Ruthless Kindness

Chelsea had nowhere to go. She’d finally left an abusive relationship, but the only shelter with an open bed wouldn’t allow her dog unless he was vaccinated.

“I wasn’t going to leave him behind,” she recalls. “If we couldn’t stay together, I was going back.”

That’s where Ruthless Kindness stepped in. The California non-profit offers free mobile veterinary care to community members in crisis. Soon the organization’s co-founder, CEO and licensed veterinarian Sarah Reidenbach was at Chelsea’s door. “She gave me a hug and told me it was going to be okay,” Chelsea remembers. “Then she examined and vaccinated my dog, clearing the way for us to get into the shelter together.”

Chelsea’s experience isn’t an outlier. Most homeless shelters won’t allow pets, and those that do require documentation affirming that animals have up-to-date vaccinations and no other medical conditions. Though it sounds simple, this often poses a significant barrier for many escaping an abusive situation.

“We know half of all domestic violence victims won’t leave their abuser unless their pets can escape, too,” Reidenbach explains. “Many of our clients don’t have the money, time or transportation to go to a traditional vet clinic. We provide our services free of charge, using a mobile unit that can travel to them.”

In addition to vet care, Ruthless Kindness also offers free pet food and supplies, conducts animal-assisted empathy education programs for youth impacted by trauma and more.

“There are so many innocent people and animals who are going through unthinkable pain, and we have the power to do something about it,” Reidenbach insists. “We help the vulnerable — people who are without a home or are housing insecure, people trying to survive in extreme poverty, people who have been victimized and abused – and the animals they love.”


Faith N Friends

Faith Sadiku didn’t set out to run a horse rescue, but as a self-described advocate for any animal, especially horses, she found herself collecting rescues. Finally, in 2016, she formally established Faith N Friends (FNF) Rescue & Sanctuary, a non-profit committed to keeping horses safe, happy and healthy while they wait for forever homes.

“The goal of Faith N Friends is to rehabilitate, love and train those horses who are lucky enough to get a second chance,” she explains.

Every FNF horse has a story. Take Coco, who arrived severely malnourished, filled inside and out with parasites, and carrying a real disdain and fear of humans. Sadiku recalls, “Although we didn’t fully know her history, it was clear she had been through a lot in her little life. It took a long time, lots of love and heaps of patience to get Coco back to trusting and relying on people, but now she’s a shining star.”

A success story from FNF’s rehabilitation and training program, Coco now thrives in her new role as a part of the non-profit’s expanded mission to serve humans too. Her days are filled with love as she helps children with speech impediments read, participates in riding and therapy lessons, shows off at parades and more.

Sadiku is particularly proud of the non-profit’s “Reading with the Rescues” program, which pairs a certified speech-pathologist with special needs children to target language, literacy and other social skills. Run in collaboration with the University of Tennessee’s Audiology Department, the program serves as a training ground for undergraduate students while supporting young clients. The multi-faceted therapy uses horses like Coco to increase motivation and sensory input, while decreasing stress.

“I know that the work we do not only helps the horses but also people,” Sadiku emphasizes. “That’s why our motto is ‘Helping Horses Help People.’ In a world that flashes so much darkness, we can be the light.”

Brave Meadows Therapeutic Riding Center

Bobby was born with Spina Bifida and Hydrocephalus, he struggles with a seizure disorder and uses a wheelchair to get around. Throughout his life he has endured multiple surgeries and countless hours of therapy and procedures. It was on the way to one of those appointments that his mom noticed the new sign for Brave Meadows Therapeutic Riding Center.

“My mom is a horse person, so she’d been on the lookout for an equine therapy program,” Bobby recalls. “She called right away, and I became one of their first students.”

At the time, then six-year-old Bobby became fast friends with Leia, a half-Arabian chestnut mare. With Leia, Bobby grew stronger, improved his balance, built confidence and even found his voice. He explains, “I wasn’t talking to anyone else at the time, but after a week or two, my mom said I started talking to Leia like she was a person as soon as I rolled into the barn.”

