Saturday, August 8, 2009

Spotlight on Jessica Stout

Jessica Stout has been in the animal care profession for over 12 years, with an emphasis on animal rescue and advocacy. She began her career at the Humane Society of Silicon Valley, before becoming a veterinary technician and staying in emergency medicine for 5 years with several organizations, including the San Francisco SPCA.

After several years as Animal Care Manager for Solano County Animal Control, she went on to become General Manager for Wag Hotels, a start-up chain of luxury pet hotels.

Jessica is currently employed with Born Free USA, a non-profit organization that advocates for wild and exotic animals in captivity and entertainment, as well as other key global issues involving wild animals.

HTB: How did you become involved with animal advocacy?

JS: I knew from the time that I was a small girl that I wanted to work with animals. I had relatives with a farm and the typical feral cats that were breeding out of control. The kittens always had, what I now realize was, Upper Respiratory Infection. I remember always trying to clean their eyes out and alleviate their discomfort. By the time I was 8, I was performing "health check-ups" on the family cats. When I was 14, I finally started volunteering my weekends at a veterinary hospital, learning everything that I could.

HTB: What are the top three things you think people should know about dog rescue and/or the pet industry?

JS: The first, and foremost, is to be kind to your local animal shelter workers! They have a thankless, and often heart wrenching, job. I know that sometimes they can seem a bit gruff, but its important to know that most times, it is an armor. You have to take-on a bit of a gruff exterior, or that job will wreck you. For more insight into that, see my article, "Confessions of a Euthanasia Technician." It gives a very frank glimpse into what life is like for a shelter worker.

The second is to remember that private rescue groups are usually all volunteers and use their own time, home, money, and resources, to rescue these dogs. I have heard people balk at adoption fees. With adoptions, you are getting a dog that has been fixed, dewormed, deflead, and vaccinated; at a minimum. Some of these rescues have to invest even more money into an animal if they have further health problems. You are not in anyway paying these adoption fees to help the rescuers live the high-life. Most times, rescues lose money each year.

The final thing is, don't be fooled into thinking that "kill" shelter (usually the city/county shelter) are some inherently evil entity, and "no kill" shelters are the counter-part. I have heard so many people say that they are going to adopt their animals from a "no kill" shelter so that they can support them over the "kill" shelter. The truth of the matter is this: many "no kill" shelters get around it by not actually killing animals on the premises. They usually have a contract with the city/county shelter where they can have the animals euthanized there. Every *single* city/county-run shelter at which I have worked, had this contract. I had one "no kill" shelter bring us 72 cats, in one day, to be euthanized. The reality is, there are too many animals in this nation to have "no kill" shelters. I think it is a fantastic idea, and a wonderful movement, but right here and right now, it is just not realistic. Supporting a "kill" shelter is just as important, because they are on the front lines.

HTB: What are three ways that people can help dogs in need?

J: One of the easiest ways to help is using Goodsearch! It is a search engine, just like Google, but before you search, you put in the verified charity of your choice, and then for every search that you do on their website, that charity gets a donation. How simple is that?

The second is, next time you are at your veterinarians office, ask them if they have a "Good Samaritan" fund and give them a donation towards it! Most veterinarians have this fund in place to cover the costs of sick, or injured, stray and homeless animals that are brought to them by good samaritans. For example: When I was still working as an emergency veterinary technician, I saw a lot of people who accidentally hit an animal with their car, and were caring enough to stop and bring the animal in to us to save. The "Good Samaritan" fund covers these types of situations.

Lastly, open your heart and your home up to fostering an animal. Every new foster home means one more animal that can be rescued. You may not feel like you are making a big difference by rescuing one, but to that one, it makes a big difference.

HTB: What are your goals for your animal advocacy website?

JS: I have big plans for! My mission is to change the face of animal advocacy. I am making a distinction between "advocacy" and "activist". Right now I see that, in general, "animal activist" tends to conjure up some images of extreme measures being taken in the name of animals. I think that this is off-putting for the general population, who would like to help, but are intimidated. While extreme measures and philosophies may have been useful 20 years ago, when
animal issues were not as much in the spotlight and we needed to get attention for them, times have changed, the general public opinion has changed, and so our strategies and techniques need to change. This is why I use "advocate". It is about working on the behalf of animals, with the public; not alienating the public. If I am working on a dog-saving project, and someone who loves dogs, but also attends rodeos or animal circuses wants to help; great! Its about that project and what that person can offer to further it. More animals get saved that way, and that is great.

I am currently working on a book that will look at some common, and older, strategies and how newer philosophies and strategies can be more effective in today's society.

HTB: I understand you are involved with a movie about Pit Bulls. Tell us about it.

JS: Pit Bull advocacy and education is the animal issue about which I am most passionate. In all of my experience in shelter and advocacy work, I have found that they are the most falsely demonized and horrendously mistreated breed. The media knows what the public wants, and so they will give it to them.

Pit Bulls have been built up to be this horrible, monstrous, breed, and so people love to tune in to hear about the latest misdeed committed by a Pit Bull. The fact is, there are currently over 25 breeds that are commonly misidentified by the media as Pit Bulls, and further, the media rarely reports on any other breed of dog when it attacks someone. People get bitten or attacked by dogs on a daily basis, yet all we ever really hear about are the incidences occurring with Pit Bulls, or dogs alleged to be Pit Bulls.

Every breed has a member of that breed that has bitten or attacked another animal or person; Pit Bulls are no different. It comes down to responsible breeding, and how they are raised. Breeders have jumped on the bandwagon of the breeds popularity, and are breeding poor quality dogs, and many people who buy the breed know very little about the breed, and do not give their dog proper, consistent training. "Beyond the Myth" is a documentary currently in production that is aimed to show the side of the breed, and the issues faced by them, that those of us that are actual professionals in the animal care field have encountered. Directed and Produced by Libby Sherrill, of Cover Y'all productions, this is a very important movie in getting our message out. I am currently organizing a Fashion Show Fundraiser, "Pits and Fash", to benefit the completion of the documentary. Those who are in the Sacramento area are invited to come see us! Those who are unable to attend, but would like to donate and learn more about the documentary, can visit

HTB: What do you love most about your own rescued pets?

JS: I can only pick one thing? Lol. What I love most about my rescued animals is that they keep me driven and motivated. When I am feeling overwhelmed with too many projects, or like I just don't feel like working, I look at my dog who came from a hoarding case where 800 dogs were in a triple-wide mobile home, or my other dog who was abandoned on the streets at the age of 12, or my cat who was left on the doorstep of a the veterinary hospital at which I worked, and I remember again why I do what I do.

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