Shannon is passionate about helping people and animals & keeping pets with their families. She has a background in fundraising, community outreach and policy creation which help her to grow and continue helping those who need it most. My Pit Bull Is Family (MPBIF) focuses on providing resources to families in Minneapolis to ensure they can keep their pets instead of surrendering due to housing options. Their focus is to end housing and insurance discrimination for all dogs regardless of what they look like.
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Shannon Glenn is the Executive Director of My Pit Bull Is Family (MPBIF), and quickly became an expert in housing policies and surrender prevention. Shannon has an extensive background in grassroots campaigns, outreach, fundraising, homeless advocacy, and policy creation. She has a master’s degree in advocacy and political leadership, where she centered her degree program around drafting policies to end housing and insurance discriminations for families with large dogs. She believes that providing resources to families who are searching for housing and partnering with local organizations who provide wraparound services, that they’ll be able to reduce the number of dogs that enter shelters each year.
Hey, Shannon, thanks for coming on today. Of course. Thanks for having me. Well, I’m so excited to have you. I mean, obviously you and I have talked before but why don’t you, for listeners, tell us a little bit about you and kind of how you got into this? So it all started when I was Student Body President at a local community college here in the Twin Cities, and I was getting ready to move out of the place I was living. And one of my Student Senators was like, “Hey, have you ever thought about adopting a Pit bull or getting involved in Pit bull rescue? Because they’d be a great first dog for you in an apartment?” But like in hindsight, not really. But yeah. So I got involved with a local rescue here called Savable Rescue. They focus on bully breed type dogs and they’re really amazing.
So I walk into my first adoption event and saw this big, goofy looking black head dog smiling at me. Yeah. And her name is Maura and I was hooked. And so I became the Event Coordinator at that rescue, did some fostering for them and adopted my dog Wilbur from them as well. And he was pulled from Minneapolis Animal Care and Control because at that time, Pit bull type dogs and dogs like my dog Wilbur, we’re not allowed to be adopted out to the public, so they needed to go through that. So that’s kind of how I got my start with even thinking about having a Pit bull type dog. Did the rescue thing for a while. Was working at Greater Twin Cities United Way, doing a lot of fundraising, working with underprivileged communities, finishing up my bachelor’s and starting my masters. And that’s when I really became an advocate for folks experiencing homelessness and their pets and left the rescue and found this crazy bumper sticker campaign called My Pit Bull is Family.
There was this woman who was a landlord in Minneapolis who realized that apartments were discriminating against Pit bull type dogs, and she started a bumper sticker campaign where folks could order free stickers and they would send them throughout the whole world. And so I helped on this campaign to help them send out these free stickers. And once I did everyone who was involved and engaged kind of left. So you joined it, and everybody else left? Right. It’s no fault of, you know, the bumper stickers or what we were doing. But folks really have their heart in rescue work, or in their careers and just had to make a decision. So I was left with thousands of stickers, a bunch of 4XL T-shirt, banners and, like 30 boxes of envelopes. And through working with the person who started the bumper sticker campaign, we ended up turning My Pit Bull is Family into a nonprofit organization. And at that moment I became an Executive Director of this thing, that we had no idea what was going to happen with it. And I’ve been doing that work since 2014. And so over the last five years, My Pit Bull is Family has slowly become what it is today. And it’s really, really exciting to see where we’re at.
Yeah, all just from somebody saying to you, “Hey, you know, you should go get this dog for your apartment,” right? Way back when? Yeah, it was just a small conversation and “I’ve got some friends in rescue.” “Cool. Let me go meet them.” And it was life changing. Just that one conversation. Yeah, and what I love about this is that you decided you wanted to learn more, and so you got involved the rescue, and you kind of started to see how the rescue world works. Yeah, it was a newer rescue going through some changes as most rescues do. And so it was really interesting to kinda be there through director changes and mission changes and, you know, watching them grow to also where they’re at today, too. And they’re still a really great community partner of ours. So is Minneapolis Animal Care and control. You know, it’s been great to have those relationships and still use them today in the role that I’m in.
