Sarah’s journey started about 10 years ago as a transporter helping the animals at the Chicago Animal Care & Control. She saw all the sides of animal rescue, the good & the bad and after a few years she knew it was time for a break to reset. About 5 years later she met Roosevelt as he was silently sitting in his kennel just waiting to meet his person…Sarah was the one! Listen in to learn more about Sarah and the story of Roo and how her organization is helping those dogs with cancer!
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Sarah Lauch is the founder of Live Like Roo. She grew up in Pennsylvania with tons of pets, including potbelly pigs. As an adult, she moved to Chicago and volunteered in open admission shelter and decided that she wanted to make a difference in the lives of animals who are in dire need of rescue. When she met Rou at that shelter, she had no idea the crazy turn her life would take in the next six months. Live Like Roo is the epitome of everything that Sarah believes in. And she’s happy to carry on his legacy through this foundation.
Hey Sarah, thanks for coming on. Thank you for having me. I appreciate it. So tell us a little bit about you and how you got involved in all this. Yes, so rescue has been part of my life, probably since about 2010 maybe a little bit earlier. But what’s crazy is that before Social Media, I don’t even know what we did. Exactly, right? We just network dogs. I don’t know. I guess we, like, went to actual shelters instead of looking at them online. But my friend had posted something you know about a dog meeting rescue, and from there, honestly, it just Dominoed, I started as just a transporter. And I shouldn’t say just a transporter, because honestly, transporters are probably one of the most important keys to the rescue world.
I would go to Chicago Animal care and control. I remember the first time that I walked in there. So for those that don’t know what a city type shelter is, it’s open admission. They have to accept every single animal that comes through the doors. It could be sick. It could be injured. It could actually be dead on arrival. Or it could be just surrendered by the owner or a stray. So going into a shelter that has 400 plus animals and that’s kind of your first experience into the rescue world is pretty daunting. I just remember kind of trying to keep my cool in there, and I had was actually taking a dog that was hit by a car. Wow. So I only had the experience of going into the shelter, for the first time. I had an animal that was really injured, and I had to be really careful getting her in and out of the car because she had been hit by a car.
So yeah, I mean, this whole story kind of starts with transporting, and I did that probably for six months. And I got to know some people of Chicago Animal Care and Control and in the rescue world in Chicago land. And I started the volunteer at Chicago Animal Care and Control, which is can be really a tough thing to do. But the first thing you do is you end up walking dogs that are adoptable, so you don’t see a lot of the bad. You see a lot of the good. You get to take out these animals and hopefully get them adopted. So that’s where it all started as a transporter.
So now what’s your background? Cause it’s not like you started out working at a shelter. Obviously, you just showed up as a transporter. What do you do for your day job? My day job is a NBC Sports in Chicago. So it’s on a regional sports network that airs Cubs, White Sox, Bulls, Blackhawks and Bears coverage. We do air some of the games as well, but basically what I do is I create original content, not just from the teams but any local stories, in Chicago. For example, we just did a series about athletes pets, which obviously is right in my wheelhouse. I’m just going to say, of course you did! Yeah. So it was called Pro Pet, and we basically got these athletes and their pets together and told their stories, which is awesome.
We also did another series called ‘Beyond the Game’ where we focused on athletes’ charity. So again, right in my wheelhouse. So these are the stories. I love the towel, you know. Anybody knows Brian Urlacher and his history with the Bears, but I try to find the stories that people don’t know and don’t realize. And we create original content now for social media mostly, from those stories and some for TV as well. So I have a stressful job On top of my volunteer work, I always say I have two jobs and one I don’t get paid for, but I wouldn’t have it any other way, to be honest. Yeah, I tell people I work a day job said that I could afford my nights and weekends job. Right, exactly. So that’s really cool.
So an executive producer NBC Sports. I mean, that’s like the far cry from Animal Rescue. Yet this has become your passion. This has become your life. Yeah, it really has. And I grew up with animals. We had every type of animal under the sun. I grew up in Pennsylvania, actually in the middle of Amish country, which for those of you that follow animal welfare and animal rescue, you know, that’s like puppy mill capital of the world. Right. And I think growing up like that, you’re so embedded in it. You don’t really realize how wrong it is until you get into the rescue world. But we grew up with dogs, cats. My parents always took every stray animal that ended up on our porch.