Now 22 years old, Bobby acknowledges he wasn’t the child who would receive playdates, sleepovers or birthday party invites. He said, “Week after week, my barn friends – both animal and human – became my opportunity to socialize and hang out.”

Brave Meadows’ director, Shannon Patrick, founded the center with the aim of improving lives like Bobby’s through the healing power of horses. “Running Brave Meadows is a labor of love, and while it can be challenging, it’s also incredibly rewarding,” she noted. “We’re a place where people and animals come to find comfort, joy and a sense of belonging, and we’re so proud of the work we do and the impact we have on our community.”

Portland Animal Welfare Team

James and his beloved dog Roscoe are indicative of the clients that the Portland Animal Welfare (PAW) team serve. A degenerative arthritic condition left James out of work and unhoused. But when his four-legged best friend Roscoe developed chronically infected ears and skin irritations, the PAW Team stepped in to provide the medication and prescription diet he needed – all free of charge. Their story has a happy ending; not only are Roscoe’s skin and ear conditions well managed, the two found housing through a local organization.

James and Roscoe’s experience illustrates PAW Team’s mission: saving lives, alleviating suffering and keeping pets and people together by providing free and low-cost veterinary care. “Anyone who has an animal knows the pain of watching that pet suffer,” says Nicole Perkins, the non-profit’s Executive Director of Development and Operations. “PAW Team offers our clients access to the services they need to keep their beloved pets healthy and happy.”

The Portland, Oregon, non-profit’s roots extend to the early 1990’s, long before it became an official organization in 2003. Then, a small, grassroots network of volunteer veterinarians set out to help a growing population of homeless pet owners who were unable to access veterinary care for their four-legged companions. In the following decades, the PAW Team has grown to provide more comprehensive services and support countless families in need.

“I think the PAW Team’s beginnings explain it all,” Perkins emphasizes. “People saw a need, they wanted to help and so they did.” Today, that legacy continues as the volunteer-powered nonprofit continues to provide vital veterinary services for more than 1,000 Portland-area families annually, aiding individuals living on the streets, in transitional shelters or government housing, as well as those faced with temporary financial hardship.

“Our tagline is that we ‘heal pets and the hearts of their people’ through veterinary care, and we see this reality every day,” Perkins says. “Our clients face many obstacles in their lives, but they still prioritize their pets needs above all else. Their pets are their family, and we help them keep them together, despite financial hardship.”

Piketon High School FFA

Agriculture education teacher Kristen Campbell loves teaching high schoolers about agriculture and veterinary science. Her passion is clearly infectious – which explains why one in five Piketon High School students participated in Agriculture classes last year.

Under Campbell’s watchful eye, students learn to care for all kinds of animals, including chickens, rabbits, goats, sheep, horses, miniature pigs, dogs, cats and yes – even a bearded dragon. “The more students learn about these animals, the better care they provide and the deeper they understand how important animals are to their livelihood,” she says.

While the class curriculum aims to give students a solid grounding in animal husbandry, students also benefit from the connections formed with the classroom animals. “The animals don’t judge,” Campbell explains, “they just provide love and support.”

For troubled teens, Campbell’ Agriculture classes can become a refuge against life’s trials, disappointments and tragedies. She recalls how one young student, struggling after the death of sibling, found solace in the classroom rabbit. Then there’s the high schooler who came from a verbally abusive home.

“She absolutely fell in love with one of our little chicks,” Campbell recalls. “Every time she held it, her face lit up with a big smile like they were meant to be together.” Seeing a connection that shouldn’t be broken, Kristen arranged for the student to care for the chick at her grandparents’ home.

Piketon’s Agriculture students already benefit greatly from their animal education coursework, but their intrepid teacher has her sights set on creating a more comprehensive learning environment. Currently, larger animals are brought in for a day, but Kristen aims to give her teens more in-depth interactions and responsibilities. She’s currently raising funds to install a small livestock barn at the high school, enabling student to gain more hands-on experience with daily animal care.

