Volunteering and animal rescue impacts people and communities | Laura Gonzo | TEDxGreensboro

Translator: Carla Gattone
Reviewer: Denise RQ It’s 10 years ago, it’s early autumn, and I have taken
a complete leave of my senses. I’ve been watching the news at this point for what feels
like 24 hours a day for weeks, and a fire has been lit inside me. I’m packing my car to go someplace
where I have no idea what to expect so I’m taking everything: food,
camping gear, medical supplies, and a gas can, so I can fill up
before I get too deep into the area. I drive the 12 hours from my home in Indianapolis, Indiana,
to Tylertown, Mississippi. My destination’s Camp Katrina. When it was all said and done, about 600,000 volunteers
made their way to the gulf to help the victims of Katrina. Most of them went to rescue people;
me, I went to rescue animals. I’d been involved in animal rescue
for just a couple years at this point, and I remember exactly why; I had ready a story in the paper about this dog that had been
so horrifically abused that I couldn’t stand it, and I called the first animal rescue
I could find and said, “Sign me up.” I thought I had seen the world dish out some pretty nasty stuff
to animals at that point, but it paled in comparison to what I was seeing
the animals going through in Katrina. So off I went. By the time I rolled up– let me back up. Camp Katrina was run
by the Humane Society of Louisiana and it was, basically,
a hastily thrown together refugee camp for companion animals
displaced by the hurricanes. By the time I rolled up, it had been
almost two months since Katrina, and the animals were still flowing in. They were in terrible condition. So we would get them triaged,
get them stabilized, and settled in. This was not glamorous work; our daily responsibilities included picking up a lot of poop
and cleaning a lot of litter boxes, and I can tell you that if you ever have to clean
the litter box of a feral cat, you are taking your life
into your own hands. (Laughter) We slept on the ground,
if we slept at all; there was food available,
but we would forget to eat; and showers, no. So we’re tired, we’re hungry,
we’re stinky, but nobody complained. We had come from all over, there were people there
from as far away as Hawaii and Canada. All of them like me,
had seen the suffering, had gotten under their skin, and set them on fire,
and compelled them to act. I made friends for life at Camp Katrina,
and I fell in love with a lot of animals. When I got there,
the camp was full of pit bulls, and I don’t mind telling you
that made me very nervous, but I quickly realized
that just like all the other dogs, they were scared,
they were tired, they were hungry, and they were desperate for human contact. There would be this moment,
a couple days after we had an animal, especially with the dogs, where you could
see this light bulb go on, and you could see them figure out
that they were going to be OK. Everything was going to be alright. And they would go
from this hunched up position, and they would open up,
and they would smile, and their tails would start wagging, and they would become
happy, normal dogs again. That’s my friend Shelly,
talked to her on Facebook yesterday. This is Amy; she was terrified of pit bulls
when she got there, she got over it. But it was beautiful to see, and it was terrible. We saw a lot of suffering, and the whole time that we were there
trying to rescue all these animals, people were trying to break into the camp and steal them, steal the dogs,
so that they could fight them. It was heartbreaking
and infuriating to know that these animals that we were working so hard to save,
and we were falling madly in love with, that people wanted to kill them
for their own entertainment. We were forced to build
razor wire fencing around the camp, and patrol the fence line
from dusk until dawn, but in the end, we kept them safe. The Katrina Animal Rescue Effort managed
to reunite some families and their pets – this is Gumbo and his family; there was not a dry eye
in camp that day – But sadly, a lot of families
could not be located. We didn’t know if it’s because they didn’t know
where to look for their pets – there were rescues all over the place – if they were in a situation
where they just couldn’t have animals, or if they just hadn’t survived. But the animals that could not be
reunited were placed in new homes. We saved, collectively, thousands
and thousands of animals. Here’s what Camp Katrina taught me:
people want to help. We respond to stories that move us, and sometimes, those stories
are so powerful that they can move us
from “Somebody should do something” to “I wish there was something
that I could do,” to “I am going to do something.” Years later, I attended the conference on
service and volunteering in New Orleans, and like me, a lot of the people there
had been on the ground for Katrina. We were in the shadow of the Superdome,
reliving all of those memories, the good ones and the terrible ones, and what was amazing was
that the people of Louisiana showed up. I mean showed up. High school marching bands,
politicians, lots of celebrities, and they kept coming and coming
to say thank you. Through everything that they had suffered, it was important to them to tell us
that what we had done was meaningful. It took my breath away. And I realized that while I had gone down
because I wanted to help animals, I actually ended up helping people too. Animal rescue volunteers do more
than move cats and dogs, we help people. Sometimes, in very surprising ways. My friends Tim and Donna adopted Sally and she is such a spectacular creature that she inspired them to start a rescue
that they call Bad Rap. That was 16 years ago, and they’ve been
volunteering their time ever since. Today, they are thought leaders
in the world of animal welfare. They were instrumental in helping
rescue the Vick dogs, and in the process, they changed the way that the legal system
views canine victims of dog fighting. Because of this, a number of the Vick dogs
were able to be adopted into loving homes – that’s Tim and Donna
and five of the dogs; pretty scary, right? – and some of those dogs even went on
to become certified therapy dogs. This is Leo, who worked
with a group called Our Pack, and he passed away a few years ago, but his specialty was comforting people as they went through
chemotherapy treatment. Seems to be doing a good job here. And this guy, his name is Coal,
because he’s from Kentucky, years ago, I helped rescue him
from a meth house bust and the woman who adopted him
