“I Can Change Things….”

I’ve always been an over-the-top animal lover. My mother said as soon as I could walk I would go up to any dog or cat I saw. I cried when King Kong died. I’ve had dogs my whole life; I can’t imagine living without one. 

So of course volunteering at local animal shelters was a natural fit. I worked with the Humane Society of Pinellas and Suncoast Animal League, walking dogs and helping with events. One day, in 2009, I was on my way home and spotted a sign for Pinellas County Animal Services (PCAS). I was already running late for a dinner meeting, but I had a strong desire to go in and see the animals.  I learned from a volunteer that, unlike the other organizations in the area, the staff does not walk the dogs, only volunteers do. Knowing how well-established the volunteer programs were at the other organizations, and feeling I should go where truly needed, I decided to shift over to walking dogs at PCAS. 

In 2009, social media was just taking off. I was a digital marketing specialist and had already embraced Facebook and other platforms, so I offered to take on the Facebook page for the shelter, as well.

Fast forward two years, I came across a dog at PCAS who broke my heart: Covered in scars, with ears obviously cut with scissors or a knife and some open wounds, he was obviously a bait dog. As I took pictures and video of him, I knelt in front of his cage and he approached me with tail wagging. Despite everything he had been through, he was still a sweet boy.

A bait dog’s chances at adoption, sadly, are slim. His only hope was to place him with a rescue and hope for fostering and adoption. I approached the director with a plan to do just that. I didn’t work alone; another volunteer and the animal control officer who originally picked him up helped throughout the multistep process. We named him Victor, since he triumphed over everything he had been through. He was adopted into an amazing home; I still get photos occasionally and it makes my heart smile!

Advocating for Victor was the first time I realized I can change things; I don’t have to accept the rules and the laws about animals the way they are.

Running the Facebook page at Pinellas County Animal Services, I received numerous cruelty complaints; there was a constant theme of dogs being tethered. There was an extremely weak anti-tethering law in place with an enormous loophole. It was very frustrating to see dogs living chained outside with barely any shelter because the conditions were technically in compliance with the law. In 2014, I received a video showing an old German Shepherd tethered outside in a driving rain. His chain was caught on something and he couldn’t reach the wooden box that was his only shelter. He was just stuck there, getting pelted in sideways rain. I could tell he was older and could barely walk. That was truly the last straw. 

I approached the new director at PCAS, Moe Freeney, who encouraged me to do something. Other animal advocates introduced me to Renee Revard with the League of Humane Voters, who had been a champion for chained dogs in other counties and had a wealth of documentation and experience to help guide me. She and I met with Pinellas County Commissioners to present the results of chaining up dogs, which includes increased aggression, more dog bites, and, of course, death for the animals when they would get hung up on things and choke.

With community and Pinellas County Animal Services support, we won a new “no unattended tethering” ordinance: no dog is allowed to be tethered at all, unless someone is out there with the animal. It was a huge victory for thousands of animals in our County!

There have been other ordinance victories, of which I’m very proud: updates requiring stricter rules and more accountability for breeders and blocking public sale of pets in Pinellas County and a pre-emptive law to make sure no retail pet stores could ever open in Dunedin.

As a volunteer I came to realize shelters are necessary because there are too many unwanted animals. There are so many wonderful organizations already concentrating on getting homeless animals adopted, that I decided to start an animal rescue concentrating on spay and neuter to address the root of the problem. In 2015, I registered Rescue Pink as a 501(c)3 to help owners with fixed- and low-incomes to pay for vet care and spay and neuter. I’ve helped more than 400 animals in the last 3 years as a one-person rescue. Well, a one-person rescue in a compassionate community willing to donate to help care for other people’s pets.

In 2014 I began volunteering media relations services to the Humane Society of Pinellas: I submit pictures of adoptable dogs to local media every week. I still volunteer with PCAS fostering kittens, creating adoption videos, helping raise awareness—and occasionally still walking dogs! And I’m working on other laws that need changing, as well.

That impulsive decision to turn into PCAS literally changed my life.  I hope that you, too, will take that first, impulsive step into your passion project!

Elizabeth Olson is the founder of the nonprofit Rescue Pink, which is dedicated to reducing the amount of unwanted and euthanized animals by paying for spay and neuter procedures. Rescue Pink also helps low-income and elderly people with vet bills. She also owns Top Dog Media, a social media marketing company.

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