Episode 111 – Randy Brookins

111 Randy Brookins_FB 111 Randy Brookins_FB   An Arizona State University alumni, Randy went to the Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering for Computer Science, and from the very beginning of his college life, he was adamant about pursuing something meaningful – something that will help improve people’s lives. Throughout his childhood he had 6 dogs, so Randy was not foreign to the selfless love that is shared by the pet and its owner. Hence, he decided to help the lives that do not have the voice to ask for help on their own. “Welcome to the Professionals and Animal Rescue podcast, where our goal is to introduce you to amazing people helping animals and share how you can get involved with animal rescue. This podcast is proudly sponsored by Doobert.com. Doobert is a free website designed to connect volunteers with rescues and shelters and the only site that automates rescue relay transport. Now, on with our show! Randy Brookins is the owner of RescueFoster.com and has over 6 years of industry experience in technology. While attending an animal convention, he realized that there’s still a significant number of animals being put down in overpopulated shelters and that there is an evident disconnect between technology and the animal welfare community. His love for animals and technology inspired RescueFoster.com which promotes and saves lives through fostering. Hey, Randy, thanks for coming on today. Thanks for having me, Chris. I appreciate it. Tell us a little bit about your story, man. I can see you’re a tech guy, but how did you actually get into all of this? I think everybody in one way or another likes animals there. At least I think that they should, but my journey was kind of an odd one. I always liked people, and I always liked animals and I always wanted a job that could do that. I wanted to make sure that my time was spent like helping people bringing some good to the world. The question that everybody kind of gets stuck on including myself was how. That is a heck of a question to answer throughout life. It’s not easy. It is not easy to do. And so where I started it was nursing, actually. Interesting. So you went to school to be a nurse? Yeah, I started to. Okay. So my first year of college, my major was nursing. Okay, I was like turning the semester, I was like, “okay, I’m gonna be a nurse.” And a few people actually told me like they didn’t see me being a nurse and I was young, and I even, I listened. I don’t know where my life would be if I didn’t, but I listened to them and I decided that instead of doing nursing specifically that I learned a skill that I could turn around and apply to helping people without necessarily knowing how I get there. In high school, I was more kind of find a book type of person. So it was definitely an odd idea to say, “hey, okay, I’m gonna learn a skill, but I don’t know how I’m gonna use it to help?” Cause Nursing’s, obvious. You’re healing people. Computer science, on the other hand, Okay, I understand that computers can be used to help people, but where does that fit in, right? And so I started to learn computer science, software engineering, and it fit it. I knew that there were skills and companies out there that helped people. It was just a matter of getting in. I was blessed enough to get an internship. They even ended up paying for my last year of college. And I was extremely blessed to be able to learn skills super, super difficult. But knowing that I wanted to do it to help people, I kind of pushed through and learn the skills. Fast forward to my last year of college. I ended up getting a job before I even had the degree. Ended up going to school and working for this company. So I was learning the skills that I wanted to be learning it, but absolutely no time to myself. School wraps up and I go “okay, I have the skills,” still working to the same company. I like it, but I only ended up being super happy there for about, I want to say I figured it out within three months. That’s a short time. Well, so I had been working for that company for about somewhere between two and a half, and three years at that point. The thing is, I realized that that company wasn’t helping people in the end, and that was like a huge realization to me and it took a little bit and it ended up being super almost heartbroken by the experience that I realized that I had spent all this time, I learned the skill, but the way I was applying it was selling cheap chinese stuff online was essentially would have amounted to. It’s an e-commerce company and while it was awesome to support some of the small businesses. Some of them were just manufactured goods being sent over, and so I realized it didn’t resonate with what I was trying to do. So I started to think about what I wanted, what I wanted to apply myself to. One of the things I came up with, I looked both people and animals. I got through my past and kind of tried to pull from the things that I thought maybe that I have seen in the past that could help me in the present, kind of pull back on some of my own experiences. And like, okay, what are some of the themes in my life that