Episode 13 – Jenny Vandermeer

Jenny Vander Meer is a passionate animal rescuer and is the founder and president of R.A.V.E. Rescue, a foster based organization located in Osceola, Missouri.  Jenny is a pillar in animal rescue in her community of <1,000 people and has made a name for herself by taking on some of the most difficult cases including special needs animals, dogs with a bite history and just about every situation the local shelter does not have the resources to handle.  From providing pet food assistance, to engaging and teaching the next generation about the importance of spay & neuter, Jenny’s passion for animals knows no bounds and she’s always excited and open to welcoming new members to the wonderful world of rescue. To learn more about Jenny and R.A.V.E. Rescue you can visit their website, http://www.raverescue.org/ or you can find them on Facebook here, https://www.facebook.com/RAVERESCUE/

Welcome to the Professionals in 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.

In today’s episode, we’re speaking with Jenny VanderMeer. Jenny is a passionate animal rescuer and is the founder and president of RAVE Rescue, a foster-based organization located in Osceola in Missouri. Jenny is a pillar in animal rescue and in her community of less than 1,000 people. She’s made a name for herself by taking on some of the most difficult cases, including special-needs dogs, dogs with a bite history, and just about every situation in the local animal shelter that does not have the resources to handle. From providing pet food assistance, to engaging and teaching the next generation about the importance of spay/neuter, Jenny’s passion for animals knows no bounds. She’s always excited and open to welcoming new members to the wonderful world of rescue.

Hey Jenny, welcome to the program.

It’s good to be here.

Tell us a little bit about you. I know when you and I talked a couple of weeks ago, I was just amazed by the work that you do.  tell us about you and what you do and rescue.

Well, I had a life changing event back in 2008. It was December 2008 where I became ill. My chief complaint was at the emergency room that I thought I was going to die, and that was actually correct. I was. I have pulmonary fibrosis that was undiagnosed, I have collapsed, and had a very traumatic – everything gone. Because of that I came back, contacted my family, and did the big “feel sorry for me” and all of those type of things. My father gave me the best advice in my world. He said, “Do what you love and love what you do because if you do that, it’s never work. It’s your passion. You don’t need an alarm clock. You don’t need any of those things because you’re just – It’s your passion. You’re all about it.”

When I graduated from Stephen’s College as the valedictorian and gave the commencement speech, I passed that along. I had spent so many years educating myself and going back to college, getting Health Information Administration degree and graduated 4.0 because I’m a type “A” personality. When I was trapped in this illness, I learned that I’m wasting my time doing something that I hate to get up for. It’s a big struggle and I’m not passionate about it.  I looked at my life, and after they sent me to a transplant team to see whether or not I qualified to have a lung transplant, they told me at that time I was like 600 pounds and that they could not do anything for me because of my weight. I was too high risk, and they had to save an organ for somebody who would survive the surgery.

I came home, felt sorry for the fat girl, and ate Oreos and all that. Then I just decided about a week later, I woke up and I said, “This is the day that I live for me. This is the day that I live for what is important to me.” I looked around and I hate exercise.  I started taking belly dance lessons and I’ve gotten off 328 pounds. I realized that I fostered on the Department of AG once through the shelter. They got a little dog by the name of Reba and she was a puppy mill surrender. Somebody had brought her in. Actually, somebody had hot-lined her in here. Somebody had hot-lined them for having bad conditions. Well, the department of AG went out there. Reba was there. She was pregnant. She was negligent an all.  She had been in a kennel. Her feces and defecation had become concrete. The wires hanging up to her feet where they had to cut them out.

