The staff and volunteers at Mutual Rescue know about the amazing effect pets have on people – and they’re sharing it with the world.
Countless organizations and individuals strive to help animals, while innumerable others are on a mission to help people. That’s a lot of passion behind two very important endeavors. What if these passions were combined? Carol Novello and David Whitman envisioned just that, and joined up to turn their idea into a reality. They wanted to create an initiative that would help both companion animals and people — one that would change the conversation from “animals OR people” to “animals AND people”. Not long after Carol and David’s first brainstorming session in 2015, they founded Mutual Rescue.
“Every year, Americans give around $410 billion a year to charities across the country,” says Carol. “Of that, only 3% goes to animal and environmental causes combined. A big part of the reason for this is that people believe they have to choose: they feel that if they support animal welfare charities, they’re prioritizing animals over humans. One of our big aims is to show that when you help animals, you wind up helping people as well.”
From the start, Mutual Rescue’s goal was to share stories about the human-animal bond and its many benefits. By doing so, they hoped to inspire more people to donate to animal charities and engage with shelters on a local level. The idea of corporate sponsorship was also on their radar – but first they needed a winning idea. With Carol’s experience in rescue, and David’s creative background and gift for storytelling, they were well on their way to sharing their first story. They decided to use film as their medium, and spent a few weeks tossing around ideas. But nothing clicked until Humane Society Silicon Valley (HSSV), the shelter Carol was running at the time, received an extraordinary letter from Eric O’Grey, one of their adopters.
“Eric wanted to tell us about Peety, the dog he adopted from HSSV, who had saved his life and helped him lose 150 pounds,” says Carol. “When we were trying to decide which story we wanted to tell first, Eric’s letter just leapt out at us. We talked to Eric and he was so excited to help spread the word of the transformative effect pets can have on our lives that his story was a natural fit for our first film.”
Carol, David and their dedicated team hit the ground running. They hired a film company and worked closely with the crew and Eric himself to come up with a concise way of telling his and Peety’s story. Filming took several days, and the editing process close to two months. But the finished product became almost instantly successful.
Carol remembers being incredibly excited when the number of views for their video reached 15,000. But words couldn’t describe her feelings when that number reached the millions three days later! Suddenly, people from around the globe were contacting Mutual Rescue to share their own stories. Comments on the video poured in, and they all pointed to one thing – the incredible power of the human-animal bond.
Over the past five years, Mutual Rescue has expanded into a multi-program initiative. They’ve produced a total of 12 videos (including their latest film, Keema & Her Pack), and have launched a number of projects aimed at improving the welfare of pets and people. Doggy Day Out, for instance, is a program that collaborates with shelters across the country; it encourages people to take local shelter dogs on outings and field trips in their communities.
“Seeing the impact this program has on the shelters, participants and animals is just amazing,” says Carol. “In Colorado, a woman who works with special needs kids took a blind/deaf dog on a Doggy Day Out. By spending just a few hours with the dog, she realized how special she was and wound up adopting her. Keller now joins her at work, and she’s really in tune with the kids.”
Last spring, Carol wrote a book to help spread their message even further. Mutual Rescue: How Adopting a Homeless Animal Can Save You, Too is a beautifully-written volume featuring a collection of short stories about adopted animals and their humans, along with in-depth research that validates the power of the human-animal bond. According to Carol, bringing this book to fruition was an enormous labor of love.
The future is bright for Mutual Rescue – and for all the lives it’s sure to touch. Doggy Day Out will continue to be a focus as more shelters jump on board every week. More videos are scheduled to be produced this year, offering additional fundraising opportunities and exposure for shelters, and talk of a full-length documentary has everyone involved sizzling with anticipation. They’re also working on an educational program for schools to help kids see the impact of animals in their lives. All told, it’s bound to be a busy time for everyone at Mutual Rescue, but luckily, they all have animal companions of their own to keep them grounded!
“Animals have always had a huge impact on my life,” says Carol. She recounts a tale of two cats – Wiley and Wilbur – who lived with her during her 30s and helped her overcome everything from work-related stress to the loss of her father. “Wilbur’s passing also allowed me to put my life in perspective and focus less on work and more on things that matter to me,” she says. “Two years after he passed, I left my job in search of something more meaningful, which led me to the work I do today with animals. My pets continue to inspire me in my work. Not only do they make it more fun, they also keep me focused. After all, who can get up and walk away from something when you have a cat on your lap?”