Top 10 'Not So Ordinary' Pet People Named
Stories of animal cruelty abound, but humanity's noble nature has shown perseverance in the last year with numerous people coming to the aid of pets. To honor these everyday heroes, Pet Pulse News created a "Top 10 Pet People of the Year" list, but it is Zootoo users who will determine the winner.
NEW YORK -- Homelessness and abuse aside, some of the country's most affected animals continue to face a more paramount issue: the inability to ask for help.
Lucky for some pets, this past year, they didn't have to; hundreds of animal welfare organizations and people stepped forward in 2008, eager to throw the needy pets a bone.
Yet in a sea of kindness, some individuals swam a little faster, jumped a little higher than the rest.
Pet Pulse News' editorial staff established a lengthy roster of notable people, then whittled the list down to present our first "Top 10 'Not So Ordinary' Pet People of the Year" awards.
We felt these everyday people had to display an effort beyond the everyday run-of-the-mill, showing a measure of remarkable perseverance or creativity, while pushing an issue into the greater public's consciousness.
Now it's in the hands of Zootoo.com's users. At the bottom of this article you can vote for whom you think should be named the number one "Not So Ordinary Pet Person of the Year." After the poll closes on Feb. 10, the winner will be featured in a USA Today article written by pet columnist Sharon Peters and published on Feb. 18.
Without further adieu, and in no sequential order of significance, here is Pet Pulse News' "Top 10 Not So Ordinary Pet People of the Year."
Rescue Ink: Tattooed bikers form a 'neighborhood watch' for pets
Don't let the tattered leather jackets and the tattoos fool you. The guys at Rescue Ink, a rescue nonprofit, may ride Harleys, but they only rev their engines for the sake of abandoned and abused animals.
The New York City-based organization is comprised of motorcyclists, whose tough-guy facade comes in handy when they routinely face animal abusers in the metropolitan region.
"What happened was that along with going to tattoo conventions and hot rod motorcycle get-togethers, animals were a big part of our life," said Mike Tattoo, a member of Rescue Ink. "So we would be at a hot rod convention, talking about yeah, the motor and this and that, and guess what happened last week?"
The team works for free, and often steps up when other nonprofits call upon them to do so. Most recently, they executed the rescue and re-homing of nearly 200 neglected cats, which had all been living in one Long Island home. They also continue to pledge their devotion and support to many welfare initiatives, like controlling feral cat populations and stopping puppy mills across the United States.
They aren't so different from many other animal welfare nonprofits, which also work tirelessly for their causes. Yet, Rescue Ink shines in its two-fold effort to help people look past stereotypes, and to think again before shying away in fear -- unless they are animal abusers, of course.
With that kind of attitude, people like the volunteers at Rescue Ink can forge a new nonjudgmental course in the animal welfare community. Who knows? Maybe one day, Pit Bulls will be seen to be as cuddly as a Golden Retriever puppy. Watch the video: Bikers Ride to Save Animals
Jodi Polanski: Organized Realtors to find abandoned pets new homes
They cannot hold a job or sign a lease, but no one, not even pets, is impervious to the unfolding economic crisis. So if a family's house gets foreclosed, it's likely that their animals will be kicked to the streets, as well.
As a witness to the increasing rates of animal abandonment, Jodi Polanski, along with a couple of other out-of-work real estate professionals in Phoenix, Ariz., tried to utilize her unemployment to locate and rescue pets who were victims of the foreclosure crisis.
"I would hear these stories, from realtors, of pets left in backyards or abandoned homes and I realized this is really becoming a huge issue," said Polanski, a mortgage lender and now president of Lost Our Home. "Once we really got involved, I realized that it was way past a huge problem. It's an epidemic."
Established in June, Lost Our Home Pet Foundation is devoted to scanning deserted homes for left-behind pets.
While Polanski is the last founding member to remain on board, a new handful of volunteer realtors are moving forward with the mission. Ironically, it is conducted from volunteers' homes, not an established facility or office. At least, however, they are putting their skills to good use, helping around 90 animals a month find new homes they desperately need.
When foster or new permanent homes don't immediately materialize, the realtors bring pets food and water on a regular basis, hoping a foster opening will soon appear.
They may be close to giving up on the housing market, for now, at least, but the nonprofit's volunteers and organizers recognize that the ramifications of this problem are too big to ignore. Read the story: Pets Find New Homes With Realtors
Mimi Ausland: Feeds homeless animals from a Web site she created at just 13-years-old
What began as fun and games for 13-year-old Mimi Ausland turned into the serious business of feeding pets in shelters throughout the country.
"I always wanted to do something bigger and, after playing this game for awhile, I made the connection that I could use the computer so people all over the world could help feed animals," said Mimi of the Internet vocabulary game, FreeRice.com, which sparked her petlanthropic endeavor.
After four months of planning, Mimi launched her site, FreeKibble.com, which provides users with daily, multiple choice trivia questions about animals -- whether the answer is right or wrong, a simple click of the mouse ensures 10 pieces of kibble will be donated to a designated shelter.