At that point I was familiar with the shelter. When I went in there, the older woman who doesn’t work there now, Doris, said, “Gosh, I really wish we had a place to put her.” But because of all the cure that she needs, she had to be put down. Then I learned that she was pregnant. So, since she was pregnant, I said, “I want her.” They just handed her over to me and I took her to a specialist. They removed the wires out of her feet and she came home. Even though she is breathing, she’s deaf and she doesn’t have any ear drums. That’s from not being probably genetically matched. It’s from breeding too close to their own lineage. I worked with her and it broke my heart. It broke my heart that she was scared to go across the threshold. It broke my heart that she didn’t know how to climb steps. It broke my heart that any time that I come close to her, she was having a heart attack and evading me. She never bit. She never did anything. I would pick her up, I’d corner her, and I’d pick her up, took her to bed, love her, rub her belly, and feel the babies move. Then, I asked about her ear drums. She had ear infection, and that’s when I learned she didn’t have any ear drums. That’s genetic thing from not proper breeding. She just captured my heart. Once I saw her, I knew this is where I should be. So I have her and I have her three deaf siblings. She’s been here since January of 2008. She’s amazing.

That was literally your first foray into animal rescue.

It was. It was. Then I couldn’t stop. Yes. Food is one of my addictions and animals are part of my addiction. I love her and I had to make a decision who I was going to help, though. I made the decision that I’m only going to take the worst of the worst. I want the dogs that are going to be euthanized because they’re aggressive. I want the dogs that are on a chain and have no social skills. I want the dogs that are high risk medically. I want the dogs on death’s doorstep because I am going to bring life into them. I’m going to raise the money. I’m going to be life changing, and it matters. A lot of rescues don’t have the capability to raise the money. It’s not about the money for me, it’s about I will persevere. I will make this happen. In the beginning donations did not come in because people didn’t know who I was. I decided that I had to retire for my dog from my job. When I got sick, my kids were almost out of school. I home schooled all of them. I had 10 kids and then I was a foster parent. I had several in groups. I think it was like 78 or 82 kids. I helped through it. I really had to look at my life and realize that, I became a foster parent because my own home life was in a crisis situation. Since I could extend and help those go through what I went through, and give them some understanding that these animals have the same emotional problems that I did. I need to help them overcome it. I am that person.

From there I decided that I had to do something to financially support them.  That’s when Jenny’s Yorkies and Dog Grooming Spa was opened. It’s not because I’m a breeder. It’s because this little dog, Reba started this with her little kids and I needed to help more. I got on YouTube, and I went down every dog-grooming, everything. I couldn’t afford anything because I was spending much in these animals, and I self-taught myself how to groom. I realized I couldn’t really open a shop because that costs money.  I could board up my house and put my dog or shop in my home. I could be here 24 hours a day, work from home, and be able to take care of them. The dogs I bring are horrific. You can’t leave them because of their medical needs or maybe behavioral needs. When that happened, I started working Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday’s and advertising.

As people got to know me and as people came in and saw my animals as people started sharing as people just came and look at them. When they came in and saw what I was doing, when they came in and they wanted to know, when they came in, they were calling me. When the police department started calling me after hours, “We have an injured dog on the highway that’s been hit by a car, can you come get it?” When the community started messaging me, “Jenny, we found this dog. Here’s a pitch. Grab it.” When the shelter started calling me and saying, “We’re at capacity and nobody wants to make a decision to euthanize, can you help us?” I work so closely with the City of Osceola, who is amazing. I work so closely with the shelter, even though we’re not together. I am their volunteer intake coordinator and they fax me every intake sheet and I go take pictures and any dog that’s got medical or behavioral or have an issue. I work very well with about 1,500 rescues. We get them in a transport and I have to bring him to my house to breathe life through a video or a picture or something to help them. And that’s what I do.

I’m so blessed with all these rescues. They’re supportive and admire me. We work as a village and a team. I love who they are and they’re always giving me a hand up.  It’s just inspiring. After that happened, I asked the shelter if I could serve by becoming their pet adoption in person. They’re like, “Well, we don’t have money to pay you and they agreed. The board agreed for me to be – because they were a 501. I said, “I don’t want to take your money or anything.” I want that they’re to be able to recoup his fees. I need to volunteer my time to make sure everybody has a hand up and nobody has to come in and say, “We have five runs and we have nine dogs here. Whose turn is it to be put down today because we don’t have any space?” They agreed to let me do that so nobody would have to make that decision because it’s hard for them. As a matter of fact, the shelter was against naming them, petting them or anything, or having any contact because it was so emotionally heartfelt for them to have to put a dog or a cat down. They didn’t want to give them a personality because every day they walked in, it was traumatic.