Mission Animal Hospital

When Fuzz arrived at Mission Animal Hospital, the situation was grim. The orange and white feline had been caught in the crossfire of neighborhood gun violence, and the cost for treating his wound seemed out of reach for his family. Thankfully, a veterinarian referred his owner to Mission, where a skilled team soon determined his injured leg would require amputation. Without Mission’s subsidized veterinary care, Fuzz’s family would have been forced to make difficult choices. Instead, he was soon home, adapting to his new life.

“Poverty impacts nearly every aspect of a person’s life, but the impact it has on pet owners and their animal companions is among the most devastating,” says Christine Durand, development director at Mission. “It’s painful to lose a pet due to old age or other natural causes, but it’s even more traumatic when a pet must be surrendered or euthanized due to financial limitations.”

Founded in 2015, Mission Animal Hospital aims to offer low-income families another option. The Minnesota-based non-profit provides a range of services, from wellness pet check-ups to urgent care surgery. Last year alone, Mission provided more than $1.5 million in subsidized care to 6,000 families. And it’s not just about pets.

“We care for their people, too,” Christine emphasizes. “We understand the human-pet bond runs deep.” That’s why Mission’s staff includes a social worker, to assist clients with difficult medical decisions, grief counseling and even housing or food insecurity. It’s a novel approach to pet care – but one Christine says pays dividends every day.

To quantify that value, Mission partnered with the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) and Ecotone Analytics. Their research found that for every dollar invested in Mission, there was a $4.64 social return, with benefits that included improved quality of life from pet companionship, lower veterinary care costs and reduced healthcare expenses for pet owners. “Those result speak to the larger social benefits of pet ownership, and the need to provide pet owners with affordable options for veterinary care,” Christine emphasizes.

Fuzz and his family certainly agree!

February Star Sanctuary

Angela E. never imagined parting with her beloved mini horse Lexi, but after her husband lost his battle with brain cancer, she was forced to sell their farm. Enter February Star Sanctuary (FSS), a rescue, rehabilitation and permanent refuge for horses and cats in need.

“It gave me peace, when I had lost everything, knowing she was happy and loved,” Angela says. Lexi continues to thrive at FSS, and Angela admits to occasionally browsing the non-profit’s Facebook page for a glimpse of her favorite mini.

Phyllis Smith, the organization’s co-founder, didn’t set out to run a rescue – but when she and husband David purchased the 124-acre farm in 2009, they discovered two horses and a pony had been left behind. Then came the cats.

“It was during the recession, and there was an outpouring of community requests for us to take in animals that they were no longer able to care for,” Phyllis recalls. Facing a snowball of owner surrender inquiries for both equines and felines, she soon added adoption services to complement the thriving rescue. The final piece, community outreach programs, came last – but Phyllis thinks it might be the most important piece.

“Teaching our children to respect and protect even the smallest among us is one of the most important life lessons we can pass on,” she insists. “Our goal with this sanctuary is to give the unwanted a home and to teach children compassion – building a generation of animal advocates, one child at a time.”

It’s a sentiment that clearly aligns with the non-profit’s motto: “Rescue: It’s not just a verb, it’s a promise.”

Pilots to the Rescue

When aviator Michael Schneider embarked on his first mission to rescue a litter of puppies slated to be euthanized, he likely never envisioned how far the journey would take him. Eight years later, the non-profit he founded, Pilots to the Rescue (PTTR), has saved more than 1,000 animals from certain death.

“I’d been looking for a sense of purpose and fulfillment for a very long time,” Schneider reflects. “It only took COVID-19 and 44 years to realize what I wanted to do when I grow up.”

While Michael formally launched PTTR in 2015, he upped his commitment during the pandemic, turning his side project into a full-time crusade. Today, the non-profit’s volunteer pilots travel the country, transporting animals in need. Already this year, the organization has coordinated 32 rescue flights that have connected 371 dogs, cats and the occasional turtle with new forever homes.

“Most of the animals come from precarious situations – hoarding, abuse and neglect, or other unhealthy environments,” Schneider explains. “But all you really need to do is love the animal, and it will come back to you tenfold.”