The project, which went live in April, was a family affair.
"My mom did the drawings, like the dog and cat. My dad designed the Web site," explained Mimi, noting that she contributes by finding sponsors, while also serving as the site's spokeswoman.
The media quickly latched on to the story -- NBC Nightly News and People Magazine have both run features on the project. The publicity helped Mimi create FreeKibbleKat.com, a sister site dedicated to helping cats, less than a year after the teenager's first virtual foray into petlanthropy.
Currently, the donated kibble is going to about 11 shelters across the country, while Mimi is continually generating interest far and wide.
"My goal, and I really thought this was going to happen and it did, is that we could feed all the dogs here at HSCO," said Mimi of her local shelter, the Humane Society of Central Oregon. "And then I thought that if we could do that, we could go on to other animal shelters."
Indeed, the sky is the limit for Mimi and the animals she's helping feed. Read the story: Girl Uses Trivia to Give Pets Kibble
Main Line Animal Rescue & Bill Smith: Motivated Oprah Winfrey to feature a show on puppy mills
For nearly 10 years, volunteers and staff of Main Line Animal Rescue have battled the homeless pet issue, only exacerbated by a local, little-known secret of puppy mills. Neighboring Lancaster County, famous for its Pa. Dutch tourism industry, is also home to the state's highest concentration of commercial kennels.
Headed by director William "Bill" Smith, MLAR has fought to draw attention to puppy mills with billboards greeting tourists along heavily traveled Lancaster County highways. But this year, the nonprofit wanted to go beyond the borders of Pennsylvania -- it wanted to reach millions.
With limited resources, MLAR stuck to what it does best: billboards. However, this time, it appeared four blocks from Oprah Winfrey's Chicago studio. Just days after the billboard went up in February, MLAR received a call from Winfrey's show's producers.
Immediately, MLAR began working with the Oprah Show's investigative reporter, Lisa Ling, to help produce an hour-long show focused on commercial kennel issues, as revealed by their joint undercover investigation. The segment also featured segments on euthanasia and the importance of spaying and neutering.
After the show aired in April, MLAR received thousands of phone calls, some from U.S. citizens, but also from people in Russia, Egypt and the Netherlands, "all horrified by the inhumane treatment of dogs," as stated on their Web site.
MLAR's creative means to draw attention to puppy mills brought the largest response to any Oprah show in the past two years. It also prompted a major boost in Web site viewership -- about six million users have logged on to MLAR's Web site since the show first ran.
By uniquely applying their resources, MLAR was successful in bringing a dramatic call to action for ending the inhumanity by opening millions of Americans' eyes to the world of puppy mills. Read the story: Oprah Takes on Puppy Mills
Greg LeNoir: Saved his dog from the jaws of a shark
A sunny, warm Florida afternoon in September brought a life or death moment to Greg LeNoir, who acted with unsurpassed courage to save his dog from the jaws of a large lemon shark.
"I thought, well, I maybe have one chance, one chance at saving Jake," LeNoir said. "So I put my fists together and I dove in as straight and stiff as a I could."
Then LeNoir punched the shark repeatedly. It released Jake, who swam to shore in a cloud of blood, LeNoir explained.
This pet owner's invincibility and determination proves the bond between a man and his dog is unbreakable, especially when tested in dangerous waters. LeNoir couldn't have anticipated how the incident would play out, but he knew that he couldn't have gone on, or walked away, without Jake by his side. In his eyes, that made the enormous risk one worth taking.
"He just loves his dog and they're very, very tight -- and I just can't believe he did it," said Jerry LeNoir of his brother's actions. "I wouldn't have done it."
Jake survived the incident, suffering only puncture wounds and lacerations. LeNoir stands by his decision with a call for all to be as brave as he.
"If you're ever in a situation like this and you have one second to save somebody you love, don't think twice, just jump in," said LeNoir, a man true to his word. Watch the video: Man Saves Dog From Jaws of Shark
Ashley Paige: Fashion designer gives shelter dogs the runway's most coveted spot
In an industry that is all about image, Ashley Paige lets her design label go to the dogs -- rescued dogs, that is.
While Paige is famous for her knitted bikinis, she has also created a stir in the fashion world by sending models down the runway with homeless dogs.
"The one thing about being in fashion is that you can be famous in fashion ... so in my heart I know that the bigger my company grows, the more I can give back to the animals, and that's my mission," Paige said last March, just after her collection walked the runways of the Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week.
While "closing" a fashion show is a tremendous honor, typically reserved for the hottest new model, Paige saves the coveted spot for a rescue dog.
More often than not, it is Paige herself who is on the streets pulling dogs from perilous situations, nursing them back to health, then seeing them off to new homes.
In just four years, she's given a new life to more than 500 dogs. Her work has led to the founding of her own nonprofit, RuffHouZen. It's a cause Paige keeps close to her heart and on center stage, as every Sunday she turns her high-end boutique into an adoption center.