Since then, since I’ve been on board now with them for seven years, because it takes forever to get established. I spent the first two years building a relationship, and I’m on board with them, our euthanasia rate is zero. Unless the dog is horrific that even trying to save it would cause it such suffering. Just last year, we got out 884 animals. We have not had to make that decision. Last year we had two we had to put down.  One that was everything aggressive and 220 pounds. Even though I have a bite suit and all of those things, it was – I really looked at it. We gave the dog six months. I’d work with it and a lot of those things. It was heartbreaking, but because it was a public safety issue, you have to look at if I am able to place this dog home. What’s going to save that child, even if it’s an offense charge for me being dog bit by riding a bike by? You have to be diligent and look at all those things. Even though he was a beautiful dog and through no fault of his own, he incurred hardships that you couldn’t draw another scenario from. That was very difficult.

We had another dog that had a gunshot wound, that we were just not able to save him because it struck a vital organ. Even with emergency surgery, couldn’t make it to Kansas City for that to happen. When the shelter calls they go like, “Hi, Jenny likes you got because I know I just got a kid out that had a kidney removed that was ruptured and Great Plains asked me saying, “Courtney took that dog on.” I’m just very thankful that people support me.

What motivates you to take on the most difficult cases? I think that’s what’s really inspiring about your story. You don’t just take easy cases. You’re taking the most complex, hard-to-place, behavioral problems, and medical problems.

I look at it like this. The only limitation that you put on yourself is the one that you put. The only line you draw. The only limitation I have is what I was telling me. Okay. I’m not limited. I don’t have kids in the home. It’s me here. I have safety devices. I have an electric fence. I have extra interest. I have all those things. When you put your heart into something, you breathe life into it. With my difficult dogs, if I know they’re going to walk again, if I know that they’re going to become other dog social. If I know that I can save them from our harms, if I know that I can make a difference in their life when other animals are accepted into rescue so easily because they don’t have issues. If I’m going to do animal rescue, why should I give those that don’t have a second chance, the second chance?  That’s why I do what I do. I know these dogs have zero option. Zero. That’s the same way with kitties. I mean, they just they have no other option. I am in it.

That’s really amazing. For somebody who is listening to this that says, “Hey, I want to get into animal rescue, but I don’t know where to begin.”  What would you tell him?

Well, I would tell anybody that doesn’t have space, that works 12-hour shifts, that isn’t available because maybe the dog or other dogs, or they have small children, or maybe they might not have a fenced yard, or maybe they’re young, or they’re pregnant, or they’re getting married, or they’re getting ready to move, or they’re in the military, all these things, all of those things do impact our life. However, it doesn’t mean that you can’t volunteer to shelter. It doesn’t mean that you can’t donate your birthday. It doesn’t mean that we can’t educate the next generation of our kids to be no-kill that you can’t take them and have them raise donations for their birthday. It does not mean that you can’t sign up like with Jessica, with the Race4Ran express and Drive a Mile Save a Life. All volunteers hand off animals to accept two rescues and that one hour that you donate on a Saturday and Sunday, will get that dog up from high-kill shelter or to a doctor’s home, and you save its life.

You are that freedom ride. It doesn’t mean that you can’t sign up on Amazon.com. Every time you make a purchase, because maybe your kids are in college and you buy those school books, that money backs rescues like me. You could do the PayPal Giving Fund. So even though you’re not physically capable of carrying out, or have an animal, or foster in your home, even though maybe you can’t drive a car, or maybe because you don’t have a car, or your car won’t make it that far, it doesn’t mean that you can’t share a Facebook post. It doesn’t mean that you can’t sign up for the PayPal Giving Fund.