Schneider, PTTR’s self-described “Top Dog,” says the animals with the biggest needs are the ones he remembers best. He quickly rattles off a few names: Hopper born with cerebral palsy, Surf born blind, Cye the one-eyed cat who was a victim of gun violence, and Maynard, a three-legged lab mix. Schneider adds, “The thing that amazes adopters of these animals is they are unaware the animals are different. Their resilience is admirable and a learning lesson for humans – be happy with your health and respect those who are less fortunate.”

Caring People Alliance

At a Boys & Girls Club in North Philadelphia, there’s a small animal zoo that’s doing big things. Run by the Caring People Alliance, the zoo’s bunnies, guinea pigs and pet rats teach youth about responsible pet ownership, build compassion for animals, and provide a space for troubled kids to relax and reset. 

“Every day, I feel like I am making a difference, both to the kids and the animals,” says Jessica Bachrach, who serves as the coordinator for the program, called Caring Paws. “Sometimes we talk about the animals, but other times, we’ll talk about things that are going on in the world or in their lives.” Often, the animals serve as a bridge to important life lessons.  

Given the animals’ relatively short life spans, nearly every child experiences the sorrow associated with saying goodbye to a beloved animal friend. “For some kids, it may be their first experience with death; for others, it’s an opportunity to talk about the death of a friend or family member,” Jessica explains. “We work through all those hard feelings together.” 

When the children talk about how Caring Paws has impacted them, many say that it’s fun or they like helping to care for the animals. But some find bigger lessons, too. Before Sophia started participating in Caring Paws, she was afraid of rats. Now, she’s discovered that it’s not fair to judge animals based on their reputation. “I learned that not all animals are what they seem to be,” she explains and admits that the pet rats are now among her favorite Caring Paws critters.  

That’s part of the magic at Caring Paws, where kids learn as much about themselves as the animals they care for. “Animals have a unique power to impact the lives of people,” Jessica emphasizes. “They depend on us for everything, so taking care of them can be empowering.” No matter your age, it seems we could all learn a thing or two from the kids and animals at Caring Paws. 

Sheltering Hands

Owning a pet brings plenty of benefits, and research suggests this is especially true for seniors. That understanding prompted Sheltering Hands, a central Florida-based cat rescue and spay/neutral clinic, to initiate its Seniors for Seniors foster program. The effort connects older Floridians with older felines, and sometimes, it results in unexpected pairings. 

Elena Goulet, who chairs Sheltering Hands’ board of directors, recalls one such unusual match. An elderly woman was looking for a docile lap cat to snuggle and love. Shelter staff had the perfect feline in mind, but Dixie, a spitfire calico with plenty of attitude had other ideas. After five years of hissing and nipping at every prospective new parent, Dixie found her person. She let down her guard and crawled into the woman’s lap. The rest, as they say, is history. 

“Dixie was not what the woman came in looking for, but she was exactly what she needed,” Elena contends. “They became a family, providing to each other the ‘unknown quality’ the other desperately needed.” 

The Seniors for Seniors program is just one of the rescue’s many efforts to improve the livelihoods of unwanted felines. “We are the cat people,” Elena says, “and while we may be small, we’re making a big impact, bringing love in its purest form to cats and their human companions.” 

Paws Between Homes

Suddenly homeless, Henry was forced to take refuge in his car – but there was no place for his beloved dog, Boss. He worried he would be forced to surrender Boss to the local animal shelter, a heart-wrenching choice. Then he found Paws Between Homes (PBH), an Atlanta-based non-profit that finds loving foster families for pets like Boss, in need of temporary care. 

Three months later, Henry was back on his feet, ready to welcome Boss back to his new home. Sarah Rosenberg, vice president and co-founder for PBH, witnessed their happy reunion. “Henry’s joy was palpable,” she recalls. “Boss was his family.” 