I can tell based on just what I’ve done automatically that would help me live the way I kind of wanted to live and work. And animals is one of the most obvious one. I grew up with dogs my entire life, and more than that, every time my parents used to drive me home, I used to literally look out the window because for some reason or another, people kept letting dogs out in the neighborhood, people with the fences open, dogs get loose. And the best part about the neighborhood was that it only had one entrance. Well, not a gate or anything, just a bottle neck. It had one entrance, and so the dogs would get out and then do lose. And so I used to always look out the window, find these dogs and it wasn’t a crazy amount. Maybe one or two a year. I’d hop on my bike. I’d find them and if they were friendly. I get him to come with me. Otherwise I’d grab a slice of pizza or something and see if I could lure one in. Lure them, yeah. And find where they came from, find the gate that was open. I’ll always remember the pair that I saw because I thought it was the curiously it looked like it was out of a cartoon. It was a Pit bull and a Chihuahua, as they must have been best friends because the gate was open, that they went on an adventure together. That’s very cool. I thought it was the funniest thing because I looked and I was like, “there’s two dogs walking together. Where’s the owner?” And they’re literally just walking down the sidewalk like they’re going for a stroll. And I was like, “this is the weirdest thing,” and I thought it was funny because I found them. I got them to come up to me, except that the Pit bull got super excited. The Pit bull was like, “all right, person, I’m gonna get pet! This is awesome!” And I was like cool. So I looked into the tag had a collar, but it didn’t have a tag. Well, this makes it 100% more difficult. I can’t—there’s no phone number. Right. I don’t know what to do. And the Chihuahua would not come near me, but it would not leave its best friend either. So I ended up essentially walking the pit bull around the neighborhood, hoping that it would find its house while the Chihuahua will follow us to like, protect it’s friends. Nice. So I walked the animals around the neighborhood and I get to a house and the Chihuahua bolts to a front door nearby. We passed a whole bunch of house, and it boasts of this front door. Well, that’s weird. And it starts crying at the front door and the Pit bull just like it’s super happy. It’s just excited to be there. And I looked at the house and the side gates wide open, and I was like “well, okay, this must be it.” Look around, look for signs and I ended up trying to remember somehow I got the phone number. Maybe the people had the phone number, but they didn’t answer or something. And so I did a risky solution is that the gate was wide open. It was clear it was the Chihuahua’s  home. But how much do you trust the dog? And I was like, “it’s gotta be it’s home.” So I let the Chihuahua go back on its own. Let the Pit bull see if it run back there, too, and it did, and then I close the gate behind him. I was like, “okay, I really hope this was their home.” I was gonna say, you’re just a match maker. One of the first things I said was, “hey, is this your address?” And he goes, “Yeah, why?” “Oh, I found your dogs, I walked him around the neighborhood for a bit and then put him back in your backyard, alright, bye!” and I’m walking out. And these instances kept happening to me throughout childhood, throughout high school until I moved out and I thought back to that I was like, “okay, like I kinda like helping animals. I hadn’t done much volunteer shelter work, but I clearly like helping animals.” So I wondered if there was a way to combine the technical skills that I already learned after college with helping animals, something that I clearly did, just out of habit, almost. Just something that I felt like I had to do. I was like, “okay, let’s figure out how to help lost animals?” That was where I went, trying to do the same thing. Since there is where they have the most experience, right? Yeah, exactly. And so I tried to figure out a solution to help lost animals. My first thing I wanted to do was essentially to make it so that you could fill in your last dogs information and it would post out to social media and things like that, didn’t really take off, or didn’t really get anywhere with that but it was definitely enough to know that that was what I wanted to do. Fast forward a little bit. I kind of slowed down with the job because I realized my heart wasn’t completely there and I got laid off and it turned out to be a blessing. And it wasn’t just me. I got laid off with seven people out of, like a 40 person company. It was a huge lay off for a 40 person company. Yeah, and it ended up being the biggest blessing in the world because I was on the contract there. Not only was I there, I was stuck there. And so, for the first time, I got to really choose where I wanted to go, what I wanted to do, and I looked at it to see if there was technology in vet. I know very little about animal lover at the time, and I didn’t really know where to go. So I looked