pet rescue: David Whitman of Mutual Rescue with Djiki and Jack

David Whitman with Djiki and Jack (Photo courtesy of David Whitman.)

Carol Novello, Harvard MBA, former Intuit senior executive, and current president of Humane Society Silicon Valley (HSSV), and David Whitman, vice president for creative development at HSSV and former executive producer of The Tech Awards [now The Tech for Global Good, a program committed to inspiring a new generation of social entrepreneurs to utilize technology to address global challenges], are on a mission to change how the world views animal welfare. They understand the great power of a positive human/pet relationship and believe that the way a society treats animals reflects on how it treats people. They know that a person who is struggling emotionally or physically can be rescued by adopting a pet — just as the pet is rescued by the adoption.

That’s why, in 2016, through their work at HSSV, Novello and Whitman launched Mutual Rescue, a new national nonprofit brand that is changing the conversation from “people OR animals” to “people AND animals,” and also bringing attention to the need to support local animal shelters across the country.

Mutual Rescue (MR) has enjoyed extraordinary success quickly, thanks to their passion and storytelling talent. The short launch film, “Eric & Peety,” showcased a 340-pound, socially isolated man who adopted a dog, found new life, and eventually went on to even run marathons. The video quickly went viral and has been viewed more than 100 million times across the globe in the past two years, and a book was released last fall.

Quickly jumping on this success, MR sourced hundreds of real rescue stories and has turned some of the best into compelling, often heart-wrenching, films. For example, no parent will ever forget “Kylie & Liza,” in which a dying girl rescues a kitten — who then rescues her heartbroken family. The Today Show even featured the story.

We talked to Novello and Whitman about their incredible journey, and what the exciting future holds for Mutual Rescue.

Make It Better: Let’s start with your own pets! Tell us about your animals and how they’ve contributed to your Mutual Rescue calling.   

Carol Novello: I have a German Shepherd named Tess and two cats, Langley and Bode. Tess and Bode are both “alums” from HSSV and I adopted Langley from Sonoma Humane Society when I was living in Santa Rosa and running a division for Intuit. My animals rescue me every single day by bringing so much joy and laughter into my life. And they are amazing role models for reminding me to live in the present moment. They truly are masters in that respect! I’ve had animals all my life and they are part of the “glue” with other family members. There’s something about the shared love of animals that can enhance the bond we have with others.

Mutual Rescue: Carol Novello and Tess

Carol Novello and Tess

David Whitman: I share my life with two free-spirited dogs, Djiki and Jack. Although I call my basenji companions “dingo devils,” I agree with a friend who refers to them more reverently as “secret agents of the Divine.” They led me on the path toward Mutual Rescue and continue to guide me in countless other ways.

MIB: How else do you describe yourselves?

CN: As a former software executive with a soft spot for homeless pets, I’ve been told I bring a unique combination of “head” and “heart” to my work.

DW: When my young nephew was asked to describe me in just three words, he smiled, then shouted: “Fun. Fun. Fun.” 

MIB: Tell us about The Tech Awards. What are they? How did this work inform David’s MR efforts?

DW: I had the privilege of working with some of the world’s most influential, inspirational, and creative people during my eight years as executive producer of The Tech Awards. Through our laureates and global humanitarians, I also connected to impoverished, desperate, and dispossessed people around the world. Our goal was to convey how the laureates’ innovative technology and empathy were confronting some of the world’s most daunting problems.

The powerful stories had to be told in ways that would touch the hearts of our international audience and not soon be forgotten. In that way, we hoped to cause ripples of positive change across the globe.

Many of my former colleagues from The Tech Awards and elsewhere are contributing to MR as filmmakers, photography directors, writers, translators, illustrators, story judges, and advisers.

MIB: What distinguishes Humane Society Silicon Valley from other humane societies? 

CN: Humane Society Silicon Valley is one of the largest privately funded animal rescue organizations in the Bay Area. There are over 13,600 animal shelters and rescue groups in the United States. Many local shelters are government operated and government funded. As a privately funded organization, our donors make it possible to increase the life-saving capacity in our local community by bringing incremental resources to bear to help homeless animals.

A major milestone that HSSV reached in 2017 is becoming the nation’s first model shelter — the first organization in the country to meet the guidelines put forth by the Association of Shelter Veterinarians for the care and well being of shelter animals. We’re excited to begin working with other shelters to help them reach these same standards as well. 

MIB: How does Mutual Rescue work with shelters?

CN: First and foremost, we created Mutual Rescue to elevate the cause of animal welfare by creating powerful authentic stories that represent what is happening in shelters and communities all across the country. Of the $380 billion that Americans gave to charity in 2016, only 2 percent went to animal-related causes. Given the impact animals have on our lives, we want people to know that giving to animals helps humans, too.

Secondly, we want to drive engagement at the local level — many people think that when they give to national animal welfare organizations those funds will end up at their local shelters and that is not the case. If people want to save animals in their local communities, they need to give locally. One way for people to feel a connection to their local shelter is to actually engage with an animal. So, Mutual Rescue is creating a directory of shelters across the country that offer Doggy Day Out programs — a low commitment, low barrier to participation program to take a dog out for an afternoon — providing emotional and physical benefits to both humans and homeless animals.

We also want to take the opportunity to highlight local shelters in our media efforts. For the Make It Better audiences in Chicago and San Francisco, we’d like to highlight PAWS Chicago and San Francisco SPCA who are doing great work in their local areas. (SF SPCA is also partnering with Humane Society Silicon Valley and several other shelters in the Bay Area to save more animals throughout Northern California by working more collaboratively together on regional rescue transports.)