In the short 18-month span that Paws Between Homes has been in operation, the non-profit has provided more than 80 animals with temporary homes and veterinary care while their humans worked to find stable housing. Without PBH, many of those families would have been permanently separated from their furry friends.  

“The upheaval caused by an involuntary move is massive,” Sarah emphasizes. “When people get back on their feet in stable housing, they should be able to do so without leaving their pet family member behind.” 

Ohlone Humane Society

Founded in 1983, Ohlone Humane Society (OHS) aims to care for all animals – from family pets to local wildlife. It’s not a shelter, but the volunteer group has a major impact on the communities it serves, offering assistance for struggling pet owners, organizing foster care for kittens, rehabilitating injured wildlife, and spreading joy (and education) through its therapy-animal programs. 

“Helping animals and people in the community is hard work, but so very rewarding,” insists Natalia Lebedeva, who serves on the group’s Board of Directors. Through her work, and that of OHS’s many dedicated volunteers, the non-profit strives to better the lives of all animals with a full-circle approach to community animal welfare.  

The group’s Meals-on-Wheels program distributes 200-250 pounds of pet food each week and OHS’s wide-ranging animal-assisted interventions bring activities, therapy, education and fun to schools, senior care facilities, hospitals and similar organizations. They even offer regular “Read-to-a-Dog” sessions at the local library.  

“The dogs are such good listeners,” says Raj, the father of a once-struggling reader. “They never corrected our son’s pronunciation or point out mistakes.” Instead, Raj says the canines’ happy attitudes rubbed off on the whole family, reducing anxiety and helping to transform a reluctant student into a voracious reader. 

But OHS isn’t just for domestic animals. Each year, the non-profit cares for more than 800 injured, orphaned and displaced urban wildlife at its Wildlife Rehabilitation Center. Here trained volunteers nurse raccoons, rabbits, foxes, squirrels, birds, reptiles and more back to health. It’s just one more way OHS lives out its mission to advocate for all creatures, big and small. 

Legacy Farmstead

John and Amy Henderson started Legacy Farmstead with a mission to help veterans and first responders battling post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and chronic stress. Aided by their team of therapy horses, along with a barnyard full of goats, cows, chickens, pigs and cats, the couple helps families reconnect and heal through their unique blend of equine therapy and farm life. 

“PTSD not only affects the veteran or first responder that experienced it, but it truly affects the entire family,” John explains. “Legacy Farmstead is a place for individuals and families to retreat and get away from their troubles.” 

The non-profit’s idyllic setting provides the perfect atmosphere for renewal. In addition to its caring team, Amy insists it’s the therapy horses that are the true heroes. The herd, all abused or abandoned by previous owners, have a magical way of connecting with Legacy visitors. One family, who had lost their two teenage children in a car accident, stands out. 

“The mother would hardly talk to anyone or go anywhere,” Amy recalls. Desperate for help, her family heard about Legacy and came out for a weekend. She arrived quiet, sullen and terrified of animals, but Chief, a therapy horse with a difficult past, helped her transform. “By the end of the weekend, she wanted to be a part of everything,” Amy continues. “We’ve never experienced something so massive before.” 

Animal Rescue Rhode Island

Reeling after the loss her husband, and a short time later, her beloved dog, Katie found herself overwhelmed with grief. Then, she visited Animal Rescue Rhode Island (ARRI) and met Frida – a lovely, but scared, lab mix. Drawn to the timid canine, Katie welcomed Frida into her home. In the months since, Katie and Frida have provided solace, comfort and healing to each other. 

“Katie’s family will never be the same, but it’s now complete in a different way,” says Liz Skrobisch, executive director for ARRI, a private shelter dedicated to rescuing companion animals. “Their story highlights why we go to any length to nurture and revitalize the animals in our care, in order for them to become successfully adopted pets in loving homes.” 

With roots in the community that date back to 1938, ARRI has served as a haven for countless dogs, cats and other companion animals. The shelter takes in abandoned, abused and surrendered animals without geographic limitation. In addition, it follows a philosophy where no animal is ever euthanized because of time, space, breed or a humanely treatable condition. In 2020 alone, ARRI found forever homes for more than 600 pets. 

