Month: January 2015

Guest Blogger, Hannah Michalski (

A Photo is Worth A Thousand HeARTs

Photographs are such unassuming, everyday additions to our living spaces, yet their boundaries can hold immeasurable meaning. In fact, a photograph is a quiet goldmine with the potential to both save a life and decorate a life, and few appreciate this more than the over 500 members of global artist community, HeARTs Speak.

Spanning 43 states and 13 countries, HeARTs Speak unites painters, photographers, sculptors, writers, graphic designers, and advocates who believe in the power of collaboration. By providing their time and professional services, pro-bono, to animal welfare organizations in their communities, they’re fuelling life-saving causes and equipping homeless pets with unforgettable portraits; portraits that afford them the first impression their lives often depend on.

Founded in 2010 by professional photographer Lisa Prince-Fishler, HeARTs Speak serves as her take on the ‘power in numbers’ concept. During Lisa’s early years photographing homeless pets for Animal Farm Foundation, she recognized the potential for a supportive, motivated network of individuals who could see beyond ego to work together for the greater good; through powerful, emotional, artistic mediums.

5 years on, the HeARTs Speak community is growing rapidly and making a noticeable impact on pet adoption statistics. Here are some especially eye-opening numbers:

Since becoming a HeARTs Speak member in 2012, Kaye Ness has photographed approximately 700-800 animals. KC Pet Project in Kansas, the shelter Kaye helps most regularly, has an intake of nearly 9,000 animals a year. Since 2006, KC Pet Project has gone from a 31.4% adoption rate to a remarkable 93.8% in 2013, and a large factor of this improvement is the quality photographs Kaye helps to provide.

Long Beach Animal Services, a government-run facility in California, attributes their 55% increase in adoption rates to the professional portraits provided by HeARTs Speak member, Sara Cozolino. Additionally, the number of animals transferred to other rescues has increased by 27% since Sara began helping the group in 2012.

Sherry Stinson, a long-time HeARTs Speak member, volunteers with Tulsa Animal Welfare. The shelter’s euthanasia rate when Sherry initially started was 65% of the over 12,000 animals admitted. However, during January and February of 2014, 78% of their dogs made it out alive.

HeARTs Speak also believes knowledge is for sharing, and while its network of members continues to expand, they can only cover so much ground.

With this in mind, HeARTs Speak launched the Perfect Exposure Project in 2013, first at New York City Animal Care & Control and then at Animal Care & Control of Philadelphia. The project equipped these high-intake shelters with professional photography equipment and training workshops, empowering staff and volunteers to provide the same top-notch photos that a HeARTs Speak member would. The project proved so impactful, that HeARTs Speak is working to make it available to more shelters i 2015,.

The cherry on top of each workshop was the Shelter Photography Field Guide; a 44-page go-to manual left with each shelter that handily summarizes everything taught throughout the Perfect Exposure Project. It’s jam-packed with photography tips, social media and marketing ideas, post-processing wisdom, and big-picture inspiration. The guide will be available for purchase in early 2015.

Through the clicking of shutters, the strokes of paintbrushes, and the scratching of pens on paper, HeARTs Speak members are working tirelessly every day to elevate companion animals to a place of love, acceptance, understanding, and respect. It is their ultimate hope that homeless pets will have the chance to occupy a space on a family photo wall, stretch out on a sofa, and bask in a patch of sunshine. And above all else, that they’ll know the great warmth of love in their lifetime.

Hannah Michalski is HeARTs Speak’s Communications Coordinator and best friend to a curmudgeonly but well-dressed guinea pig named Bret P. Michaels. She believes in the good in people, the quiet power of a photograph and above all else, the importance of caring for and cherishing our fellow living beings.

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Animal Advocacy Guest Blogger Thank You Janet Bovitz Sandefur

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Guest Blogger, Patricia Robert (ECAD)

Animal Advocacy Blog Picture Janet Bovitz Sandefur 

The moment I read the words JUST DO SOMETHING, I knew this was the perfect space in which to write about ECAD – Educated Canines Assisting with Disabilities – and its co-founders, Dale and Lu Picard. If ever there were two people who personify these three words, it is this husband and wife team who began ECAD twenty years ago this year in their two-car garage with a $15,000.00 grant from the Hartford CT Jaycees. With passion and total commitment they have developed an organization that is one of the most respected in its field, one that is known for placing expertly educated canines with the most difficult of cases, and for establishing Project HEALTM, a program designed specifically to meet the needs of Veterans.