I swear people knew that we would take him in, so they left him on our porch. We had hamsters, guinea pigs. We actually had pot-bellied pigs, and we had rabbits. So I always loved animals, and I always knew I would have pets growing up. I think you never realize how immersed you’re going to be in and fast forward to today. I mean those experiences as a kid, we always had animals with issues because they were stray. So I think it made me who I am today. And my parents they loved animals so much, it kind of paved the way to where I am today. That’s really cool.
So now tell me the story of Roo because you started LiveLikeRoo.org, right? Which is one of your nights and weekends job. But how did all that come about? Kind of if I can go through my path into rescue. After I started the volunteer walking the adoptable dogs, I then progressed into transferring animals. So being on the transfer team at Animal Care and Control in Chicago, and what that means is, I would go into the back pavilions for the unadoptable dogs, so whether they were sick had behavior issues. Maybe we’re just on a stray hold and released from that stray hold or if they had a chip and the owner never came for them. So that would kind of be the same as a stray hold being released.
I was then able to evaluate them. So how do you evaluate an animal you know nothing about? Well, it’s hard on. Yeah I could imagine. Starting from scratch. So you pull their tail to see if they react. You pinch their ears. You basically do these little tests just to see how they are. And then eventually you test them with another dog and cats hopefully to tell rescues. “hey, here’s his story. He was kind of weird with the cat, but he does great with small dogs,” or “he’s great with only female dogs,” or “he didn’t like when I put the fake hand by the food dish.”
So what you are is basically a liaison between the shelter and rescues interested in these animals. Unfortunately, with that comes the euthanasia part. So those dogs, not all of them, passed all the tests, some of them sick. I lost dogs almost every day, so I was basically in charge of about 30 dogs in a Pavilion, and it’s not me making the final call. But it is me saying, “hey, this dog’s been sitting here for three weeks or sometimes three months. He’s got no interests. I think it might be time to euthanize him.”
Now, how do you think that made me feel? Oh, I can’t even imagine. Yeah, awful. I could only do that for so long. To be honest with you, it ate at me that I was part of evaluating these animals and having to make these decisions and really begging, sometimes rescues to give dogs a shot. Even though I had thick skin then, it was really hard to come in the next day and see a cage empty of an animal that had been there before. And that cage was spilled pretty quickly. So with animal care and control, the reasons for euthanasia are space, illness, or behavior. Right.
So sometimes the dog was like two of three. Sometimes it was just a space issue, which when you look at what’s going on in America and why euthanasia is occurring, it’s because we don’t have enough room, there’s no space. And illness and behavior, for the most part, should be fixable whether it’s kennel cough or pneumonia or this dog needs training. We need to get to a place where those dogs are able to be saved. And unfortunately, with the city like Chicago, market three in the United States, huge population of animals that need to be neutered and spayed and t help the population, we’re not going to get there unless we go into these little neighborhoods that need our help.
So that was kind of a broadening of the transfer team and how hard that was. But that was really my kind of reality check into, okay, I’m really like—I used to transport and walk dogs, but I am in rescue now. Yeah and you’re in the center of it. Yeah, and part of that is to having earning the trust of the rescues. “Okay, Sarah evaluated this dog, we feel good about that because Sarah does all of these necessary things.” There were, unfortunately, other volunteers who all they cared about was pushing a dog out the door.
And then “oh, if it bit somebody when it left, oh, well, not their problem.” For me, I cared about every single dog from the first day I met them, whether they were on stray hold or an owner surrender until the day they die. And I still care about every single dog I’ve saved from animal care and control. I still stop their fosters or adopters. I stopped the rescues and every rescue will tell you like “Sarah still cares about dogs that she saved six years ago.”
So I really, really, really cared about those dogs because a lot of them, without the rescues and without the volunteers, would have never been saved. It’s pretty amazing when you think about how far those animals have come, you know, like getting out of a shelter. I really was invested, and I really cared, and I really was honest with rescues. If I didn’t think a dog would be good in their rescue, I would tell them that. And you know, if they fell in love the dog and still rescued it. I still supported them. What had ended up happening is I just couldn’t do it anymore. With my full time job and my husband and my own dog, I was like, not in a good spot, actually. So I quit, unfortunately.
