPCR. At about the same time, my 6-hour video class will become available online, so that pet lovers can train with me in animal life-saving skills from the comfort of their own home.

DRS: I’m super excited for all of this- especially your video class! I’m sure many people would love to see you teach live and this is a great option.

Where can we learn more about you and your business?


Books on Amazon  http://www.amazon.com/Denise-Fleck/e/B00J7MFGU6/ref=sr_ntt_srch_lnk_3?qid=1452038445&sr=8-3

DRS: Is there anything else you would like for people to know about?

DF: I have been amazingly blessed…I have a husband who loves our dogs as much as I do, and he gave me the freedom to follow my heart and passion working with animals. People have taken my class, and as a result, they have saved the life of an animal!  It is so rewarding and makes me feel like I’m doing what I was meant to do.

Yes, I have personally instructed more than 15,000 pet parents and future ones, professional pet sitters, obedience trainers, groomers and daycare providers. I’ve had the honor of teaching in the homes of Oprah Winfrey, Kirstie Alley, several Playboy Playmates and other celebrities. I have won awards for my writing and my Pet Safety Crusader Radio Show (currently on hiatus), but mostly though, I have been loved by 11 dogs and a cat (and lots more at shelters) and benefitted from their lessons of unconditional love and undying loyalty.  In a nutshell, I would say: “Every dog who has entered my life has led me to another path of helping people help their animals.  Dogs are my muses, my inspiration, my teachers and healers, and they have made me a better human.”

Denise Fleck
Pet Safety Crusader™
Sunny-dog Ink

You can find more of Denise’s tips and her dog adoption stories in What to Expect When Adopting a Dog.



Meet the Selfless Reem Regina Tatar- Founder of Puppy Mill Awareness

The first question I asked Reem Regina Tatar was:  How did you get started in your pet “business”? I put business in quotes because as you will learn, Reem is not at all in business. She started this educational campaign purely to help spread awareness. She’s not earning a dime nor is she raising money as a non-profit. Everything she does is from her heart and soul. Let’s learn more about what inspired her.

RRT: I started my Puppy Mill Awareness news and educational campaign on social media in 2009 to raise awareness about puppy mill dogs after I inadvertently purchased a puppy from unscrupulous husband and wife con artists. As soon as I discovered what puppy mills were, I felt compelled to raise awareness to as many people as possible and spread the word about the dark world of commercial dog breeding and all other breeders that don’t have any regard for animal welfare or health and only come from a place of greed and not compassion.

DRS: Kudos to you for not simply learning and saying “I’ll never do that again” but also realizing that this was the underbelly of the dog breeding world and people needed to know so they could avoid making an inadvertent purchase.

How does your campaign help both animals and people?

RRT: It helps animals by being their voice and advocating on their behalf. It helps humans so they don’t get scammed and can make wiser choices when acquiring a dog.

DRS: What is your relationship with animal rescue?

RRT: I feel very passionately about this cause particularly due to understanding what puppy mills are and how important it is to adopt – not shop. My goal is to spread the word as far and wide as I possibly can.

DRS: Considering how many people follow you on social media, clearly you are making an impact!

Do you have a favorite pet or animal story?

RRT: There are so many to list but my favorite would be when I was a baby, I was in a crib in the back of my parents’ pharmacy and a robber came and threatened us. Our German Shepherd protected my family by catching that guy and stopping him in his tracks. Dogs have been my best friends ever since.

DRS: What an awesome dog! Can you offer any tips to my readers?

RRT: I don’t really run a business – it’s a social media news and educational campaign, so I don’t have professional advice to offer other than “adopt – don’t shop.” Humans and dogs will benefit greatly.

DRS: What’s next up for you? What can we be looking for?

RRT: More news, more education, more awareness!

DRS: Where can we learn more about you and your campaign?

RRT: Puppy Mill Awareness at puppymillawareness.com

DRS: Is there anything else you would like for people to know about you or your business?

RRT: I actually don’t earn a living doing this as it’s a labor of love but I will keep doing this work until I am not able to anymore. Thank you for reading!

DRS: Thank you for the selfless work you do. I always learn something when I stop by any of your social media pages- something in the news that I didn’t know before. You are a gem and I am grateful that you are such a strong voice for animals!

Note: For anyone who is unfamiliar with the term Puppy Mill, here’s a great explanation from the Puppy Mill Awareness page:

A puppy mill, sometimes known as a puppy farm, is a commercial dog breeding facility that is operated with an emphasis upon profits above animal welfare and is often in substandard conditions regarding the well being of dogs in their care. Puppy Mill Awareness aims to encourage the public not to buy puppies from pet stores or online and to raise awareness. This page is not funded by any animal rights group and does not receive endorsements.  However, all groups are welcome to share relevant information about puppy mills and, after review, will be posted.


I Walked a Cat… and I Liked It!

Bryce Canyon National Park

Remember the trip I took to Best Friends Animal Sanctuary a couple of years ago? It was magical in every way. In case you missed it, here’s the blog.

Grand Canyon South Rim

I loved it so much, I went back this Thanksgiving with my family. We made a whole trip out of it- Grand Canyon, Bryce and Zion National Parks. 

But we spent Thanksgiving Day at Best Friends. 

Once again it was magical. I suspect, if I return again, it will be magical then too. We went on a guided hike in the morning, learning about the native plants, how the canyon was carved, and the native people who lived on the sanctuary land about 1000 years ago.  The bonus was, our tour guide was the grandson of the man who originally sold the sanctuary land to the Best Friends Animal Society founders! 

