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“Lucky and I have a routine, a quick walk…and then it’s off to the play yard where her favorite things exist: BALLS!” So reads a post by Boroughbred in Brooklyn, an Instagram account that lovingly features adorable pups awaiting adoption. The post continues: “In a day filled with shelter monotony, it’s both a joy to her and me to see her light up while engaging in her favorite game!”
Teacher Rachel Bennett and tech entrepreneur Manisha Shah are the New York City-based duo behind Boroughbred in Brooklyn. Like Oprah and Hallmark before them, they have mastered the art of what the Italians refer to as “commuovere,” or warming hearts through stories. Both are volunteers at the Animal Care Center (ACC) in Brooklyn and joined forces in 2019 with a singular goal: to get as many of these dogs into homes as they can. “There wasn’t anyone that was really telling these dogs’ stories,” Shah says. “As volunteers, we felt like we were uniquely in a position to do that.”
The Very Real Emotions of DIY Rescue
And this is just the tip of the DIY-rescue iceberg. Do a quick Instagram search, and you’ll find several grassroots initiatives drawing attention to dogs patiently waiting for their forever homes in crowded shelters. On the opposite coast, for instance, Cat Edwards, a copywriter who has run Los Angeles Rescuties for four years, shares video content she captures at the Southern LA Animal Shelter. Although Edwards is not a volunteer there, the employees never stand in the way of her bringing awareness to its very adoptable animals. Her videos can be more intense, in contrast to Boroughbred in Brooklyn’s lighter, more personality-driven content, focusing on the crisis at hand, capturing countless dogs who are friendly, despite the grim circumstances shrouding them. “I think I’ve cried a couple times in my videos and begged people,” she says. “And then sometimes I’m just goofy, to lighten this really rough situation.”
Like Edwards’s passion project is separate from the shelter, Boroughbred in Brooklyn is free of input from the ACC, which is nevertheless supportive. For both efforts, autonomy is key. “We saw a need for more promotion of the animals, and wanted to be more proactive rather than reactive,” Bennett says. Their strategy: Stay positive, and prioritize coverage of larger dogs that are less likely to get adopted or fostered, such as Pit Bulls. “We wanted to get the [dog’s] stories and faces out there before they became at risk for euthanasia, so people would feel connected to them.”
The Overflowing Shelter Problem
There is an urgency that belies their work. Bennett, Shah, and Edwards each express concern over the growing shelter populations across the U.S. since the pandemic’s adoption boom. “If you look from January 2022 to January 2023 our population in the shelter has doubled,” Bennett says. Edwards adds: “It is now the worst that I’ve ever seen.”
It’s worth noting that the videos Edwards posts can be just as impactful in the less meet-cute stuff: encouraging people, who aren’t ready to adopt or foster, to pitch in. “I talk about bringing newspapers, towels, and blankets. There are so many ways to help. It’s not always about adopting,” Edwards says. Boroughbred in Brooklyn even runs a yearly Secret Santa to benefit the ACC dogs. Bennett and Shah estimate that last year, they received around 400 donation packages.
Per Christa Chadwick, vice president of shelter services at the ASPCA, shelter overcrowding is actually a more nuanced issue than pandemic adopters changing their minds. (From her vantage point, Edwards estimates that pandemic puppies are only a fraction of surrenders, with the rest being strays or dogs whose owners can no longer raise them because of health or financial issues.) “If you look at the data, it was a really clear pop up and then sort of a leveling off,” Chadwick explains. “Intake into shelters now is lower than it was in 2019. But that doesn’t negate the fact that a number of shelters across the country are seeing animals coming in at perhaps larger numbers than they were last year.“
Focusing On Positive Stories
The reality is that some communities are seeing this more than others. “But underneath that is the real issue: that more animals are coming in than are leaving. And shelters are not immune to what seems to be a national crisis around staffing: They are incredibly short-staffed,” she adds. “This inspiration, if you will, for volunteers to take their own action and help animals get moved through has been really helpful at this point. And it’s always best to partner with the shelter, to at least ask for their insight.”
While Los Angeles Rescuties and Boroughbred take great pride in showing off dogs, they refer interested adopters to the shelters to go through the necessary protocols. Each week, they get several inquiries. Edwards recalls one woman driving from Arizona just to meet a pup she saw on Los Angeles Rescuties.
Bennett and Shah say one of their favorite matches was a doctor who was following their page and saw a dog named Matteo. “Basically, our video was just a series of his move: to stand up and give everybody hugs. She saw it and fell in love with him,” Shah says. “When she came to meet him, he immediately did the signature hug. We posted that Matteo was adopted, and she’s like, ‘I adopted him!’”
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Nisha Gopalan has been a writer/editor for The New York Times, New York magazine, Entertainment Weekly, Variety, The Hollywood Reporter, and NYLON magazines. She currently resides in Los Angeles.