at what was out there and I looked at what companies were really trying to help people that was really part of their focus, and I ended up in a company called Fusion Soft. And Fusion Soft’s goal is to help small businesses succeed. They provide everything that you can run a small business out of a box, and I remember watching the video and I thought, “okay, it’s not helping animals, but it’s helping people. And maybe if I wanted to help people better, I could help the people who help animals.” It’s not what that company does in particular. But I think I could learn the skills through them to help that. What I didn’t realize when I interviewed with them is that every person who works for Fusion Soft actually gets the application to run a small business for free for life, any employee. So not only working there, I got the tools to build a small business. I got the experience of helping people to really know that’s a job that fit. Okay, I have this. I might as well use it, right? That’s where I really kind of turned up the gear on like, “what can I build now? I literally have the skills to build software. I know how to figure out what people need, and I have a tool that helps me do so.” So I went and I started to look at What can I do to help animals now, While I was in the middle of looking at that, I got an email out of the blue from my last boss and said, “hey, do you still want to help animals?” Super vague. Yeah, reach back out to me. Do you still want to use technology? And this is after getting laid off under it. Do you need a simple way to capture video of your animals, your fundraisers and your events? Are you tired of struggling to get videos from your volunteers & staff in one place where you can use them for social media and marketing? Do you need help editing your raw videos into amazing video stories that get animals adopted? Then check out RescueTUBE where we’ve simplified the process of capturing and editing your videos. Here’s how it works. Simply download the Doobert app, type in your code, and start recording. The videos and photos automatically upload to your Doobert dashboard so you can download them on any device. Now, videos from daily walks, training sessions, foster homes and even adoption days can be easily captured and automatically uploaded in one place. Then, you can either edit the videos yourself or send them to the RescueTUBE professionals to curate into amazing video stories. Imagine the awareness and marketing you could bring to your organization. Learn more at Rescue.TUBE so you can start collecting videos from everyone. And I was like, “okay, that’s oddly specific. Yes, definitely. That’s still exactly what I want to do,” because at my last job I had told everybody that I wanted to do that. I was like, “I want to use technology to help animals. Don’t know how I’m doing it, but if you have an idea, let me know.” And he reaches back out to me and asked me if I want to do that and I ended up getting a contract job. Animal Rescue had no idea they wanted to do. And it was the most, I’m trying to think of a good word to describe it, It was the most uplifting, the most heart tugging work I’ve ever done in my life. It was absolutely amazing to apply the skills that I learned to help an animal rescue, and they ended up loving the work I did. Absolutely loving it. But at the end of the day, after a few months of doing the project we started talking about “okay, this works for you. How do we make it work for other people?” Yeah. Right. We started talking about working together, building something together. And while we’re having these conversations, the Director of the Animal Rescue quit. Whoops. Yep, out of the blue drop of a hat gone. Well, that was my main point of contact. We were building this together. What do I do now? And sadly, it got left to a board of directors that met once a month. You can’t build software with a once month meeting. At least that’s my perspective. And I tried. I tried. I tried. I tried, but at the end of the day, the only option was to start over. The technology we built had a bit to do with fostering. So I was like, “okay, this is awesome. What else is there to learn about fostering?” And I started to dig into it and dig in to it, and it really hit me that fostering is way more than just giving animal a temporary home. It’s a way to increase the inventory of a shelter by really leveraging a community to help the shelter in itself. And by doing so, if you can double, triple the amount of animals saved in a shelter just by opening people’s houses to save one animal at a time, that’s huge. That’s unlimited capacity, practically. Exactly your capacity is not limited by the amount of people in your community that want to help. And just like I was telling you earlier, that’s where Muddy Paws in New York is really excelling, is that in New York, you’ve got all these, all these people, and they managed to get a hold of enough of these people that they’re completely foster-based. And they got tons and tons of people that take these animals for them and they’re saving lives. It’s really amazing. And so it became really obvious. I was talking to people