So you took over My Pit Bull is Family. What was the mission at the time? What were they trying to do? Yeah, so the mission at the time was to really talk about Pit bulls as great family dogs, and the focus was really just on Pit bulls. But then, over time, through our research, we realize that there’s over 25 types of dogs that are discriminated against a rental policy is. So while we still of course, want to advocate for the underdog, we now understand that the underdog list is a little bit bigger than just the Pit bull type dog. And that families all over the country are really affected by discriminatory pet policies and lack of resources to make sure that they can keep their pets at home.
So I’m curious. What was your undergrad and master’s degree? And I don’t think you said when you were telling us. So my undergrad was in Advocacy and Political Science and Civil Rights Studies. My Masters is in Advocacy and Political Leadership, so it’s a lot of being able to advocate for the underdog, learning how to introduce legislation and create policies to really implement and create change. Interesting. So not a bad degree to fall back upon now.
So this is what, five years ago? 2014. So you took it on. What was your vision? I mean, did you want to change the mission of what My Pit Bull is Family was going to do? Not at the time. So when I started with My Pit Bull is Family, there was a five year plan that was fantastic and really working towards making sure that Pit bulls were seen as really great family dogs. But just how everything works in animal welfare, things evolve and change. And so we still have a focus on underdogs like Pit bull type dogs, but also through research, we’ve realized that there’s over 25 types of dogs that are discriminated against home rental pet policies. We have this really strong focus on housing and insurance discrimination because right now we’re the only organization in the country that’s really working on it. And we just received an amazing grant from the Petco Foundation to revamp our website and our housing and partnership databases, so we can continue to keep families together.
But then, on the other hand, in Minneapolis, we see this huge need for folks to receive resources to be able to keep their pets at home, specifically in the neighborhood that I live in. So we know that residents in North Minneapolis are having a really hard time keeping their pets at home. So we want to provide them food resources, medical resources, and housing resources through our new Together at Home Program, and we’re really excited about this. Of course, the housing work is really important, but it’s not necessarily the sexy, data driven work. Sure. So we know that we can really help keep pets out of shelters and out of rescues by partnering with amazing folks in the community and having critical conversations with folks that are struggling, to find out how we can help them. And that’s something that I’m really, really excited about because I do have a background in working with folks in underprivileged areas in managing the state’s only homeless shelter that accepted pets to being able to bring all of those skills and tools and resources to help our community in a better way through our amazing organization.
I really love that. I love the fact that you’ve got both the local and the national focus on things. And they–your approach is all about helping people, and helping people to keep their pets in their homes and to keep their family members because that’s what they are. Absolutely. And we know that through having these conversations with folks that might be having struggles or not knowing where to turn, that they’re gonna become amazing, responsible pet parents and advocates for what we’re doing and making sure that folks throughout the city and throughout the country will be able to keep their pets at home because the knowledge will just be there. Yeah.
Now I’m curious, when you were in college and then in grad school, what was your goal? What was your dream job then? Oh, gosh. I mean, you could still ask me that now and I don’t know the answer. There was a point in time where I wanted to be a U.S. Senator, and that was during my undergrad. And then when I started my grad school program, I had already been fully involved with My Pit Bull is Family and dedicated my entire program to talking about housing and insurance issues and dabbling a little bit in breed specific legislation and creating campaigns around that. We have an “I am” campaign. So “I am a good tenant. I am a good neighbor.” And that all came out of projects for a social media class that I was doing in grad school. So I was really able to utilize that time to create and have a, kind of a, drawing board for what the org could be and what we could try and test out.