“There’s nothing more rewarding at the end of the day than knowing that a pet was given a second, third, or fourth chance,” says Liz. “Watching the animals flourish under the care of our staff and trainers is gratifying beyond words.” 

Humane Animal Welfare Society of Waukesha County

The Humane Animal Welfare Society of Waukesha County, Wisconsin, embraces a two-fold mission, helping animals and humans through adoptions and education. The open-admission, no-kill shelter is first and foremost a safe haven for animals in need, but it’s also much, much more.  

For 6-year-old Ayla, HAWS is a peaceful place. It’s where she and her best friend Emma volunteered together. Sadly, Emma passed away, succumbing to brain cancer before her ninth birthday. But Ayla is still a regular visitor, carrying on their shared passion for animals. 

For the animals who call HAWS home, it’s often a second chance at life. Each year, the team at HAWS assists more than 8,000 animals, most often finding them new, forever homes through adoption. Sometimes, however, what is needed is a brief respite while their families get their lives back on track.  

That was the case for two large dogs who found their way to HAWS through the shelter’s Safe Keep program. Their pet parents had lost their home. Rather than relinquish their beloved family pets, HAWS provided free board for the Akita and Labrador dogs, keeping them for a month until the family found stable housing.  

In addition to its four-legged friends, HAWS welcomes more than 35,000 visitors annually. Many participate in pet training and youth education programs, another priority for the organization. “We are dedicated to the education of humane values as a means of improving the lives of all the animals in our community, not just those within our walls,” says Lynn Olenik, executive director for HAWS.  

The hours are long, but Lynn and her team share a common belief: “Anyone who has owned a pet knows the difference that the animal made in their life.”  At HAWS, their mission is to return the favor. 

Protecting Paws

Motivated by stories of pet owners faced with the choice of feeding their pet or themselves, Yvette Teipel jumped into action. In December 2019, the non-profit she helped co-found, Protecting Paws, launched a Community Pet Food Bank to help those struggling to care for their four-legged friends.

The timing proved fortuitous, as the COVID-19 pandemic soon pushed even more pet owners into financial uncertainty. Volunteer Jacqueline Colpean sees those struggles firsthand, as she delivers pet food to families in need. “Our clients are doing whatever it takes to feed their beloved pets,” she explains. “Knowing that their animals will continue to be fed is huge relief, and one less worry for them.”

For Yvette, the community pet food bank was a natural extension of Protecting Paws’ initial program, which focused on providing animal care and welfare presentations at local schools and libraries. It also fit clearly with the group’s mission: to help end animal abuse and neglect.

“The pets we help are stars in their family’s hearts,” Yvette adds. “I’m thrilled we’re able to help those that are voiceless and give peace of mind to their families.”

Demi’s Animal Rescue

Lots of teens love animals, but few go to the lengths that Demi Merritt did. As a 14-year-old, she founded Demi’s Animal Rescue (DAR), transforming her family’s basement into a no-kill animal shelter. Ten-years later, she’s extended the Denver non-profit’s reach well-beyond the family home, with a large network of fosters, donors and volunteers.

Demi’s mission – helping to solve pet homelessness through adoption, spay/neuter programs and pet retention – has never wavered. She and her team of volunteers work tirelessly to keep pets safe and loved. Sometimes, that means supporting pet owners in need of a helping hand.

Demi recalls one such client, a homeless woman who needed a safe home for her cat Geo, until she got back on her feet. The woman called regularly to check on Geo, and ultimately found a stable place to live. “I will never forget the warmth I felt by helping keep them together,” Demi recalls. “It was so clear that Geo was dearly loved.”

Pet retention is a priority for DAR, as a first line of defense to lower Colorado’s euthanization numbers. In addition to providing temporary housing, the non-profit offers coaching, assistance with pet supplies, behavior modification and training, and veterinary help. Of course, as a rescue, DAR also takes in animals in need of new homes.

