I was on track to Dental School! Or so I thought...
At the age of 17, I was sitting in a college Mass Communications class waiting for the professor who had an extremely dry mouth, while perusing the school newspaper. In the ad section, there was a listing with the local humane society looking for volunteers. I dropped the class but started walking the shelter dogs every Sunday. This was the time my life trajectory changed. For the first time.
I decided that saving dogs was my purpose in life. But I didn't want a dog shelter full of cages with occasional walks on the gravel path. And I have an insatiable love of travel with family all over the world. Therefore, I wasn't ready to dive right into a startup nonprofit lifestyle. At the time, I was working as a Dental Assistant. My boss had houses and planes and fancy clothes and girlfriends with expensive tastes. I thought, hey, I could do that. Instead of houses and planes and fancy clothes, however, I could build an AMAZING dog rescue with my salary. Well, here came my second life trajectory change.
Working in an office was not for me. One day while on the clock I was browsing Craigslist. A listing for a dog boarding operation leapt from the page. Against the advice of all my loved ones, I followed my gut and laid down my entire savings on a failing small business. For five months, I barely escaped bankruptcy but kept moving forward, taking the best care of the dogs I had. Fast forward four years, and the business is thriving with hundreds of happy dogs and 10 amazing employees.
One of these amazing employees is Emera: the analyst to my controller, the yin to my yang, my irreplaceable manager of four years. Emera, like myself, has a passion for living a positive, meaningful life while working to make a difference. The conversation about starting an animal rescue began not too long after she was on the payroll, the only one on the payroll at the time, I may add. August 1, 2018 was the day it was official. The IRS granted us nonprofit status and Harmony Animal Matchmaker and Sanctuary was up and running, sort of.
It turns out, running a dog rescue is hard. Especially without a building. Or money. Fundraising through GoFundMe provided us a trip to Kanab, Utah to the rescuer's happiest place on earth: Best Friends Animal Society. In a weeklong intensive workshop, Emera and I learned the ins and outs of starting an animal sanctuary from the founders of this awesome organization. We were pumped with ideas and information and hit the ground running once we got back to Grand Junction.
Since the beginning, we have matched over 40 dogs with their perfect families. Everything seems to be moving in the right direction for building our dream rescue. There have been some moments that test our faith, however.
In January, a couple surrendered their puppy to us since their homeowner's association wouldn't allow them to keep the dog any longer. We take every dog without judgement and try to make the difficult transition as smooth as possible for the owner. Once in our care, we began receiving daily texts from the previous owners asking about their former dog. Though every family signs a surrender form relinquishing all rights, we obliged and sent occasional updates and pictures. The contact, however, began to escalate in emotions and frequency. Since we don't yet have funding for a separate phone line, the previous family was sending multiple text messages to the for-profit boarding line at 2am some days. Our social media blew up with angry, irrational nonsense. We tried to appease the previous owners but they were relentless. The previous owners accused us of being greedy and lining our pockets with donations. They claimed to have hired a Private Investigator to look into both the nonprofit and for-profit businesses. I am an open book, by the way; ask anything and I will be honest. Anyway, as hard as it was, we chose not to engage. We have made the conscious choice to expend energy only on things that serve us and the shelter dogs. Emera regularly meditates in order to remain focused on our mission to put the dogs first. Positivity is our prerogative!
To this day, we don't have anyone on the payroll. I have donated kennel space for the shelter dogs to board until we are able to build them their own structure. I pay my dog daycare employees (out of my pocket) to feed and care for the shelter dogs and to do administrative work. Fortunately, we are starting to reach animal lovers for volunteering and donations to help us on our life saving journey. Just like me in 2002, we have wonderful college students who come regularly to walk and love on the rescue dogs. A generous veterinary clinic donated 600 pounds of pet food from their food drive to us last month. A class of fifth graders chose Harmony as the charity they collected donations for last week. The awesome students collected beds, toys, cleaning products, you name it! We have four (count them!) donors who give monthly. Our goal is to raise $150,000 in the next 90 days to build a dog shelter oasis and move the rescue dogs out of boarding.
From now on, I will choose to focus on the positive, because for every one Negative Nancy, Libelous Lee or Slandering Sandy, there are a hundred caring and supportive animal lovers who I can spend this lovely rescue life with. From the early morning tail wags to the evening kisses, the dogs are telling us we are doing a good job. And in the end, it's all about the dogs anyway.