‘Just do something’ is the thought Lu had when, in 1994, her dad suffered a stroke, and, unable to stand up much less walk by himself, he sank into a deep depression. Lu, who had always had a way with dogs, put the leash of the family dog, Juliet, into her dad’s hands. “Pull” she commanded Juliet. Within a short time, Juliet did just that and pulled Lu’s dad onto his feet. “Brace” came next. Lu’s dad and Juliet became a team, making it on their own, and his depression vanished. This is it, Lu thought: this is what I am here for. Dale’s background as a small business owner gave them the foundation they needed to start a company.

Their early success, and their reputation for the excellent education their Service Dogs received, brought them into contact with educators who were in the forefront of animal-human therapy. Again, the Picards thought, lets just do something that helps kids too. So, in 1997, with contracts from two alternative schools in Westchester County, they created the ECADemy Program. This program, part of the curriculum at participating schools, educates at-risk teens to educate the dogs in the eighty-nine commands they must know to be certified as Service or Assistance Dogs.

Dale, born and raised on a farm, knows how to use his hands and in quick order he turned his two-car garage into a kennel that could house a good many dogs. Thus was born the ECAD campus in Torrington CT and it is here that puppies still begin their “socialization” and basic training. It is also here that a well-attended annual Summer Camp takes place. The Picards began to purpose-breed their Golden Retrievers and Labradors in 1997 to insure that all the dogs placed would have the ideal temperament and work ethic necessary for a long career as a Service Dog. In 1997, they moved their main office to a facility on the campus in Children’s Village in Dobbs Ferry, NY. In 2009, ECAD inaugurated the Project HEALTM Program, specifically for Veterans of the Armed Services, many who have, in addition to physical injuries and amputations, the invisible disabilities of PTSD and TBI.

Each year, ECAD places a minimum of seventeen Service Dogs, as well as Facility Dogs in Hospitals, and Courtroom Dogs, such as the famous Rosie, who work with DAs in sensitive cases involving minors. With a goal to place more Service Dogs each year, ECAD has embarked on a Capital Campaign and is actively seeking property with an existing structure that will enable ECAD’s instructors to educate many more SDiT than is possible now. It is anticipated that the ECADemy Program will continue.

With care, and an eye toward fiscal responsibility necessary for a non-profit organization, the Picards have seen to it that ECAD could expand successfully. Dale is the CEO and Lu Director of Programs. The company has a staff of sixteen including instructors, kennel managers, marketing and fundraising personnel. There is a roster of volunteers and home handlers. Two major fundraising events are held each year, one in Westchester, and one in Greenwich CT, with smaller events taking place throughout the year. ECAD has received a four star rating from Charity Navigator for the past four consecutive years. ECAD applies for and receives significant grants each year.

ECAD is indeed a dream come true for the Picards. What is most important is that through their work, their determination to just do something, their dream became a reality for the many people with disabilities who lead better lives because they have an ECAD Service Dog by their side.

It has been my privilege to be part of the ECAD team as a contributing writer to the quarterly newsletter for almost five years. Frankly, I’ve had a lot of fun. But I also admit that I never fail to shed tears at every single graduation ceremony when I see the newly paired client and Service Dog, going home, together. In this, I am joined by Dale and Lu Picard.

– Patricia Robert
Patricia began working at ECAD in 2010 and has been contributing to the newsletter ever since, which she loves. She says “After a lifetime of working in “show business” (including 13 years as an executive at Radio City Music Hall) a wonderful stroke of fate brought me to ECAD. Every g time I am there I see a positive aspect of what is being accomplished. One day, as I was crossing the Children’s Village Campus, one of the student trainers called out my name and waved. I was on Cloud Nine, I felt like a celebrity.  I love seeing the faces of the clients during Team Training when they have their very own Service Dog and I love seeing how each dog just knows the person is theirs alone. A highlight of my time with ECAD will always be helping Rosie get her photo on the front page of the NY Times. She was the most accommodating and sweet natured celebrity I have ever known.”

Connect with ECAD on Facebook and Twitter!

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Happy Birthday To Me

It’s 12:05 AM (EST), and today is my birthday.

Lord, thank you for giving me the compassion that motivates me to want to make a difference every day, for those that cannot speak for, or defend, themselves.

Thank you for giving me the strength to keep moving forward in my animal advocacy goals, no matter what the roadblocks.

Thank you for a healthy body and mind, that I can keep fighting the good fight, no matter what comes my way.

Thank you for opening my eyes and giving me life’s ups and downs, so I can see what truly matters in life.

Thank you for the loving support and encouragement of my wonderful family, friends, and fellow advocates.

Thank you for blessing me with a very understanding husband.

Thank you for another beginning of a year where I promise to continue to make a difference.

Happy Birthday to me.