“We don’t discriminate against any animal in need,” Demi emphasizes. “Once an animal reaches us, our tagline says it all: It only gets better from here.”

ProMedica Hope and Recovery Pets

Hope and Recovery Pets has been doing incredible work for years in providing assistance to those with mental illness through pairing them with animals to love. HARP itself is a collaboration between the Toledo Humane Society and ProMedica, aimed at relieving the costs of pet care and adoption for those with mental illnesses that might be benefited by animal companionship.

Today the organization helps thousands of people and pets, by pairing them and covering all the costs of adoption, veterinary care, food, grooming, and other pet expenses. This has helped the cause blossom into not only a cause for good that provides joy and healing, but also into an invaluable source of medical data. After years of demonstrating positive outcomes from increased human-animal interaction, the world of mental health medicine has gained invaluable information about the social and psychological benefits of animal companionship.

What are the benefits of animal interaction? The major improvements come in the form of reducing anxiety, alleviating depression, providing self-care motivation, and other psychologically therapeutic outcomes. In fact, no current HARP patients have experienced a psychiatric hospitalization after adoption. As incredible as that is, it’s not the only breakthrough the program provides. There’s strong evidence that pet adoption also brings with it a long list of social benefits that aren’t always immediately apparent. Patients are less lonely, and have an easier time relating to others and making new friends, after adopting a pet.

HARP is changing both human and animal lives for the better. But the most inspiring thing of all might be what their results mean for the future. The better we understand the relationship between human-animal relationships and mental illness, the closer we’ll be to a world where mental illness means less stigma, and less suffering, than today.

AgriScience Biotechnology Academy

Where a passionate student intersects with a special opportunity, lives can change for the better. That’s the philosophy AgriScience & Veterinary Assistance Academy brings to their mission of inspiring and educating the world’s next generation of animal science and medicine professionals.

The organization works with high schoolers and veterinary professionals to coordinate learning opportunities for secondary-education students. All students are welcome–both who come from a more traditional background, and those facing challenges, be they in learning style, mental health, or family resources. And the learning experiences they’re provided aren’t busy work either–the students are immediately on-the-job learning to heal, groom, and help animals. All the while, the students are working toward their Veterinary Assistance Certification, so that when their time in the program ends, they’ll be ready to join the workforce right away.

AgriScience & Veterinary Assistance Academy is doing something incredible. Not only are they helping an upcoming generation of students find gainful, rewarding employment with a practical educational head-start in medicine and agri-science, but they’re also helping animals. By ensuring the next generation of veterinarians are well-stocked, motivated, and inspired, they ensure a brighter future of care for the animals that will inevitably need it.

One AgriScience & Veterinary Assistance Academy educator, Holly Hultgren, said it best, “When they get into that classroom it sparks something and that can change their entire life.” These educators are giving students access to more opportunities, while animals give them a sense of belonging. And that’s giving all of us a brighter future.

Home for Life

Diego was just two years old when he arrived at Home for Life, but he already had a reputation as unmanageable. TC, saddled with several infected teeth that made it nearly impossible for him to eat, was painfully thin. Dodi had been removed from three rescues and two homes in just 18 months. Euthanasia was the next stop for all three, until Home for Life stepped in.

“In the world of animal welfare, shelters offer two doors: adoption and euthanasia,” explains Lisa LaVerdiere, founder of the Wisconsin-based non-profit. “We’re the third door – a care-for-life sanctuary.”

As one of the country’s only such sanctuaries, Home for Life helps desperate animals whose needs exceed the capacity of traditional shelters and rescues. Some 200 cats and dogs live out their days at this unique facility, receiving the medical attention and the safe, loving environment they need.

In return, many of the animals give back to the community through the group’s innovative Peace Creatures pet therapy program. “The adults and children we help can identify with our animals – they’ve both been through so much,” Lisa contends. Through the program, Home for Life provide solace and joy to the lives of 8,000 at-risk kids and adults every year.

“Dogs and cats who fall outside the parameters of ‘adoptable’ are overlooked or disregarded,” Lisa continues. “But we’re reminded every day that these special cats and dogs are not pariahs or outcasts. They still have much to give.”

