Audience: Executive Leadership, Foster Caregivers, Public, Shelter/Rescue Staff & Volunteers, Veterinary Team
Sherri Franklin didn't even have a dog when she started volunteering as a dog walker at the San Francisco SPCA about 15 years ago. Today, the organization she founded, Muttville, has saved almost 700 dogs in the last three years and is nearly 200 volunteers strong. And Muttville doesn't save just any dogs; Muttville specializes in senior dogs and those with the kind of health issues that make them challenging to find homes for.
Franklin's devotion to the dogs she cared for quickly turned into what she called "an obsession." She said, "The SPCA required a commitment of once a week, and I ended up doing five or six days every week. I found that it was the older dogs that I couldn't get out of my mind, the ones with less of a chance. I'd see potential adopters come to look at the dogs, and I'd see them walk right by the old dogs, ones I knew were fantastic dogs, and barely even look at them. So it became my passion to walk them."
That turned into a passion to do more. "I started taking home dogs considered ‘undadoptable,' because they weren't showing well in the kennel, or were too old, or had skin conditions that couldn't be treated in a kennel environment," she said. "I did that for years; they used to call me the ‘fairy godmother,' because if the dog was the worst case in the shelter, that's the one I'd take and find a home for."
What some people saw as hard work, Franklin loved. "There's such a beauty in older animals," she said. "When I would bring them home, they responded so much to love and a warm environment. It was kind of a dream come true to be able to do this."
Franklin was continuing to rescue dogs one at a time, spending her own money on their veterinary care and getting them ready for adoption. Then one day, she was ready for more. She'd always dreamed of running a sanctuary for old dogs; maybe it was time.
"When I turned 49 I went, I'm getting older and this will never happen unless I do it now," she said. "It was the perfect situation. I was on the Animal Care and Welfare Commission, I knew a lot of people, I had a dog training background. I was a hairstylist, so I could make my own schedule and also had clients who could help me."
Drawing on the skills and love of animals of her clients, in 2007 Franklin founded Muttville, an organization devoted to finding homes for senior dogs and those with health problems. "I had clients who were attorneys who helped us with all the non-profit steps, and clients who knew how to work on grants, and clients who helped us set up a fantastic website."
Today, she says, "we have almost 200 volunteers who do outreach, administrative work, people who do event planning, who do Twitter, Facebook and Craigslist postings, people who transport dogs to the vet and from shelters, and our 30 wonderful foster families. And we're all volunteers - me included."
Although Franklin originally wanted to start a sanctuary, she's glad she changed her mind. "A sanctuary can only take care of so many animals, but if we adopt them out, we can continually serve more dogs."
And that's just what Muttville did for the senior dogs who were its focus. "I suddenly realized I was finding homes for 14-year-old dogs," she said. "There are people willing to open their homes and hearts and willing to take in a really sweet dog who's fallen on hard times, willing to give them love for a year or however long they've got."
Franklin even heard from one adopter who wrote, "I see you've had this one dog on your site for a long time. I want to give you a break, and help the neediest dog you have."
Franklin works primarily with Northern California dogs, but has taken in dogs from as far away as Korea. Soon, her safety net for older dogs may be spread even further. She was featured in a "Women's Day" article recently, and has been contacted by people in other parts of the country who want to start a Muttville to save the old and sick dogs in their communities, too.
The whole experience has given Franklin her faith in humanity back. "After working in shelters and seeing people drop off their old pets at the shelter, or abandoning their pets, you start to get the idea that people suck," she said frankly. "But I'm on the other side of that now, and I get to see all the people who are adoping and coming forward to help and volunteer. It's amazing. It's wonderful."
The nearly 700 old and sick dogs who went to loving homes might say the same thing about Franklin.