trained him to be a search and rescue dog. So despite all they had been through, with the help of volunteers, these dogs
found a way to give back. In North Carolina, through a group
called “New Leash on Life”, prisoners train shelter dogs
in basic obedience. Now of course this helps the dogs
get adopted, which is great, but also, participants
in that program discovered their rate of recidivism dropped
from 36% all the way down to 6%. So participants in this program, when they got out of jail,
they stayed out of jail. The founder of that program
went on to start another program called “People & Paws 4 Hope”
[with the] same format, but this time, she’s pairing
dogs with teenagers, and the goal is to keep
these young men and women out of the system in the first place. Here’s one for the cat people: in Indianapolis, there’s a group
called IndyFeral, and they started a TNR program,
that stands for Trap, Neuter, and Return, and they started spaying
and neutering all these feral cats. Well, a few years later the city noticed
that the number of stray cats coming into the shelter
had dropped dramatically. That reduces the burden on the shelter. So they did some quick math,
and they figured out that over the period of time
that they had been doing this program, the volunteers of IndyFeral
had saved Indianapolis tax payers almost 300,000 dollars. Not bad. Other advocates are fighting
for anti tethering legislation, and what that does is it prevents people
from leaving their dogs chained up 24/7. I think it’s fair to assume that this is largely motivated
for concern for the welfare of the dogs, but it has the important side effect
of enhancing public safety, because no matter what you’ve heard
about which dogs bite or why dogs bite, chained dogs are three times more likely
to bite than other dogs. So if you get dogs off chains,
you reduce dog bites. That idea has caught fire, and we’re seeing anti tethering ordinances
being implemented all over the country leading to safer communities. I think it’s fair to assume that most, if not all of the people
who did these things, at some point had an experience,
or read a story that moved them to “I will”, and their efforts – because they like to see cats and dogs
getting the care that they need – had significant benefit
for their communities. So we’ve looked at animal rescue
as a lens into volunteerism, but you say, “What if
I’m not into animal rescue?” Fear not good citizens, because volunteering of all kinds is great
for you and is great for the community. People who volunteer are less likely
to suffer ill health later in life. Seniors, in particular, receive
both physical and mental health benefits. Cities or states with higher rates
of volunteers have lower mortality and lower rates of heart disease, and communities with a lot of volunteers
are more civically healthy. That means those people
are more likely to vote, those people are more likely to go out and fix whatever needs to be fixed
in their community, because they know they can. Those communities are
more connected and more vibrant. Sounds good so far, right? One in four of us gives
about 2 hours a week of volunteering. Doesn’t sound like much, but it adds up. In 2013, 62 million volunteers
gave this country 7.7 billion hours of service The value of that service
is 173 billion dollars. Volunteers gave this country
173 billion dollars worth of their time. If you pay taxes you might want
to go hug a volunteer. I’m right here. So that sounds great, but what kind of skills
do you need to volunteer? When I lost my mind
and set off for Camp Katrina, I didn’t have any special skills. Well, I didn’t know
I had any special skills. When I was there I found out I speak dog. No, for real. I can read dogs really well,
and I can connect with dogs, and if a dog is feeling
frightened or disoriented, I can use body language and tone of voice
to help that dog feel safe. Also, I can spot a stray dog
from about a mile away. I see dogs that are invisible
to everybody else, and this little gift of mine I call Dogdar (Laughter) and believe me when I tell you
it is a blessing as well as a curse because if I see them,
I have to go get them. But I found out I was really good
at these things. I found out I was good
at a whole bunch of things that I never would’ve discovered if I hadn’t jumped in
and started volunteering. A couple months ago, someone sent me
this amazing t-shirt that says, “I rescue animals,
what’s your super power?” Dogdar, I speak dog. If you don’t know,
aren’t you a little curious? Maybe? Sometimes, all it takes is a laptop. In 2014, a veteran named Steven White
was attacked by somebody he barely knew. He was beaten, and he was set on fire,
and he later died from his injuries. The community was shocked and devastated.
He left behind a partner and 3 dogs, and I know this because a mutual friend
of ours, came to me and said they needed some help
finding new homes for two of the dogs, because his partner
couldn’t manage them without Steven. This is Tiberius and Momo. So I had been so moved by this story that I was very happy to know
there was something I could do to help. So I did what I always do
when I find an animal that needs a home, I get some pictures
and I write their story, and I pop it up on Facebook; Easy, right? This post got shared, it got shared a lot.
I lost track around 4,000 shares. Because the story was powerful, and people were moved,
and people wanted to help. I heard from people
as far away as Seattle and Chicago, a veterinarian in Virginia donated a year’s worth of heartworm
and flea and tick preventative, because like me, she was happy to know there was some small thing
that she could do. I am happy to say that both dogs
have been adopted into amazing homes, and all I had to do
was put a story up on Facebook. So what gets under your skin? What has the power
and the potential to set you on fire? To move you from “Somebody should,”
to “I wish,” to “I will.”? 10 years ago, I left
the safety and comfort of my home to go set up camp
in a muddy field in Mississippi because Hurricane Katrina
got under my skin, and it set me on fire. I knew that there was something
that I could do. And as it turns out, I could do a lot. Thank you. (Applause)

4 thoughts on “Volunteering and animal rescue impacts people and communities | Laura Gonzo | TEDxGreensboro

  1. I'm very good at picking out people who love to hear themselves speak and this is her. They tend to over exaggerate to the point of lies.

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