Animal Advocacy Founder signature Janet Bovitz Sandefur



Animal Advocacy logo Janet Bovitz Sandefur

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Guest Blogger Sunny Weber (Animal Behaviorist, Animal Welfare Consultant)

The Middle Years

There comes a time – a short window of years – in the time of pet companionship where you can relax and enjoy your friend to the fullest. I’m describing the middle years, wherein your dog, cat or other pet is healthy, active, focused on you and her surroundings; a time without youthful destruction, adjustment, and insecurity; a time without illness, creeping infirmity, or heartbreaking imminent parting.

If a pet is acquired as a puppy or kitten, there is a long first year of care – medical, behavioral, and training. All first inoculations must be given and nutritious food for growth purchased. Toys and distractions must be acquired. Fences, leashes, litter boxes, and all pertinent supplies bought. Injuries caused by youthful exuberance addressed. Household routines must be taught so the pet can expect consistency in her life, which will culminate in higher self-confidence and less behavioral issues down the road. Daily interactive manners must be taught so the pet isn’t a nuisance–to you or the public. A constant eye to the pet’s behavior must be vigilant – for the safety of the baby as well as for your peace of mind.

If a pet is brought into your home as an adolescent, chances are she’s been relinquished/rejected by someone previously and for reasons you may never know. These reasons may include behavioral issues the previous family was unwilling or unable to deal with and that you find out about once you’re already attached to the little delinquent. Hence, the problems will fall on you so your time with the newcomer will consist of adjustment – getting to know each other and patiently teaching the pet what she needs to do and know to fit into your human life as seamlessly as possible. This requires the same diligence as working with a very young pet and, if done well, will eventually result in a pet that mirrors your own lifestyle as a quality companion.

Even if your pet joins you in her older years, there remain the past shadows of her previous life and lifestyle. Chances are her energy level will be less than younger pets, but behavioral issues may still pose challenges to your peacefulness together. Yet with time, perseverance, and patience in helping her learn her new lifestyle requirements with you, she’ll turn into your best friend–and usually in far less time than a younger pet can.

Babies can take a year or more to “fit in” and become devoted pals. Adolescents could take six months or more to learn, settle down, and not require exhausting observation and training. Oldsters may require only weeks or months to calm and contribute to your life. But finally, all will emerge into those “middle years” of life with you, however long or brief, wherein they are quality companions, best friends, and effortless contributors to your own quality of life.

The Good Years are the time when your dog is active but not infirm or crazy and uncontrollable–when she joyfully runs off on your walk, but happily returns when you call; when she can accompany you anywhere without the embarrassment of her peeing on your human friends’ carpet. The Good Years are the time when your cat no longer climbs drapes, shreds furniture, or sees your passing foot as pre – but is content to cuddle on your lap on a cold winter’s eve or sleep, softly purring, in the crook of your arm throughout the night.

The Good Years are the hallmark of your best times together – when your friends refer to you as “JaneandPuff” or “DickandFido.” Your pal is at your side when you need her, or waiting at home when you can’t be together – sleeping in the window, not tearing out door jams.  This is the time of purely maintenance veterinary visits, long countryside walks, ball games in the yard, reading in the sun with a furry ball warming your thigh. These years may include tragedy, sadness, and loss for you, but there is always an adoring gaze, a comforting paw, or a tender wet kiss to comfort you. Changes in your own life are easier because there is consistency for you at home – the never-ending dependence of a loyal and devoted creature who never holds grudges, never passes judgment on your worthiness, never complains about your idiosyncrasies. Rather, your every return is guaranteed to be an insane welcome by wagging tails, whines, yowls, and leg rubs. What more could a human ask from life?

The Good Years are brief – possibly longer with cats than dogs – but I call your attention to them with this blog post to say, “Pay attention! Slow down! Appreciate these sweet, golden, and all too temporary times.

As humans, we establish a life of flying through each day, month, year,  indeed, our entire lives–without looking at what blurs of beauty we’re racing past. The most beautiful of these blurring blips in time are our pets and our relationships with them. Don’t wake up one morning to a seizing dog or a kidney failing cat and wonder where the time went. BE AWARE.

The good years may be upon you now. Don’t ignore them or let them slip away without fulling savoring each minute with the little life that is dependent on your care, devotion, and attention; the little life that has made you the center of her universe, her heart, and her soul.

The Good Years are for you – the time your pet is best able to give herself to you. Don’t throw that precious gift away in the maddening rush of human distraction, ridiculous technology, and false priorities. The simple little creature who makes you her whole world deserves better.

By Sunny Weber
Animal Behaviorist, Animal Welfare Consultant, Humane Educator, Writer

Animal Advocacy Guest Blogger Thank You Janet Bovitz Sandefur

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