You can also – If you work for Walmart or Sam’s, you can go to the VAP program, which is a volunteer animal, volunteer application programs. If you sign up to work for Walmart, if you donate 24 hours of your time over three months to go and help a shelter, a rescue or any, or educate, or maybe you can spend an hour once a month and go hold onto an animal at a pet adoption event, and walk around and showcase it, Walmart or Sam’s will write that rescue a $250 check. If you attend an event for Walmart that you submit it, you get double points, that’s $500.  if I have one person who works for Walmart for Sam’s Club, that says I can donate 25 hours 24 to 25 hours over three months at your pet adoption event, to sit there and talk to people, and pet a dog, which means I get to showcase one more animal, Walmart will give me $500. Walmart is backing what we do.

Not only that. There are so many organizations. You can sign up on Fundly. You can sign up on – I mean, there are so many ways to give. If your passion is animals, please reach out to somebody because I’m sure there’s somebody in your neck of the woods that does animal rescue or your local shelter. Maybe there’s a friends of or a transport group Race4Ran, which is Miranda Lambert’s 501(c)(3). Jessica or myself, you can look me up RAVE Rescue, any of those. I can give you so many options that you can help. If you can’t even be hands on, you can buy a T-shirt. You can pass along a fundraiser. You can do so many things. There’s really no excuse because we have to educate our next generation because euthanasia is not acceptable.

Yes, those are all really great suggestions. I appreciate you running those down for people because there are so many different ways that people can get involved that will definitely be helpful. What’s next?  What’s next for you? You’ve had quite a journey, and it definitely sounds like you found your passion to fulfill your life. Where does this take you?

Well, so far, I never realized I would. I never realized that I would ever become a 501(c)(3) nonprofit animal rescue group. I never realized I would become a transport coordinator for Race4Ran. I never realized I’d be taking care of 51 animals, 52, 55. I never realized I’d run my own transport. I never realized that I would go up to unleash food pantry and hold back 3,000 pounds of food every Tuesday and distribute through all the rescues in this various so everybody has food. I’m going to build a shelter. I don’t have the money to do any of those things, but I don’t need it because I just I I’m just going to do it. It’s just going to happen. That’s just how it is. It’s cut and dried and everything will fall into place because it always does. When you’re doing the right thing for the right reason. That just happens.

Yes, well you’re very inspirational.  I guess I’m curious, is there somebody or a group that really inspired you to do what you do?

What inspired me to do what I do was I realized that the local shelter here was euthanizing 86 to 90% of the influx of shelter animals coming in. I also realized that the local board’s attitude was that they did not want to complicate them. They did not want to complicate the vet because it’s also is the vet’s office. They sort of did not want to complicate his schedule with spaying and neutering. There were no options for pet adoption in this area. It’s a farming community and here they’re just dogs and cats. For me, this is my family. These are my kids. So, because they have partnered with me and I have partnered with them, we work so closely together…they cheer me on. They are glad to discount. They’re glad to do whatever. They are supportive. I learned that they did not have heat and air and I did fund raising to up air conditioning in their building. Put in heat in their building. Have brought them food. They’ve taken home seniors themselves. I supply them food. I have some excellent fosters. I worked really well with the primary vet.

As people have gotten to know me, just them coming in, and being interested in my passion inspires me daily. The people that sends me Facebook messages, the person that has $2 to donate, the kid that reaches into their pocket at PetSmart and says, “Will this $2 help you?” and this kid’s nine years old and they put it in my donation bin, that’s inspiring. That’s very inspiring.  I think I’m inspired by the people who really want to do something. In the beginning, nobody had knowledge of what RAVE Rescue stands for “Rescue, Adopt, Volunteer and Educate.”  My big thing is, everybody adoption event, I take one of my sick kids and I said this has heartworms. This is what it does. This is the prevention. This is what you can do for it. His heart’s three times its size. This is how much it cost to treat it. A lot of people just aren’t aware of those things. Once they become aware, they want to be good animal owners. They just don’t understand. A lot of people think heartworms is something that you treat with oral de-wormer. It’s not.

