ShelterMe Producer, Steven Latham, talks animal welfare and crowdfunding with Sarah Timms, Founder and CEO of new nonprofit crowdfunding platform LoveAnimals.org.
Sarah: How did you get into producing films and documentaries?
Steven: I had a background in studio from the executive side from working at Paramount and Universal. In 2000 I quit my job at the studio to produce and direct my first film series, which I worked on with Barbara Streisand, called Living Century. The series told the stories of 100-year-old people who had lived through three centuries! It was so fascinating to work on. From then on, I decided to only work on projects that I think contribute to the national conversation on history, technology, animals, and other interesting topics.
Sarah: What’s it like to produce the ShelterMe series?
Steven: ShelterMe is my favorite of all the projects I’ve done. I felt like it HAD to be made. I saw a big deficiency in the way that shelters were being communicated about and perceived. The public wasn’t seeing the real story about how special shelter pets are. It’s been a privilege to travel the country and show how these animals add so much to our lives and why we need to inspire people to get involved with their local shelters.
Sarah: Tell us about your new episode of ShelterMe – New Beginnings.
Steven: New Beginnings is hosted by Allison Jenny and contains two stories. One story is about Wings of Rescue and their mission to fly 128 shelter dogs from over-crowded shelters to a community in Idaho where there was great demand for rescue pets. It is such an uplifting story! We filmed the flight in March, and since then we’ve flown over 1200 pets to safety in a number of different places in the Northwest. People can learn more about the program and support it though our crowdfunding campaign.
The other story is about a woman who travels around the country teaching shelters how to do playgroups. This simple idea becomes transformational. Her story is so inspirational, and gets dogs outside, playing, and adopted!
Sarah: How did you get involved with Wings of Rescue?
Steven: At ShelterMe, we focus on creating and using best practices. Literally anyone can duplicate our process, and they should! I talked to several groups and was most impressed with Wings of Rescue because they are organized, they’ve shown results and they are successful. They do transports responsibly and transparently. They do the paperwork and always know where animals are going and that the animals will always be well treated. Plus they don’t have any administration costs. They manage to fly a dog for just $88 – that’s $88 to fly a dog to safety and a new home. Every penny that is donated to our crowdfunding campaign pays to get a dog on a flight.
Sarah: Why did you decide to start crowdfunding for Wings of Rescue?
Steven: When we came across this story about saving lives through transport and learned that we could make a big impact, we wanted people to participate. We needed funds to rent the planes. This project was the perfect candidate for crowdfunding: because of the show people could see the transport process with total transparency – everything you see in the film is what you’re contributing to. Crowdfunding is a way for viewers to get involved and be part of it and see what they are funding. Furthermore, there is no overhead and no salaries – literally every penny goes to getting a dog on the plane.
Sarah: What did it feel like to film the first arrival of the dogs in Idaho?
Steven: Arriving was INCREDIBLE. Over 100 people were at airport waiting for the dogs. The anticipation! People were running onto the tarmac to meet the planes. You go from places where there are so many animals and not enough people to adopt them; animals become numbers despite the best efforts of staff and volunteers at over-crowded shelters. Then, we go somewhere where they NEED animals. They are loved and appreciated immediately! I shed a tear – well a lot of tears. I was with these animals from the time they were in kennels alone through to them being adopted and in a family. The spirit of ShelterMe is that you cry tears of hope! Change comes from inspiration, not desperation. We are trying to tell good stories AND empower communities locally.
Sarah: Is there one particular animal that has touched your heart since you started the ShelterMe series?
Steven: Champion the German Shepherd has a great story: he was found skinny, weak, and barely able to walk on the streets in Compton, CA. At five years old, he would get overlooked at the crowded shelter. We touched down in Idaho, and he was able to touch grass for first time. He is now living on a 688 acre ranch! He was so sweet and went through so much adversity. All the dogs are awesome and they’re all worth fighting for. They are worth bringing new ideas and opportunities to shelters to give them that chance at life.
Sarah: What is one action you would like people to take after watching New Beginnings?
Steven: I want people to participate with these transports! The story is so moving and now these animals have incredible lives! The only thing that is holding us back is money; we could literally save more lives with more money. Any amount will go to saving a shelter pets lives immediately! We currently run flights monthly and want to do more. On each flight we save over 100 animals, lets save thousands more. This is happening RIGHT NOW. See the story, get inspired and get involved to save lives.
ShelterMe New Beginnings is currently airing on PBS.