What does it really take to start your own animal rescue? Over the next few months, we’ll be answering that question as we document our good friend Eric Pollock’s journey as he launches Happy Bark, a foster-based dog rescue in Pennsylvania. From applying for non-profit status to assembling a board of directors to establishing key community partnerships, we’ll cover all of the details of Eric’s exciting new adventure!
To kick off the series, we spoke with Eric about what motivated him to start his own rescue, along with his goals for Happy Bark!
What was the main motivation to start your own rescue?
There are quite a few ways that I can answer this question. I’ve volunteered at animal welfare organizations for a long time now, so I’ve gotten to know what rescue work really entails.
About 5 years ago, I took a trip out to one of our partner rescues in Kentucky. I noticed that a few of the dog kennels had red tags hanging on them, so I asked the staff what they were for. They told me they would put red tags on the kennels of the dogs as soon as a partner rescue committed to them, so they knew not to euthanize those specific dogs. That hit me hard, and I still get a little emotional thinking about it. That little red tag was the difference between life and death.
In general, I’ve learned a lot about myself in the last ten years both as a volunteer and at my day job. I know now that my mind doesn’t do well when things fall into a repeatable process. It’s best exercised when I’m looking to change, grow, or transform something. So one question I asked myself when I was volunteering at a shelter was, “How can I continue to grow the number of lives we’re saving?” I decided to start my own rescue as a way to test and experiment with growing the number that the shelters I’ve worked with are already achieving and do my part to keep that number growing.
By the way, that rescue I mentioned earlier has since achieved no-kill status because it formed rescue partnerships due to the progressive thinking of its leadership. (Shout out to Hardin County Animal Shelter!). So to me, that story means a lot because it’s a testament to staying committed and making changes.
What makes Happy Bark unique? What is your mission statement?
Through Happy Bark, I want to make overcrowded shelters and euthanasia a part of this country’s past and, have fun while doing it. Our mission statement is: “Happy Bark is dog rescue reimagined. We embrace a progressive, community-based approach to adoption designed to inspire the rehabilitation and rehoming of dogs in need so they may have a second chance at a life of boundless opportunities.”
At the heart of everything we do, we want to make it positive and fun. There’s no doom and gloom here. Our adoption events will be like social gatherings, where attendees can have a drink or grab a bite to eat while they meet the dogs. In fact, one of our principles is that we’re “happy-first!”
What do you hope to achieve as an organization apart from your lifesaving goals?
Eventually, I would love for the Happy Bark model to be a template for what others can do. There is no physical shelter space, it’s all foster-based, so it’s all about creating meaningful partnerships and creating a solid foster network rather than sinking operating costs. I hope to save 15-20 dogs per year to start, and then work our way up to 100 per year. The goal here is to create a rescue that’s replicable anywhere else by anyone else. Imagine if 5,000 rescues like ours across the country are saving 100 dogs each per year. That’s a lot more lives saved than if these rescues didn’t exist at all!
I want Happy Bark to serve as an example that you don’t need to quit your day job just to have your own rescue. You can make an enormous impact just in your own spare time. If I can give people a pathway to show them how they can bring an organization like this to life, that would be an amazing outcome.
When you think about it, a lot of great movements in this world have started with a small group of people who have done what seems like little things over and over. I hope Happy Bark exemplifies that.
What is some advice that you have for anyone who is starting thinking of starting their own rescue?
Volunteering and getting involved in as many aspects of animal rescue and sheltering as you can beforehand will definitely serve you well, but you also need a team that is well-rounded and can complement your own abilities. I was very mindful of how I assembled my board. For example, talking about the gushy, emotional stuff isn’t natural to me, but I have a team member who is so brilliant with words that her stories actually bring me to tears. It’s about recognizing your own strengths and weaknesses and putting together a team that can balance that out.
It’s also important to build relationships with key partners, like vet offices and trainers, before you actually get anything else off the ground.
How will you go about recruiting fosters?
Finding fosters, for any rescue, is always an ongoing task. We’ll do continuous social media outreach to find foster homes. I also have friends who have been at arm’s length observing the work that I have been doing in animal welfare, and have become interested in helping out themselves. That’s a great feeling. Of course, creating a fun, fulfilling environment where foster homes can see and feel their contribution is important because that energy can attract more foster home volunteers.
Have you encountered anything unexpected or surprising so far in your journey to start your own rescue?
We started the paperwork in October of 2019, and as of mid-February of 2020, we’re basically ready to go live, so honestly, it’s been a relatively smooth process so far. I think that in itself is surprising because most people assume that it takes such a long time to start your own rescue.