Lastly, by creating a new national nonprofit brand, we want to attract corporate sponsors who will donate a percentage of sales to Mutual Rescue and use those funds to help shelters across the country in becoming model shelters, too — which will increase life-saving capacity and effectiveness all across the nation.

MIB: Who else is doing interesting or important work in the animal welfare field? Do you see opportunities to collaborate with them too? 

CN: In 2016, Maddie’s Fund created the Maddie Hero Award to recognize innovation and leadership in the animal welfare space. Maddie’s Fund is the single largest animal welfare endowment in the country and was established by Dave Duffield, the co-founder of PeopleSoft and Workday. I was recognized as the leader of HSSV along with:

The award recipients for 2017 can be found here.

There is a tremendous opportunity for all of us to learn from one another and consistently work to refine and improve best practices. In addition, HSSV has worked closely with a coalition of shelters in Silicon Valley that includes San Jose Animal Care and Services, Silicon Valley Animal Control Authority, Palo Alto Animal Services, Santa Clara County Animal Care and Control, and Town Cats. As mentioned earlier, SF SPCA is leading the effort to create a bigger coalition for shelters in Northern California so we can save more lives together.

Additionally, Shelter Animals Count has established a national database for the sector to gather data that will help us make better decisions and identify where help is most needed. Data is a hugely important aspect to being able to make continued strides in saving lives, and we’re excited that almost 5,000 shelters are already engaged in this effort.

Lastly, in terms of the Mutual Rescue message, I’m a big fan of Human Animal Bond Research Institute (HABRI), which is helping to get academic studies funded to validate the science aspect of this work.

MIB: Carol compares this work to Mahatma Gandhi’s here. Have you seen a positive response to your mission outside the United States?

DW: We created Mutual Rescue as a national initiative but the global success of our first film showed us that Mutual Rescue is an initiative without borders. We’ve seen really strong international interest in the films so it appears that it is a message that is resonating across borders.

To make our films more accessible throughout the Americas, we added subtitled versions in Spanish and Portuguese. In Brazil, one personal social-media post of “Kylie & Liza” has had more than 5 million views in the past year.

MR films appear with translations and commentary in scores of other languages now, too.

MIB: Please tell us about the upcoming book, next films to be released, and what you dream about accomplishing with them.

CN: I am currently writing a book tentatively titled “Mutual Rescue: The Countless Ways Adopting a Homeless Animal Can Save You, Too” that will include stories as well as scientific research that highlights the impact animals are having on our hearts, bodies, and minds. The book is being published by Grand Central Life & Style (an imprint of the Hachette Book Group, USA) and will be available in spring 2019. We hope that both the book and the next set of films will inspire thousands, if not millions, of people to adopt a homeless animal or to donate to, or volunteer with, their local shelter or rescue group!

DW: Our second season of films features five MR stories filmed in Illinois, Texas, Florida, Massachusetts, and California. These powerful films are authentic, emotional, and uplifting. They illustrate how adopting homeless or neglected animals helped people with special needs, depression, heartache, job loss, drug dependency, physical pain, loneliness, isolation, and grief.

Additionally, MR is creating tributes to cats and dogs in two photography films that include the work of four-time Pulitzer Prize-winning photojournalist Carol Guzy and two-time Grammy Award-winning composer/arranger Christopher Tin, among many other talented artists.

MIB: Please tell us about the Crowdrise campaign and your national film festival. Do you have other plans in the coming year? 

CN: We are actively looking for a corporate sponsor so that we can move forward with our plan to have a Crowdrise fundraising challenge in early spring 2019. We want to use the Mutual Rescue films as a way to raise national awareness to drive people to give directly to the local shelter in their area. The Crowdrise challenge will be kicked off with participating shelters all across the country hosting a MR film festival in their community.

MIB: How can our audience support this campaign? 

CN: Go to mutualrescue.org and sign up to receive upcoming news about when the films will be released and when and how to participate in the Crowdrise challenge.

MIB: Where would you like to see MR (and our society) five years from now? 

CN: We envision a nation where needless euthanasia of homeless animals is a thing of the past and we hope that Mutual Rescue’s effort to help people understand the impact that animals play in human lives will be a significant contributor to that outcome. We’d also like to see the guidelines from the Association of Shelter Veterinarians be widely implemented across the country and hope this effort will have been significantly underwritten by funds raised through the Mutual Rescue brand. 

DW: There are now millions of online comments about our films, and it’s fascinating to read through them. One I’ll never forget, in response to “Josh & Scout,” shows how we are touching hearts: “I usually don’t cry at things like this since I tend to be an unemotional brick. Damn it, Scout…”

MR is opening hearts and saving lives, and we’re only just getting started. If our trajectory continues, the impact five years from now should be profound. Maybe we can help our society become a little more understanding, compassionate, and aware of how helping homeless animals also helps people — sometimes in miraculous ways.

MIB: What else can our audience do to help?

CN: Go to mutualrescue.org to view the existing films and sign up for information about Mutual Rescue. And in the future, keep an eye out for the Mutual Rescue logo as part of co-branding efforts with national sponsors and support those products/services to help us fund the implementation of shelter medicine guidelines across the country!

MIB: Anything else you want to tell us?

CN: You can also follow us on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter for more stories, information, and inspiration! If you have a mutual rescue story of your own you’d like to share, you can submit it at mutualrescue.org.

 

More from Make It Better: 


Susan B. Noyes is the founder of Make It Better. She practiced labor law at Sidley & Austin before deciding to lay down the law full-time for her six children instead. Her favorite time of the day is family dinner, despite her children’s constant misbehavior. Susan loves to network, build community, write, and organize lots of moving pieces. Her motto: “A clean home is a wasted life.”

 

 

 

 

 

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