Every day, our customers display incredible acts of compassion that impact the lives of animals and humans alike. Eric Pollock is the Dog Intake & Rescue Coordinator at Because You Care, Inc. in McKean, PA.
Eric Pollock’s love of animals began at an early age all thanks to his grandmother, Betty. “She grew up during the depression when they were mixing ketchup with water to make tomato soup, but even though she didn’t have much, she’d take care of the dogs in the area in a manner that was way ahead of her time. She treated them as family members. I was exposed to that kind of generosity very early on,” he recalls.
Growing up in rural Pennsylvania, however, Pollock remembers that it wasn’t uncommon to see dogs living separately from family homes and tied up to boxes outside. “I always knew deep down in my heart that there was something wrong about it, even though it was the model for good pet ownership in some circles twenty-five years ago.”
These experiences led him to realize that there was a place for him in animal welfare. “When I adopted my first dog, the shelter looked like what most people think an animal shelter is like—dark, damp, and cold. Then, I adopted my second dog, and noticed the staff was busy and working so hard to get things done. I saw a leadership opportunity and was willing to do whatever I could to help,” he says. “I’ve been involved with animal welfare ever since.”
Pollock is now the Dog Intake & Rescue Coordinator at Because You Care in McKean, PA, where he has held multiple roles including Volunteer Coordinator and Digital Transformation Leader all while holding down a full-time job in the software industry. “I’m a volunteer here, so people ask me all the time: ‘Eric, why do you do it?’ But I do get a paycheck—it’s just an emotional one instead of a financial one. I get my emotional paycheck by looking back on the year and seeing the number of animals we’ve saved.”
While every animal in Because You Care’s custody goes into foster care, Pollock also gathers as much information as possible on the animal’s background to provide more context to potential adopters. “People are not just interested in the behavior of the animal. They want to know what their story is. Because then it’s no longer just a name or a face—it’s a personality and a history.”
Having animals’ backstories is crucial to Because You Care’s lifesaving efforts. “People are less likely to leave an animal behind and move on to the next one if they know the whole story. Was it a stray? Did it belong to a homeless person who could no longer care for it? Was it an owner surrender, and if so, why? That’s what people are really interested in hearing about too.”
Finding the Perfect Home for a Veteran’s Beloved Dogs
Pollock shared one such story from June 2019 that proves how truly impactful it can be to get to know an animal’s story and circumstances in order to get them in the best home possible.
After a bad fall, James, a Korean War veteran, was confined to a wheelchair and faced with the tough decision to give up his two beloved toy poodles, Steamboat Willie and Andy Gump, in order to move into a pet-free assisted living facility for veterans. “He was willing to give up on having the quality care he needed so that he didn’t have to give up on his dogs,” says Pollock. James’s daughter reached out to Because You Care to find Willie and Andy the right homes so that James could seek out proper care for himself.
Although James was hesitant to part with Willie and Andy, Pollock knew that he would agree to give them a new home if he was presented with the right solution. “I promised him that I’d get the dogs fostered as a pair and that they would visit James once he was settled in at the assisted living facility. That’s when he ultimately agreed to give the dogs to us.”
But that’s not where the story ends. Although there was some interest in Willie and Andy, Pollock’s team was committed to finding the dogs the perfect home. It just so happened that an employee at James’ assisted living facility applied to adopt both of the dogs, noting that she was able to bring the dogs into the office so that they could visit their dad at least once a week.
“You just can’t imagine a better outcome than that,” says Pollock. “They’re truly home now. These are the kind of stories that get us out of bed every morning.”
Stories like these are especially touching to Pollock, whose role as Dog Intake & Rescue Coordinator means that he’s the one who is tasked with finding space for new arrivals. “My mind is always on the line of animals waiting to come in. It’s like the mail—it never stops coming. I’m stuck with the guilt of knowing that, no matter what I do and even in 2019, we’re not yet saving them all. When I hear a success story, I immediately think, ‘Great, an open kennel that I get to fill up!'”
“Look for the Helpers”
Despite the tough days, Pollock is continually inspired and motivated by the people around him. He shared how moved he was by others’ willingness to help when he traveled down to Florida to transport displaced dogs during Hurricane Irma in 2017. “I went down to Florida with two folks who are retired and Matt, a friend and co-worker of mine. I remember just leaning across the aisle at work and saying to him, ‘Hey, do you want to take a trip to Florida?’ He leaned back in his chair and asked, ‘Why?’ When I told him that Because You Care was picking up dogs affected by Irma, he agreed to come along instantly. He didn’t say, ‘Oh, let me check my schedule’ or ‘Let me check with my wife.’ He just said, ‘Absolutely.’”
Pollock recalls how the trip came together through a combination of help from the community and a lot of preparation. “The shelter didn’t just have vans ready to go for this kind of transport. So how did we get them? A volunteer in leadership at Because You Care worked with a local university that rents vans from a car dealership, so we asked the dealership if they had vans that we could use. They didn’t have ones that fit our needs, so they paid for rental vans from Enterprise for us. It was a chain of people who just said, ‘No, I’ll do it! No, I’ll do it!’ There was an amazing amount of support from the community.”
He adds, “I had to spend time working with our partner shelter out in Florida about two weeks prior to the trip to make sure we had space for each animal. You can’t just drive down with 25 crates because not all dogs are the same size. A lot of coordination goes into planning what types of crates to take. You don’t get a sense of these details when you see the news stories about these trips. It’s really fascinating.”
After driving down to Florida for twenty-two hours straight and spending the night at a hotel, Pollock and his team set out to pick up the dogs from the partner shelter. “Many of the local people who suffered damage to their own homes and had to evacuate agreed to take in foster dogs for us until we could move them. They were doing the same thing as we were in a greater time of need. There is an overwhelming emotional feeling that you get when you go into a disaster zone and see all the helpers. Mr. Rogers has a quote that goes something along the lines of, ‘Look for the helpers in times of need.’ He was absolutely right.”
That strong sense of compassion, coupled with pure adrenaline, kept Pollock going throughout the whirlwind trip. He adds, “It was just a moment in time. The people that we worked with in Florida quickly went back to their daily lives, and we went back to doing what we do up here. But in that moment of extreme need, they reached out for some help. It was a great thing to extend.”
The return trip home brought on another wave of emotions. “My first time meeting the foster families was when I was handing the dogs to them, because we just had a limited time to get the job done. It was simply amazing, and something I’ll never forget.”
Creating a Community of Volunteers
Pollock’s experience with the hurricane relief efforts is just one example of how creating a sense of community can contribute to an animal welfare organization’s successes. “It all really boils down to finding the right team to bond with and sacrifice together with. To submit yourself to the rescue activity carries a certain amount of sacrifice because you put someone else’s needs before yours.”
At Because You Care, Pollock has made it a point to establish a strong sense of culture among the volunteers, explaining, “Without each other, you don’t have a rescue anymore. The social aspect of volunteering and being a part of the community is incredibly important, and it’s incredible because it’s self-sustaining after a while.” He does this by making sure to give other volunteers opportunities to talk about and process the experiences that they have. “Some people walk in and see an older dog in a kennel and just start crying. We say, ‘Hey, if not for you and other volunteers, this dog probably wouldn’t even be alive.’ It’s all about perspective. Giving people that perspective flips the emotional switch and turns a negative story into a really positive story.”
A Message for Potential Adopters
Pollock’s message for those considering adopting a shelter animal is to give it a chance. “There’s still a stigma out there about shelter dogs being ‘broken’ or ‘different,’ but they just have more of a storied history. It’s our job to make the next chapter of their stories a positive one.”
Feature image by Eric Pollock