But what ended up happening is I would still go back and evaluate for a rescue that needed help evaluating the animals. When I was doing that for one at a time and in Easter 2015 I walked into animal control and we met Roosevelt. His name was Cisco. He was an owner surrender and we were in Pavillion E. And every dog was like jumping at the bars and, like, wanting to come out. And, you know, you just want to get them all out. Yeah, they’re kinda crazy. You want to release them all. But Roo was sitting down in his cage and we took him outside and he basically peed for, like, three minutes. No joke like he would not stop. And it was coming out really slow. So we knew something was wrong.
I fell in love with him. He was really sick. This was at a time when animal care and control had the flu and it was so contagious, and he could not be around my dogs or anybody else’s dogs. And he had to be iso-ed basically, for a good three weeks. So we had to find a plan for him because you basically had to have him in 24 hour vet care. That’s how sick he was, which was kind of depressing to take a dog out of animal control and take him right to a vet. But we were able to rescue him, and the day that he broke out of animal control was like the best day ever. He was so happy, even though he was so sick.
So yeah, the vet basically took care of him for a few weeks. We think that he was chewing on rocks or trying to break out of his crate when he was with his owner because his teeth were almost ground to the nerve and it was like, really, really painful. So we got him to the vet to basically get his teeth removed and get him neuter. And they noticed a mass in his groin and I remember getting the call like he has bone cancer. I was like “what?” Like we knew something was wrong, but we just assumed some kind of infection. It was terminal. It was pretty much chemo wasn’t going to do much of that point. It had spread, and we just decided to let him live his life on a little bit of prednisone just to ease the pain. And when it was time, we would know.
But we gave him a bucket list. We did some crazy adventures, and what happened is the bucket list went a little bit viral, I think, because he was a Pit bull mixed with Sharpei and he was like, really cute. Chicago Tribune picked it up. The NBC station here picked it up. Access Hollywood picked it up, so we kind of felt pressured to make a Facebook page and kind of share his adventures more so for Pit bulls. And just getting the word out that this is an amazing breed. They don’t deserve BSL or anything else. Breed specific legislation, for those of you that don’t know what that is, it’s basically the banning of Pit bulls in cities or homes or apartments. It’s a real, real problem, just like anybody that’s raised from a child. This is how Pit bulls are, they’re not bred to be mean or, you know, guard things. That’s the owner doing that.
Anyway, he passed away after six months in September of 2015 and we had all these people kind of like asking me “Sarah, like, what do you do now? Like, you have to do something.” So I started a foundation, and what happened is I didn’t officially start the foundation until 2016 but I would send cancer care packages to people going through the same thing as I knew how hard it was and those packages contained things that Roo loved. A blanket, a tennis ball, toys and treats and a McDonalds gift card. Because he loves ice cream and burgers near the end, we let him have all the ice cream in the world. So what we found is those care packages they’re the most important thing we do. I mean, I can pay a $3,000 chemo bill and people will comment more about the care packets that we sent.
So it kind of started a movement. And at some point when Roo was still alive, somebody hashtagged #LiveLikeRoo on one of my posts. And I said, “that is brilliant.” Like this is exactly what we should do. You should live like tomorrow is not promised and live like Roo. So, it’s stuck and she was fine with me using it. And from there Lived Like Roo Foundation was born. That’s so cool. And what an amazing story. Just I mean, I know how it is. You just bond with that animal and have to go through that. But you gave him the best life that you possibly could for the time that he was left. Yeah, totally. I had a really hard day yesterday. This is just like a side story, but this is what we do.
So a Sharpei, it was found in a church parking lot about seven days ago now and had a huge mass on his side of his leg. So he had to be on a five day stray hold at Chicago Animal Care and Control with this huge mass that was ready to burst. It was bleeding, you know, had bumps all over. And obviously the owner put him in this church because they didn’t want to deal with it. So we were at the vet yesterday, and I took him to the best surgeon that I know in Chicago immediately.
I took him right there and got an appointment, and he was unable to be saved because the owner let this mass go so long that the cancer was everywhere on him. I mean, it was everywhere. So could we have amputated and done chemo? Yes, but are you really gonna do that to an eight year old dog that the cancer probably was throughout his body, his liver probably would have shut down anyway.
So those were the days that are tough because 100% I will always sponsor any dog in foster care or a shelter. So if any dog has a mass or has diagnosed cancer. We always will cover those because that’s where we came from. We help a lot of rescues with their bills in or shelters. I will say any dog at Chicago Animal Care and Control with a mass, I will 100% sponsor the mass removal and testing. That’s kind of Roo’s legacy is, to help those dogs. And unfortunately, yesterday we had one that could not be helped, and Wilbur was one where we had a lot of people following his story.
