by Dorri Olds
Empty the Shelters (ETS) recently had its fifth pet adoption event in Grand Rapids, Michigan. A whopping 2,631 pets were rescued! That number includes adoptions that took place in the week leading up to the event plus one glorious day when 1571 pets were adopted—726 dogs, 827 cats, and 18 other animals.
ETS is the loving brainchild of the BISSELL Pet Foundation (BPF) founder, Cathy Bissell. She is a former journalist turned philanthropist and part of the 140-year-old company, BISSELL Homecare, Inc. BPF also raises money for shelters throughout the U.S. Cathy told us her inspiration for starting the foundation.
“I’d been working on fundraising for the local Humane Society,” she said. “A Black Lab was brought over to me. He was this gorgeous, regal six-year-old, beautiful beyond belief. His family had given him up because they wanted a puppy instead. I was so mad. I mean, who does that?!”
Thanks to this one big-hearted woman, we have sweet stories to share. One family with a handicapped daughter and three sons adopted a Pitbull at last year’s ETS. This year, they returned to adopt another Pitbull so he’d have a companion. The two dogs became fast friends, and the family is thrilled.
Another success tale is about a boy, an only child, who came before the big adoption day. He met a Black Labrador that won his heart. Cathy said, “His mother drove him two-and-a-half hours so they could be the first in line. That’s how badly this boy wanted that Lab.” Since then, Cathy heard from his Mom who said the two immediately became best friends.
Eastwood, named after the actor, is a Golden Retriever who was born with a deformed leg. It would’ve cost thousands of dollars to fix. “This sweet abandoned dog, found as a stray, was the last dog left in the shelter,” Cathy said. “He was adopted by a fantastic family that has six cats and another dog—all rescues and the father happens to be the head coach of the Detroit Pistons basketball team. So, I like to say that rescue was a slam-dunk.”
In another story, a blind and deaf dog was found wandering in a neighborhood. He was starving and had fleas. A family came to ETS looking for a younger dog but when they saw this pooch’s face, they melted and took him home. Things looked fine until they noticed blood in his stool. Their vet said the dog had cancer so they returned him to the shelter.
“I’d heard about this,” said Cathy. “I was afraid he was too old and sick to be adopted so I drove three hours to pick him up. He deserved a second chance. Now, every morning he kisses me and my husband, so excited to be loved, and to have food.” And her amazing karma was rewarded—it turned out that the dog didn’t have cancer. His tumor was benign. We just lap up these stories. Don’t you?
We had to know how BPF’s event had such a huge turnout. “We pay for the adoptions,” said Cathy. “We got 66 shelters involved. Normally patrons would’ve had to pay to adopt because shelters spay and neuter their animals, vet them for behavioral issues, and pay for any necessary medical procedures. Our goal is to attract people who might’ve gone to a breeder, or Craig’s List, or a pet store. We want them to stop and think, ‘Oh, I should adopt.’”
Ann, a four-year-old Pitbull who never had a home, came from a “hog-dog” fighting ring where she was used to reproduce. Ann and another dog, Ivan, were forced to breed and care for puppies who were made to fight to the death. Victims of horrid abuse, they’d never experienced the joy of walks, or a warm bed. But worst of all, they didn’t know what love was.
They were rescued and brought to the Humane Society of Huron Valley (HSHV), where canine behaviorists worked with them. Ivan adjusted and was adopted out. Ann sat waiting at the back of her kennel for 18 months, too anxious and fearful to socialize. Jane Harlow, who’d lost her 13-year-old Labrador, heard about ETS. She arrived at HSHV and walked around the kennels, observing every dog. Shy Ann came out from hiding, and looked up at Jane. “I’ve found the one!” Jane yelled to the staff. Staffers burst into tears and hugged each other. After a year and a half in their care, Ann had finally found her home. And, as it turns out, Ann and Jane live only a few minutes from Ivan so they enjoy frequent playdates.
Fenton, Michigan’s Adopt-a-Pet shelter was elated when 37 of their animals found homes thanks to ETS but one very special rescue stands out: mixed breed Thor was dumped in a shelter at 11 months old. The big puppy was then returned three times over the following year and a half. He needed training and guidance but every family gave up on him. Each time he was returned to the shelter, his behavior grew worse. By his fourth stay in a shelter, the poor pooch was so stressed he could barely function. He no longer trusted anyone. Only staff and a select few volunteers could interact with him. Thor spent eight long months waiting. Finally, he landed a foster parent.
His behavior improved in his new home and things were looking up for him. Then Thor began having seizures. The foster parent found out he had an immune-related condition and would need lifelong treatment so she chose not to keep him. When other potential adopters learned about his special needs, they took a pass on him, too.
But after two years with Adopt-A-Pet, thanks to ETS, a woman named Angela walked in and met Thor. She immediately fell in love with him—and all of his quirks. Angela is fully committed to taking care of him. At long last, Thor has his furever home.
Now, do you know what 2,631 adopted pets add up to? You guessed it, room in shelters for 2,631 more lives to be saved.