While visitors can try on the season's hottest trends, picking up the snuggliest orphaned pet certainly stands to always be in style. Paige's pro-adoption message speaks volumes, especially when presented in an industry based on style, glamour and image. Sometimes, Paige shows, the homeless look can fit just as well as a designer purebred. Watch the video: Rescue Dogs Find Homes on the Runway
Randy Grim: Mobilized his community to win a shelter makeover
After nearly nine months of competing and mobilizing his community to rally behind his shelter, Randy Grim stood on a stage in Orlando, Fla., and heard the words that started to make a dream come true: "Stray Rescue of St. Louis!"
It was Zootoo.com Founder Richard Thompson announcing that Grim was one of the top three finalists in the Shelter Makeover.
"This would really be a dream come true, and I'm gonna start crying again because so many animals are depending on that in St. Louis, and all over the country," Grim said.
The next day, live on the nationally televised Fox morning show "Mike & Juliet," Grim learned it was truly the dawn of a dream.
Yet, the mission behind the contest came to light in Grim's own goal to see his St. Louis shelter succeed.
"The idea isn't so much for me, one person, winning a makeover, but the fact that all communities are getting recognition and getting support they've never seen before," said Grim, also a published author.
Rhonda Estes: Slept in a shelter for 30 days to raise money for keeping its doors open
With 13 years spent volunteering the Madison County Humane Society, there was no question of Rhonda Estes' full commitment to helping the shelter -- by fundraising or any other means.
Yet Estes took dedication to a new level by deciding to sleep on an air mattress in the kennel area for 30 days, in an attempt to generate $10,000 for the Anderson, Ind., facility.
Her over-the-top stunt prompted an increase in adoptions and volunteers. It also generated donations from across the country.
Estes, a staff member of more than two years, says phone calls came from Florida, South Carolina, New York and Michigan with messages of support and financial gifts.
"The community has stepped forward, people are wanting to help, and it makes you feel good that these kinds of people are behind you like this," Estes said. "But its absolutely for the animals, who are the ones that are going to pay the price if we close -- and that's why we are here, to help those animals."
While Estes endured several sleepless nights, the shelter dogs soon adjusted to their new kennel mate.
"Last night, I was able to walk through without everyone going into a tizzy," Estes said in an interview with Pet Pulse News in April.
Giving up the comforts of home and a good night's sleep, Estes set a shining example of personally carrying the burden of responsibility for the welfare and benefit of homeless pets. Read the story: Woman Sleeps in Shelter For 30 Days
Dr. Gary Michelson: Offered $75M to the inventor of a non-surgical solution for sterilization
Animal overpopulation in the United States is costly for strays and communities alike, but one retired surgeon actually placed a lofty tag on the issue this fall.
Dr. Gary Michelson announced in October that he would donate $25 million to anyone who devised a one-time, non-surgical method for animal sterilization.
The lucky individual or team of researchers have yet to be selected, but Michelson's nonprofit, Found Animals Foundation, is presently reviewing potential applicants.
Michelson, who placed No. 317 on Forbes' 400 Richest American list in September, also set an additional $50 million aside for an unlimited number of researchers who present and develop potential solutions.
A scientific breakthrough could allow shelters and animal control facilities to gather stray animals in mass, and administer cheap, effective forms of birth control, potentially through a pill or injection form.
It isn't the first time Michelson has tried to lend his medical background to good use -- motivated by his grandmother, who suffered from neurogenic spinal degeneration, Michelson devoted much of his life to creating treatments for spinal disorders and the relief of spinal pain.
Now, the animal lover is trying to channel yet another passion into a pivotal project that could have a lasting impact on the U.S.'s stray dilemma. Read the story: $75M for No-Surgery Spay/Neuter
Luke Robinson: Took a stand for canine cancer research and is walking 2K miles with his two dogs
Luke Robinson's devotion to his Great Pyrenees, Malcolm, stretches far -- 2,000 miles, in fact. Putting his own life on hold after his dog, Malcolm, died from cancer two years ago, Robinson is now walking all the way from Austin, Texas, to Boston.
He sold his truck, gave up his apartment and quit his job, all for a dog who "wasn't my blood, but he was my boy," Robinson told Pet Pulse News.
Joined by his two other Great Pyrenees, Hudson and Murphy, Robinson is hoping their journey will raise money and attention for canine cancer research, which he says does not garner enough attention or funding in the scientific world.
Robinson's exceptional mission does not have much room for leisure -- armed with just a backpack, the former hedge fund operator survives mainly off ramen noodles and trail mix. Sometimes he and "the boys," as he calls them, find homes to stop and stay in along the way, but they are just as content roughing it outdoors.
"I have devoted the rest of my life to canine cancer, to raising awareness for it," the 37-year-old said.
He took off on the hike in March, and has now made it through Louisville, Ky. Robinson is hoping to reach Boston by the summer, but he has a lifetime to spare in fighting for the cause he holds so close to his heart. Read the story: Two Dogs Walk 2,000 Miles For Cancer
Voting has ended. The Top 'Not So Ordinary' Pet Person will be announced on February 18th.
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Pet Pulse reporter Amy Lieberman contributed to this article.
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