talking to rescues. I started talking with rescues, talking with shells, trying to figure out ideas on how to do this. It was really always that there wasn’t technology that was meeting this need and making it easier for them at all. But the technology that most animal rescues and shelters are using to make fostering easier is spread sheets. Right. And if they’re doing that with newer technology, Google sheets, because you can have multiple users in it auto updates. Right. Sure. The most complicated technology. They’re the most advanced technology to do so it’s not specific to their needs. That doesn’t help on the communication side, depending on how they’re using, it gets complicated and it’s not super scalable. So the idea was to build a solution that replaced that. The biggest solution that I’ve seen a lot of rescues and shelters uses a combination of Google forms and spreadsheets that the google perform feeds into a spreadsheet and they manage everything from there and it works. But it’s not scale-able. There’s nothing in there that really like helps automate anything. Or just making it easy. Just a new database, right? So what we went ahead and did was built a way to manage and not only just manage, but given an animal will tell you what fosters in your system can support the animal. That’s one of our biggest, our biggest features is that you can look at an animal and based on its conditions, I’ll tell you who in your system can support that animal based on both availability and based on the conditions. Because not every animal belongs in every foster home. Some dogs don’t get along with kids sometimes pets get along with kids. You don’t want to contact a foster only to find out halfway through a conversation that “oh right, you have kids. Well, I don’t think they get along with kids. All right, next.” We’ll tell you straight up, so you’re only contracting ones that really matter. And then we just built it from there. So now we have foster sign up forms. So instead of Google forms, you can use us and it will feed right into that system. So there’s no more copy and pasting, and the conditions work on their own. Recently we made it so that you can share almost like a trello board of your animals’ cards, where you can show people “hey, we really need fosters right now. Here’s the animals that need fostering.” You can click right through the animal and say, “okay, I want to foster this animal. Let’s go.” And then on top of that, what we did was, we just released check ins. Okay. And what the check ins do is instead of having to manually go call, text, and email people to figure out “hey, how’s Amy doing? How’s Camille doing?” Like we’ll send an automated text message or email depending on what the foster signed up with that says, “hey, but we’d like you to check in, see how Camille is doing.” And usually you’re just gonna get like “yeah everything’s fine.” But this is how we can get the fosters to help the foster coordinators get the information about them and we get it adopted. “Hey, it’s awesome. Did you know, for some reason, she really likes to sleep under the covers?” Yeah. Little things like that, they create compelling stories. Yeah, and you’re only gonna, you’re only gonna learn them, when you give an animal a home. And the more that I talked with rescues and shelters, the more it really hit me for how powerful fostering is because not only is it another space for a dog instead of being in a shelter, it’s better for dogs and cats might be in a home cause they get used to that feeling of being loved and they really calm down. I mean, imagine being shoved into a box versus being out in a house. It’s a way different experience. And so you get dogs and cats who in the shelter they’re never gonna get adopted because the second you walk by they’re like “ah! another person!” Right. You put them in the house and suddenly you see a different animal, completely different animal. It’s life changing for the animals and can get him adopted far easier. I know Christine that FEMA has done a bunch of research on this and that you can literally take an animal that might be put down for behavioral issues, put him in a house, and suddenly they don’t have those issues anymore. It’s really that the shelter experience was just not doing it for them, and you put him into a house and it’s a completely different experience. And you see ah, happy animal who loves being there instead of a scared one in the corner of the kennel. Nice. It’s such an interesting journey for you, for somebody that started out in nursing, ended up in technology and program development. And now is in, this is your day job, right? Yeah. Yeah. And this is my day job now, and I am extremely blessed to be able to do this. It’s definitely not been an easy journey. I say all this with a smile on my face because this is—I love, I love what I do every day. That doesn’t mean it’s been easy and it’s been an amazing experience, but a lot of work, definitely. Yeah. I would say this is definitely the most stressful job that I’ve had just because I’ve gone out on my own. It’s difficult to go from being in the tech industry to change in your industry, and