Fellinlove Farm

Cheryl Kaletka started Fellinlove Farm for her daughters, who both have serious health issues. She wanted a place where they could learn about work and responsibility, practice socialization and just have fun. As she watched her daughters thrive, and as the Fellinlove Farm animal community grew, the Kaletka family decided to share their unique farm setting with others.

“Opening the farm to our volunteers and guests has allowed us to share the intense joy experienced from connecting with these amazing, diverse creatures,” Cheryl explains. Visitors have a chance to meet pigs, goats, cows, horses, donkeys, llamas, dogs, cats, bunnies and more.

Make no mistake, this is no ordinary petting zoo. Drawing on her experience as an early childhood special education professor and teacher, Cheryl created educational programs that allow guests of all ages and needs to enjoy the farm and its many animals. By far, the most popular is the farm’s adaptive field trip program.

In devising the program, Cheryl worked to make the farm and its many animals accessible to all. For those who struggle with anxiety in new environments, Fellinlove Farm offers an interactive virtual tour, enabling guests to see a “preview” before their planned visit. Wheelchair-friendly paths open the farm to guests with mobility issues. Plus, each adaptive field trip is tailored to the group’s unique needs, taking into account preferred learning styles, impairments, emotional and behavioral concerns, and more.

Cheryl’s commitment to inclusivity, aided by the farm’s 150 animal ambassadors, has made Fellinlove Farm a popular destination for school groups, families, and senior care facilities throughout western Michigan. “Through hands-on interactions with our gentle animals, we provide dynamic experiences for people of all ages and abilities,” she explains. “These intimate, individualized animal-human connections promote social, physical, mental and emotional benefits – and they’re a whole lot of fun, too.”

First Coast No More Homeless Pets

Before First Coast No More Homeless Pets entered the picture, dogs and cats who found themselves in a Jacksonville, Fla., animal shelter faced a bleak future. Of the 33,000 animals who walked through a shelter door in 2002, 23,000 were euthanized.

First Coast founder Rick DuCharme set out to change those sobering stats, cashing in his retirement savings to start what today is one of the nations’ largest spay/neuter facilities. First Coast also operates a low-cost veterinary clinic and a state-of-the-art veterinary hospital, in addition to other programs designed to keep pets in their loving homes and out of shelters. As a result of these efforts, Jacksonville shelter admissions have been cut in half, and last year, just 719 animals were euthanized.

Today, First Coast has a two-fold mission: supporting low-income pet owners, so they can keep their dogs and cats in their homes and out of shelters, and providing low-cost spay/neuter services, especially for feral and community cats.

“Many pet owners come to us after being turned away from other clinics because they couldn’t afford the care,” explains Mollie Malloy, director of grants for the Florida non-profit. “Because of our programs, these dogs and cats can thrive in their homes.”


It started with a single, stray black cat. Then another. And another. One by one, Katrin Hecker took the abandoned felines into her home. At eight cats, she realized her town of Hudson, N.Y., had a problem – one she was determined to help solve. In 2000, that vision became reality when the registered nurse-turned-animal-advocate founded AnimalKind.

Fast-forward to today, and the nonprofit animal welfare organization rescues more than 1,200 animals each year, places more than 1,000 canines and felines in loving, forever homes, and works to end overpopulation of unwanted animals through its spay/neuter programs. (Last year alone, AnimalKind assisted low-income pet owners by providing more than 2,000 such surgeries.)

Those numbers alone are impressive, but there’s more to the AnimalKind story. The program prides itself on going the extra mile to help pet owners in need, from its well-stocked pet food bank and emergency boarding services to its free- and reduced- cost veterinary care. Once, the shelter even provided temporary housing to a homeless, but devoted, cat owner.

“Every year we serve more than 5,000 animals in need through our various programs, reducing suffering and saving countless animals from euthanasia,” Katrin emphasizes. “Together, we are making significant progress protecting the animals in our community.”