A lot of my mission was to create options for the community.  Since then I’ve opened up Paws’ Pantry at the St. Claire County food bank.  When my seniors go through there because they have spent down in medical expenses and things like that, if they have a dog or cat, that senior who lived with their cat for years and years and because of their declining health or financial difficulty, I want to have a sack of food for them to take care of. I want to take care of their kids. I want their kids in their life as long as possible. A lot of times, because I do keep food and work closely with a food pantry, which is a new thing that I just started. I also keep food here so if the general population falls on hard times, they can come by and pick up food. I don’t want anybody to go hungry.

Two years ago, I started the outreach committee program. When the sheriff’s office for people call in and say, “There’s a dog on a chain or tether and it’s counting on center city because the city’s changed their tethering laws this time Jenny” and they enforce it. They’ll go appear with police officer with me, and we’ll inform them. It’s really nice to see a whole lot of pellet fence is being built. Please supply the pellets. He thinks it’s better than being on a chain. Now I collect igloos, blankets with flax on them, heated water bowls, and heated mats. It’s because I want those kids, even though a lot of times the dog on a chain is just not an inside dog. They prefer to be outside and they’re trying to keep him off the highway or from chasing the neighbor’s cattle and stuff. I understand that but I wanted to be humane. I’d want if ever they didn’t have resources, for the animal to be warm, have food, have not frozen water, and have a shelter if it chooses to go into it.

I am getting ready to start my Meals on Wheels program to the senior center. When they deliver those meals beginning of the month, they’ll deliver a sack of food based on what’s in the household. So that those, shelters if they can’t even get out or cook their own meals will have food for their kids. I am just going to continue to grow. Now I have community service volunteers, which is very exciting. I have now partnered with a couple of colleges in our area. There’s a lot of young people that I’m educating. They come in and volunteer for us as either a dog or a cat person. By the time I’m done with them there, everything – And the colleges has started offering. If a student will donate hours to work here, no matter what they’re doing – A lot of times I just have them brush the animals, feed, and give water and leave the hard work up to me.

I also introduced them to my transport, tagging, and getting animals in and out. I introduced them to my software and their medical needs. I take them to the shelter and I take them on a transport myself. I take them to do that because I’m developing the next generation. The college will give them college credits for coming here. I find that a lot of kids that – especially like the schools when they have the occasional programs. I’ll have an intern come to me that wants to become a dog groomer, and they’ll come in a couple of days a week. They learn how to groom dogs. Then they get Jenny crazy with animal rescuing, then another one’s born… I love that.

Of course I don’t charge anybody for any of those things. I do it because I want to open everybody’s eyes. The animals, most of them, I’m foster-based most over there. I keep the worst of the worst here because every dog grooming client, every student that comes in and out of here and because I’m in home studio, I want them to see what I do because it they’re just gross. They get bigger. Donations come in. People call me. The sheriff’s department, please per – I mean, everybody cheers me on. Every time they call me, I am so thankful that I was here for them to reach me. I find out a lot of my kids, one of my college kids, when they get their back up against the wall and they need a couple of extra credits or else they’re going to have to take another semester. I have all hands on deck.

That’s a great source of volunteers. Well, thank you Jenny so much for sharing your story and what inspires you. Is there anything else you wanted to tell our listeners before we go?

Just reach out. It doesn’t matter if you just go to the shelter and read a book to an animal. It doesn’t matter if you have one old harness that you don’t think is any good. Drop it off at your local shelter. Hand them over because those things are so important. In that way, their money can be spent elsewhere. Everybody can do something.

Thank you.

Thanks for having me, Chris. That was really nice.

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