He shared stories of his childhood playing in the river and running around the 3000-acre property.

Cave Mouth at Best Friends Animal Sanctuary

In the afternoon, my husband, daughter and her boyfriend took a tour of the sanctuary (and got to play with the puppies!)while my son, his friend and I volunteered with the kitty cats. I love cats. Always have. I would have loved to have gone back to Dogtown, but I didn’t sign up to volunteer until a few weeks ago and the available volunteer slots were with the kitties.

I loved it. We all did. My son and his friend (yes- these are the same two who painted the artwork for the Portraits of Hope project) both love cats and neither of them have cats at home, so this was a treat. When we arrived, the cat caregivers needed help with the dishes and laundry. We were there to support the staff and we were happy to oblige. After that, we were asked to walk cats! What???!!! I’ve never walked a cat before and they explained that you really don’t walk cats. They walk you.

The first cat, named Paytrix was a big cat. Many of the cats in their housing pod have disabilities and he was mostly ok but sometimes had some trouble walking. Only adults are allowed to hold the cat leash so I got to do the honors. He likes to walk over to other housing pods and when those caregivers see him, they come out and give him treats. Basically, it’s Trick or Treating- and he gets to do it every day.

But Paytrix doesn’t like coming home. So one of the cat caregivers comes out with a stroller so we can stroller him home. The kids are allowed to push the stroller.

After walking Paytrix we played with some of the resident cats and then a few more cats needed walks- all in strollers, so the three of us walked the path together. 

Yes- those are wild turkeys. We all acknowledged that those turkeys are smart to be hanging out at a No-Kill animal sanctuary on Thanksgiving!

Just before it was time to go, another cat named Auri needed a walk. Auri has trouble with his hind legs and goes to physical therapy weekly. It’s good for him to go on walks because when he falls down, he uses his muscles to get himself back up again which helps the rehab.

Big Horn Sheep at Zion

It was nice spending time with the cats, and the kids enjoyed the experience and now I can add “I’ve walked a cat” to the list of things I’ve done in my life!

Interview with a Rescue Hero “Saving the Hounds from the Pound”

Stephen Michael Hamm and I met a bunch of years ago when my kids’ books about animal rescue first launched. Stephen has always been a “yes” guy. When I started an affiliate program he raised his hand and said “yes”, he would like for Sweetwater Valley Dog Rescue (SVDR) to participate.

The opening sentence on SVDR’s website is:

“Save the hounds from the pound is our one and only goal and priority.”

They specialize in rescuing hound dog breeds (especially Catahoula Hound Dogs), but they are not breed exclusive.  A couple of years ago, we had a phone conversation and he said something really wise about understanding the traits of any breed you are considering adopting.  I asked if I could quote him in my upcoming book, and as yes people do, he said “yes”.

You can find out what he shared in  What to Expect When Adopting a Dog. As you will learn here, he continues to be a “yes” guy and it looks like as long as there’s work to do, he will have his hand raised saying “I’ll do it.” I have tons of respect for Stephen and the work he does in Tennessee. Animal rescue in the South continues to be challenging and it takes a huge heart and a lot of hard work to do the job he does. Let’s see why he does what he does:

DRS: How did you get started in animal rescue?

SMH: In 2013 I was diagnosed with possible epilepsy or multiple sclerosis, which unfortunately required me to seek alternate methods of keeping myself busy and since I have always loved dogs this to me represented a prime opportunity to begin my own rescue.

DRS: How does your rescue work help both animals and people?

SMH: Sweetwater Valley Dog Rescue is dedicated to help the dogs within our small corner of East TN while also providing spay/neuter assistance thanks to a yearly spay/neuter grant provided by the state.

DRS: What is your relationship to animal rescue. Why you?

SMH: It is staggering the number of unwanted dogs that end up in shelters across this country and to me either you can sit on the sidelines waiting on someone else to step up or you can just go ahead and step up yourself.

DRS: Clearly, you stepped up! Can you tell us about your favorite pet?

SMH: My favorite pet is my trusted sidekick Diddy Bite-Cha he is a 4-year-old Catahoula Leopard Dog and is always by my side.

DRS: I love that name! I think I might need to rename my little dog.

Can you offer 3 professional tips from someone on the front lines in rescue that might be helpful to my readers?


1. Research the breed of dog before committing to anything to ensure you are ready, willing, and able to provide for the dog’s needs.

2. Ensure you never adopt out of emotion. Keep it realistic as to what you are willing to provide for the dog.

3. Make a list of questions to ask the shelter, rescue, individual, breeder, etc. as to details regarding the dog i.e. how did the dog end up with your rescue organization.

DRS: What’s next up for Sweetwater Valley Dog Rescue?

SMH: Always expansion. We now are able to help six county shelters in our area and we are looking to add others as time and resources permit.

DRS: Stephen- that’s incredible. Where can we learn more about you and your business?

SMH: Follow us on Facebook at Sweetwater Valley Dog Rescue or our website


DRS: Is there anything else you would like for people to know about animal rescue or what they can do to make a difference?

SMH: We are committed to helping the dogs in need within our immediate area of East TN. Our hope is one day we won’t have to but until then we are here and will remain. Also remember if everyone would consider volunteering, fostering, donating, sharing information, etc. we could change the mindset of animal treatment in this country literally overnight.