Clubs have meetings at which members talk about their own pets, learn about a sponsored animal available for adoption, then spread the word through their personal networks until the pet has found a home.
“It doesn’t ask anything of them but to use their network and tell a story about a dog or cat that needs an advocate,” volunteer Patti Jones said. “We can all tell stories and we can all share pictures. It doesn’t cost a thing. The direct reward is matching a pet with a family.”
Previously, only 83 schools, Boy and Girl Scout troops, businesses and community organizations had clubs.
“We just signed up our first assisted-living home, Pine Gate Retirement Home, in Macon for a group called Central Georgia Cares. Some day we’ll have thousands of them,” said Dr. Michael Good, founder of Town and Veterinary Clinic in Marietta. “I’m sure we’ll have more by the first of the year.”
Senior independent living facilities like Presbyterian Village in Austell, Arbor Green in Kennesaw and Sterling Estates Senior Living Community in east Cobb may be next.
“I would like to learn more about it, but it sounds like something our seniors could get involved in,” Sterling Estates executive director Marshall Gill said. “It would be interesting. I’m a big animal advocate. It might be good to sink our teeth into.”
If the Macon experience is any indication, it’s a painless bite.
“The residents just loved it because there are tons of people in that building that are animal lovers,” Jones said. “The idea that they can take on the challenge of adopting a dog or cat and use their enormous network and valuable resource of time to find a forever home is a great situation. What greater purpose to get out of bed in the morning?”
Good, who has eight dogs and two cats, agreed that helping pets helps people help themselves.
“When you talk to your dog, your blood pressure goes down. If you have a cat, you are five times less likely to have a heart attack or stroke,” he said.
Good said Harvard Medical School studied the benefits of animal companionship, and Harvard graduate Frank Stanton, long-time president of CBS, embraced those results.
Stanton established the Ruth and Frank Stanton Foundation for myriad philanthropic goals, including helping children become more humane.
“He was a big animal lover,” Good said about Stanton, who died in 2006. “He started the Bands of Mercy, which were Be Kind to Animals clubs. There were 600 of the clubs. He set aside money in a grant and told executors to look for a similar project. The money has been out there for 10 to 15 years.”
The money was left on the table when no one else fulfilled the criteria, which Good said he had been observing all along at places like Marietta High School and Powers Ferry Elementary School.
“We have less bullying in those schools,” he said. “They develop a culture of caring. It becomes the most popular club in school.”
Good captured the foundation’s attention in 2010, shortly after he founded the clubs.
“They stumbled across Homeless Pet Clubs,” he said. “They said it was the most revolutionary humane education group in 100 years.”
That same year, he got the first of two grants from the foundation.
“The first year was about starting school clubs. The first grant was $60,000, and I used a third of it,” he said about printing brochures and giving stipends to teachers. “I got a second grant; a little more for the second year, to expand our sphere of influence.”
Good, however, is not worried about whether future grant proposals will be accepted.
“The Stanton Foundation said, ‘As you grow this thing, Dr. Good, you’ll have all the money you’ll ever need,’” he said.
The clubs have an affiliated program called the Underhound Railroad, for transporting death-row dogs to shelters that need adoptable pets, like Bide-A-Wee in New York.
About 1,000 pets have been saved through the clubs since 2010, and 12,000 through its parent organization, Homeless Pets Foundation, which was established in 1998.
Even though each club only concentrates on one dog at a time, Good said the adoptions rack up because of momentum.
“It can take one day or three weeks. Then they get another dog,” he said. “They’re constantly sponsoring animals. Every time they adopt an animal, they have a party.”
The parties are a big part of the business clubs, which began this year
“Employee morale that it builds, you can’t buy,” Jones said. “There’s all this team-building that goes on.”