I think that’s that was probably my biggest leap of faith here. Know what you want to do it really sticking your foot in the door. But that’s what it takes. Yeah, absolutely. Was there anything that surprised you about yourself as you’ve gone through this process? Yes, I mean, I can definitely say yes to that. It’s just a matter of what. I think that it’s that first leap of faith even came as a surprise to myself like “okay, saving up enough money to be able to really try.” But that’s not what you have to do though, you could help rescues and shelters, help animal welfare every day. Even if you have another job, it’s not fully what it takes, but for me, I felt like that’s something that I had to do that I wanted to see if the impact would be different if I really shifted over and did it full time. And someday I may have to go back to a day job, but it was an amazing experience to be able to do this in the first place. Other things that surprised me how, how quickly I was willing to go to the Best Friend conference where I met, not something that I share to many people, but I didn’t know I was going until a week or two before hand. I knew that going to these conferences is really where you had to be. I didn’t realize that one in particular was coming up, and so I bought the ticket almost two weeks beforehand. Wow. And flew from Arizona to Texas to be there. And that was more than anything where it hit me that what we’re building is big. That there’s not enough technology out there that’s really helping animals like you and I are, and that they need people like us in the industry to help them do it more efficiently. That way they can save more animals with less time. And being there was what open my eyes. It was the Best Friends conference, absolutely amazing talking about all the people. Cause all these individuals, huge hearts and really quick to share their problems because there’s not enough solutions out there. Yeah, so what does the future look like for you? We’re still going, always constantly talking about rescues and shelters, finding new ideas, finding better ways we can help. One of the biggest things we’re having to do is integrate with the other systems. There are other systems out there, mostly shelter management systems, that we don’t wanna have to duplicate work. We don’t have wanna have to have a record in two places and have to update both places every time we update the animal, right? So integrating with the big shelter management solutions like Shelter Love and Pet Point. We just released shelter love. We’re moving over to Pet Point now and making it so that you don’t have a duplicate work. I mean, our—my job, our job as a company is to make fostering easier for rescues and shelters and we can’t do that if you’re having a sit down and update everything twice. Yeah. No, that’s definitely one of those frictions that organizations have, isn’t it? It is for sure. So that’s where we’re focused on, right now. We have more, more ideas as days go by. That’s one of the things that my day to day kind of like, it’s just talking with foster coordinators, directors and figuring out what, what’s next. What do you need? Like I said, they’re quick to share their ideas. As I’m sure you’ve seen is they look at what you have, and they’re like “cool, we do this. Does it do that?” And figuring out what are the solutions that are out there? What are other people doing on a one off basis that might be things that we can build and it’s more generic, that people who sign up with us get out of a box. So we’re constantly were constantly changing and constantly evolving, and I think that’s the way it’s gotta be with technology. Yeah, no, for sure. And as you know, I mean, ideas are sometimes easy and the implementation its execution of it is hard. So kudos to you for even getting this far, right? Many people have tried and not gotten as far as you’ve gotten. Thank you. I really appreciate that into you as well. I mean, I love what you do with Doobert. Thanks. So is there anything else you want to mention before we wrap things up, right now? I mean, we’ve covered a lot of stuff today and learned a lot more about you. But what else would you like to share? There’s not too much I would like to add other than if you’re interested in fostering. If you’re not a foster right now and you’re listening to this, consider it. Please. It’s the way to save lives. And if you’re interested in what we do or, if you want to see if we have any animals on our system near you, go to rescuefoster.com or shoot me an email [email protected] Awesome. Well, Randy, thanks for coming on today. I really appreciate your sharing your story and talking to us about RescueFoster. Yeah. I appreciate you taking the time to have this, it’s been awesome. And I’m sure a lot of people get stuff out of this podcast. Thanks Randy. Thanks for tuning into today’s podcast.  If you’re not already a member, join the ARPA to take advantage of all of the resources we have to offer.  And don’t forget to sign-up with Doobert.com. It’s free and helps automate the most difficult tasks in animal rescue.  
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