So having to go to the vet yesterday and make that decision and tell people we couldn’t save him was really, really hard, because I think people see us and see what we do, and they just think, “oh, he’s gonna be fine.” And unfortunately, that doesn’t always happen. No, but what I really think it’s cool, though, is that you’ve now made this your mission, right? Live like Roo and you want to help other people. You want them to feel better going through one of the most difficult parts of their life, right along with their pets. That’s a really cool platform.
So now what is your focus? Is your focus to find people that have animals that have cancer? Tell me how this all works. Sure, Yeah. Thanks for the kind words. I appreciate it. So I don’t have to go looking for people, I’ll tell you that. We find you. Yeah. Because we’re nationwide, and honestly, we’re worldwide as well. I mean, we do—I can’t send care packages to Europe. We do have a person in Canada that sends them for us, but we can send them money. So people that apply in Europe, we have helped them with their bills. In our queue, right now, there’s probably about 200 people needing financial assistance. Wow. And what we were doing is we were giving everybody $350 as long as we have vet bills or we can call the vet and pay and everything is legit and checks out like we check everything out. Nobody is trying to scam us so far.
When you have chemo bills at total $5,000 will it pay for, like a mass removal and testing? Yes, but then what do they do if it’s a positive test than they’ve got other things to do? So what we’ve done instead is recently we’ve moved to a grant process where people apply, we read their stories, we look at their bills and we try to pay it a bigger chunk. So instead of giving everybody $350 we give usually 20 to 25 people among thousands of dollars. If we’ve had a veteran that applied and they can’t afford something, we tell their story and we try to fund raise for that on Facebook, which, honestly, those stories. We always meet the goal because people are so—want to help these people. And that’s the other thing is you have no idea how much it means to me to have so many people trust what we do, and want to donate to me and us, you know, and to help people that they’ve never met, or animals that they’ve never met. It is unbelievable.
Even Wilbur yesterday, that Sharpei that I talked about, we raised, like $1,000 for him. Nice. And only for him to be, unfortunately, euthanized. But nobody asked for their money back. Okay, one person did, and I wasn’t too happy. But she just wanted me to do more tests. And I wasn’t gonna do that on that dog who was already suffering, you know. Oh yeah, we have to make decisions that are in the best interest of the dog. Right, but I think it just says a lot, especially if this time in this country about people that trust us with their money and that it’s going to the right place and to see a story of a veteran needing his service dog and needing to heal this service dog of cancer and that we always meet the goal.
People always don’t ask. And I think it just says like so much. And honestly, thank goodness I started that Facebook page even though I didn’t want to, you know, because without these people and all these followers and supporters, I always like to call them friends because I, I feel like they are genuinely our friends. We couldn’t do this, honestly. It’s really, really amazing.
And I know the one thing that I am is very transparent. Anybody that wants to know where every penny of our money goes. So I’m an open book about it. And I think when you see that we donated $300,000 in 2018 and we’re trying to do half a 1,000,000 this year, I can’t even believe those numbers are real. I was just going to say those numbers are amazing. They’re incredible. It really is just to think that much money is coming in and going out of here is really, really amazing. And we’re 100% volunteer-run. I think to keep this going eventually, I’m going to have to start paying some people because we’ve gotten a little bit bigger than I’ve ever expected. But I want this to keep going and I want to be able to help people because we’re one of very few animal cancer foundations that exists. We gotta keep it rolling.
Yeah, that’s really cool. And I’m so excited for you, to hear about just the tremendous impact that you’re having. Like you said something that started out as you showed up from a Facebook post to help transport one dog. And look at you now. Yeah, thank you. Yeah, it is crazy. And everybody has this moment where it just clicked like, “oh, this is my passion now, this is what I want to do.” When you figure out what that moment was and then kind of fast forward to where you are now, it’s crazy when you look at the journey that you’ve been on. Yeah. So it’s easy to look back and say “oh, look, yeah, all those things that we did and look at where we are now,” That you can’t figure it out when you’re looking forward, right? You just never know what’s gonna be coming next.