But throughout grad school, I never thought that I would be a paid Executive Director. I was working in the homeless community. I wanted to be a shelter manager, which I did, and I think my overall focus was just trying to find a career where I could help people and their pets and combine my passions of advocacy and providing resources to folks and building leaders. And so I feel like I have the opportunity to do all of that right now in the role that I’m in with My Pit Bull is Family. But I also realize that this probably isn’t the end for me, either. I really love just your vision for yourself in the impact that you’re going to have and all about helping people. And it’s really fascinating to me that it’s now merged with helping people and helping animals. And those two passions have come together. Absolutely.
And I take every opportunity that I have through organizations like Maddie’s fund to go and travel to Austin Pets Alive! and spend time with their amazing life saving team. To just learn the tips and tricks of the trade when it comes to animal sheltering, too, even though it might not fall into the category of the work that we do from day to day. But I do think it helps us allow to have conversations with folks who are hesitant about animal welfare, hesitant about going to their municipal shelter for resources. But, you know, I also volunteer in our Minneapolis Animal Care and control. So I’m able to bring back what I learned to implement that locally, which then can help our work in the community as well. So it breaks down those barriers for folks.
Sounds like you’re involved in quite a bit if you’re volunteering and still doing all this stuff at the same time. Yes, I like to be very, very engaged. You know, I love to learn, and I feel like because I’ve been out of grad school now for a couple of years. It’s like, “well, should I go back to school and do something else?” But I feel that the Maddie’s fund apprenticeships that I have the opportunity to go to and, you know, forced free sheltering online and all of these amazing webinars that we have in our field really fill that void of learning.
So tell me a little bit more now about the database, because I know this is something that you’re really trying to take to the next level. So our housing database is utilized by families from all over the country, to help find housing and rentals that accept all dogs, regardless of what they look like or how much they weigh. And as you know, we’re partnering with you, Chris, on building this new database and making sure that it’s something that’s user friendly and sexy and just ready for the future. Sure. We are so excited about it because when we started, we had a couple listings in every state on a Weebly website. I don’t even know if people use Weebly anymore. I don’t think they do. I haven’t seen the sites in a while. But it was a very easy site to manage and do, but just to show the progress. I mean, we’ve grown to now having to create our own database and having someone build it for us, because it’s just grown so much and we see that there’s so much more room for growth after this next rebuild.
So right now, our volunteers throughout the country are calling about 800 listings that were in our previous database, and so they’re going through and making sure that all of the listing still have inclusive pet policies and letting them know that they’re in our database but we know that we’re gonna have a couple listings drop off due to management changes and policy changes. But after we get everything into this new database, we’re gonna be able to grow it. Our volunteers are gonna be able to focus on making sure that we can acquire new listings landlords. One day we’ll be able to just important their own listings and be able to manage it. And we’re so excited that we can grow it and help more families. Because we know that the number one reason why big dogs are surrendered to shelters is lack of housing. Right. And if we can solve that issue and if we can help families stay together and find housing, we know that we can end killing in our shelters and decrease surrender story shelters. I love that vision.
So now what did you change your mission? What do you see this looking like here, in the next five years? I still see our mission being the same. So working to end housing and insurance discrimination and keeping families together, providing resources and education. So that combines our database work, our housing database, our partnership database, and now this Together at Home Program. I don’t know what the future holds for us. I mean, I hope that we continue to grow. We continue to be an amazing resource. And I hope that one day we don’t exist in five years. And that housing and insurance discrimination doesn’t exist anymore. But it’s gonna take all of us in the field to really have conversations about it, work together and support each other on having those conversations.
Yeah, and that’s something I’m definitely a big believer in as well is that we do have to work together. Because this is just one aspect of the problem that we face here in the U.S. is, people have to be separated from their animals because they can’t find the right housing. In today’s day and age, it’s flabbergasting to me that this type of database doesn’t exist, and I’m–kudos to you guys for being the ones to take the lead and getting this done. Absolutely. I mean, we know that they’re housing issues throughout the whole country. And that affordable housing is an issue for even thinking about affordable pet from the housing, for folks that are lower income or medium income. I mean, it’s–we’re facing this new kind of housing crisis, but I don’t think our community has really thought about. And so with increased housing prices were going to see more pets surrendered because folks just aren’t gonna be able to afford pet friendly rentals. It is something that is a trend that we’re hearing more about. And I love the fact that you’re proactively trying to stop that. And then you’re also working on proactively creating programs for your community to help keep their pets in homes.