So I also want to make a mention I mean, you also do a podcast on a regular basis. Where do you find the time? So the podcast is amazing because I have such good guests that you know how this is when you have people that can tell stories and are just great guests. It makes for great content. And again I started that as a once a month thing and now it’s once a week and they’re kind of tough to get it done, but I really think it’s important. And at some point, I was going to stop doing it because this is just too much. And then I went to an event. It was a dog event, of course.
A few people were like, “Sarah, I love your podcasts like, thank you, you say things that I wish I could say or things I didn’t think about. You changed my mind about something.” So similar to you. I’m sure I want to keep it going and keep finding these amazing guests because I didn’t realize how many people it was impacting. And I think if I did stop doing it, they would be hurt by it, so, yeah, keep going. Yeah, well, like I told you, you’ve got a new subscriber in me, I have added it to my podcast subscriptions. So I’m anxious to go catch up on the 100 episodes that you’ve done. Thank you. I appreciate that.
So now what’s the future look like? What’s next for you? I recently started a rescue as part of Live Like Roo. So we have a rescue called The Hot Mess Express, where I partnered with Lulu’s Locker Rescue. It’s a local rescue here, and they take black dogs. So for those of you that don’t know, black dogs and black cats are the least adapted because they’re so hard to photograph. And there’s all these other statistics about it, which are ridiculous because my favorite dogs ever are black pit bulls. But anyway. Nice. So, yeah, they take sick cats, old dogs and then black cats and dogs and, what we partnered to do now is if an animal comes in as a euthanasia request, whether it’s to a vet or to animal control or an older, sick dog that may have little time left. We basically rescue them and try to give them a good few days if they have it.
We’ve had dogs live for a few months, and we just started in November, so we’re kind of new, so we don’t have like year marker yet. But what we’ve seen is, unfortunately, these animals that are surrendered have not had the best care, and all we do is give him a little bit of vetting. Sometimes they need a dental. Sometimes they just I need a little TLC and they have flourished, so we call them hot messes. And then when they turn into these gorgeous little gems, we call them gems. Nice. So it’s been really stressful, and I don’t know what I’m thinking, adding to, you know, to have a foundation and a full time job and a husband and four of my own dogs.
But in fact, I have one of our hot mess dogs in my house right now. Ella, who was slated for euthanasia in Waukegan Animal Control, her owner surrendered her and said, “I’m moving to Mexico. I don’t want her anymore,” and she’s in heart failure right now. But she is doing amazing. She’s very attached to me. She will sleep only beside me and my body and like she has to be attached to me all the time, follows me everywhere. So it’s really about just giving them a second life, even if it’s for a few days, a few hours and sometimes a few months. So that’s The Hot Mess Express for Roo.
Like I said, I would love to hit the half a million dollar mark this year and really make a huge impact. I mean, we already made a huge impact last year, but I think having goals and trying to hit $500,000 would be amazing. The number of care packages I’m going a week right now is about 30. I have my board member Vicky, to help me, but those are all hand packed by us, and all the blankets are handmade. Wow. The treats and toys are all donated as well as the tennis ball. So amazing just that we’re cranking out that many, to per week. The post office loves us. I was going to say, “and when do you sleep?” Yeah, exactly that’s the problem?
Well, this is amazing just hearing about all the wonderful stuff that you’ve done in like a lot of other people. You stepped into this world and like you said, you just didn’t know how deep it went. And now I’m guessing you can’t imagine your life without it. Totally Yeah, I would. And even though it’s evolved into what it is now, I feel like it’s gonna keep it evolving, which I think it’s really the only way to stay sane in rescue is to keep evolving. If you’re stuck in the rut of doing the same thing all the time as the world progresses around you, I think that puts you in a bad spot. So being able to progress with the progress, is really the way to be.
Well, Sarah, it’s been great to have you on the program today and sharing everything you’ve done. Is there anything else you want to mention before we wrap things up? No. Just livelikeroo.org, if you want to donate or you need a care package or you know somebody that needs financial help, we do the best we can to keep up with everything. All of my volunteers have full time jobs and families and husbands and their own dogs. So we’re doing the best we can. We try to communicate with every single person that applies and everybody that applies for a care package gets one. So that’s the good news. Well, that is really good news. And I’m so excited that you came on today to share your story. So thanks for coming on and sharing with us. Thanks for having me. And thanks for all you do. You’re amazing as well. Thanks, Sarah.
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