And I think that’s something that we’re starting to see a lot more of as animal shelters, even across the country, becoming a community-based resource where they’ll help people and train prevent the animals from even show me up in the shelter in the first place. Absolutely. And you know one thing we really take pride on is helping folks, no matter where there at, whether they’re not ready to have a conversation about spare and neuter. They’re not ready to talk about the fact that they’re having litters in their house and they’re selling them so that they could make ends meet. We really pride ourselves on meeting people where there at. Removing any biases that might exist about the type of person or the way someone looks in their dog. We realize that no matter the color of someone’s skin, their class, their education level, they all love their pets. And so that’s a conversation that we’re also really trying to start having within our animal welfare community as well. Because, as professionals, we really need to bring people in and not push them out and make them feel that they have to surrender their pets or just making sure that we can provide those resources for folks so that they can be amazing pet parents and responsible pet owners and be advocates for organizations throughout the whole country. Oh, I absolutely love that.
So I’m curious Shannon, and I mean, this has been quite a journey for you. Have you learned anything else about yourself during this process? I have learned that it’s often times, as a director, it can be hard to dream, and not because we can’t dream, but because there are always struggles with running an organization. So whether it be volunteers aren’t showing up, you can’t find folks to join your team that are really the dreamers as well and are gonna push ideas and make them into reality. I think those are the parts of this work that are really, really tough. I also think one thing I’ve learned about myself is that you have to not worry as much about what people think of you and your work, but you just need to keep doing it. You always have champions in the ring for you, and they’re gonna support you in whatever way that they can. But there are always people in your same fields that will try to diminish what you’re doing and say that it’s not life saving. And you just have to block that out and continue moving forward with the folks that support you and prove them wrong.
I think that’s very well stated, because I think in what you’re doing, it doesn’t seem like it is life saving right. It doesn’t seem like it’s pulling animals from high cold shelter and getting them somewhere else. But it really is the long game and it’s working to solve the bigger problem, right? I mean, as we’ve said for many years in this animal welfare industry, we can’t transport away out of the problem. Spay and neuter is really the only way. And it starts, though, with programs like yours that are building relationships within your community and working to support people who, as you pointed out, love their pets and trying to help them keep their pets and find the housing and all those other kinds of things. I personally applaud you guys, I think you are playing the long game, and it’s very important. It’s very necessary because we’ve all gotta take our different aspects in this to really impact the problem. Absolutely. And we don’t want to be an organization that constantly has to work on the problem at hand. I feel like the vision that I have for the organization is long term. We know that housing is a crisis, but it’s one that has existed for a really long time, and so we’re not acting upon it. We’re trying to prevent it from being a disaster in the future. Yeah.
So, Shannon, if people want to learn more about you guys and what you’re doing, or maybe help to contribute to the database, where should they go? Absolutely. So they should head on over to mypitbullisfamily.org, and they can search our website. They can get involved and volunteer. We have some new postings for volunteer positions. Our housing database is there. And if you are from an organization yourself and you are really excited about working on housing and insurance in your community, we would love to have you join us as a community partner. Because as a partner, not only do you help us, but we’re able to refer folks in your community to you for what you focus on. So we want to provide those drop around services for anyone in need of resources. Yeah.
Shannon, it’s been really cool to talk to you today. Is there anything else you want to mention before we wrap things up? All I can say is that if you are passionate about something, please find an organization that’s working on it. And if there isn’t one, you have to create it yourself because even if you’re the only person running the race, you know, at least there’s somebody there doing it. Absolutely. Well, I really appreciate you coming on today, Shannon and sharing your vision and everything that’s going on with you guys and I hope we’ll get to talk to you again in the future. Absolutely. Thank you so much.
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