Episode 52 – Eileen Smulson

Eileen Smulson from Operation Blankets of Love joins us today. Before starting Operation Blankets of Love (OBOL) Eileen was a former school teacher and founder of a singing telegram balloon delivery business as well as working in the non-profit world for 20 years in Los Angeles, CA. Celebrating 10 years they currently support 60 organizations and have 65 drop-off sites in the Los Angeles, CA area. Being extremely involved in their community and the LA area, they also have many additional programs available including working with the less fortunate.

Welcome to the Professionals and Animal Rescue podcast, where a goal is to introduce you two amazing people helping animals and share how you can get involved with animal rescue. This podcast is probably sponsored by do bert dot com. Do Bert 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 before starting Operation Blankets of Love in 2008 Eileen was a former school teacher, a founder of a singing telegram balloon delivery business, And she has worked in the non profit industry for more than 20 years, doing fundraising operation, blankets of Love partners with the American Red Cross during natural disasters and there on the front lines, helping those in need. They’ve helped thousands of animals who are impacted by Hurricane Harvey, the wildfires of Sonoma and the earthquake in Mexico City. They currently have 65 drop off sites and have collected over five million animal comfort and care supplies. When rescue professionals need support, they call on Brad and Eileen from Operation Blankets of Love. They rescue the rescuers. Hey Eileen, thanks for coming on the program today. It’s my pleasure. Thank you for asking me to talk about Operation Blankets of Love. So, Eileen, give us a little bit of your story and kind of how you came about to formulate Operation Blankets of Love. Thank you for asking, Chris. I never had a pet before in my life, and I was in my 50. Yeah. Can you believe that? And, um, my husband always wanted to have a dog. So finally it we weren’t even looking that day. It just happened that we we were walking along the mall and we saw rescue that was trying to adopt their dogs out. So my husband wanted to take a look, so I said, Okay. And by the end of our visiting, we adopted a cute little mixed terrier. She was probably about 55 months old, and she was found on a desert highway with her sibling in California, which is not a very pleasant thing, but Chris, I didn’t even want her. I just thought she was cute on. And in fact, the rescue person said, if you do not feel you want to keep her, you have one week, and I said okay, but Of course, I eventually fell in love with her, but I didn’t know what to do with a dog. My husband sent me to school for training and the first lesson he came with me and then the second he said, Eileen, you’re gonna learn how to bond with Ginger And I said, You have to stay. I don’t know anything about dogs on You said They have a mentality of five years old and you were a kindergarten teacher in the past. You’ll do fine. You’ll figure out. Yeah, I figured out. So it’s one hour lesson six lessons. And of course we passed. And then I did intermediate advanced, then games, then tricks, an outdoor agility. And then we became certified therapy partners where we can go to hospitals to make people feel better. And she became a read dog. And that is when Children have problems reading, um, one on one. The little kids will sit with Ginger, and this is like when we first started, and it would make the lead that Ginger was reading to them. So and I was doing my own career. I was a professional fundraiser, Chris. Four people, charities and doing special events. And so I was walking a pound 10 minutes from my house being built into a new facility, and I adopted her in 2003. So 2008 it was a rainy day and I thought, You know what? They just finished this facility. Let me see what this pound came into. They said millions of dollars, rainy day, believe it or not in California And I saw Showcase Puppy and they were shivering. And I questioned the, um, the people that were working. There was a Sunday and they said, Oh, um, we don’t have enough blankets And I said, Why? And they said, Well, we don’t have a budget So I was very upset because I couldn’t picture ginger laying on the ground shivering like that on a cement floor. And so within 24 hours, I called the person chargeable shelters. On Monday, I got a private tour of the shelter and I said, How can I help you? And they said, Can you collect blankets and towels for us? We depend upon the community and I said, Well, I’m a special events expert, but I really don’t know the audience of dog lovers because on the even, though I have Ginger five years, I really don’t know much about dog lovers, but I’ll see what I can. D’oh! So I opened up, um, three places I had a bin, and the bin was in my vest office where I buy food, but no dogs could be sold at the pet store. It was just for supplies. And my groomer and I came back with 300. And then they said, Can you? Yes. And I said, Um, you know, I just had a flyer in a cardboard box and I continue doing my own thing. And then the shelter said, Can you help this shelter? Well, I didn’t realize there’s. There’s 12 shelters in Los Angeles, six county and six city. The run there run differently. So what happened? Waas 11 by one, I helped shelter. And then my friend said, Why don’t you help? Why don’t you help the rescue groups? And I said, why would I need to help some of Corner Paul so much trying? Why would rescue groups Don’t they have enough fun? I mean, they started a, um, a nonprofit, and they said they always run out of money to buy basics. So then I said, OK, so I started calling the rescues. I said, Why would you give me blankets and towels for free? I said, Well, because this is what I’m doing. Do you need it? Well, what happened, Chris? People started giving me in these boxes. Leashes, collars, dog glues, cat litter, all these things. So I started giving it away. So let’s go. I just celebrated my 10th year. Let’s just move forward. We’re like the Red Cross to the animal rescue world. We rescue the rescuers where we can give up to $1000 worth of, um of whatever they need. Food treats, pet beds, litter cat trees, whatever To each rescue group that come to our headquarters. They have to sign a sheet and were able to give them at no cost what they need to get their dogs adopted. And that’s that’s just the one part of our operation. Blankets a love. So that’s how it started. What an amazing story. That was 10 years ago. Now? Yes. Can you just over 10 year? Yeah, that we’ve grown from there. Yeah, I was going to say because I was looking at your website, and now you guys have really grown from just collecting and distributing blankets and food. Tell us about some of the other programs that you into now. Okay. Thank you. Um, we discovered, unfortunately, there are a lot of homeless on the streets and in encampments that have dogs is their only family. Some even have cats. So what happened? Waas. We started, um, finding out that they’re actually pet friendly shelters for people as well. So we started, um, volunteer started to give things out to the touch of the homeless on the streets. Got be very, very careful, though. So I said, You know what? We really need to do this a little a little bit more wisely. You know, I don’t want volunteers to just roam around the streets. So we work with politicians that have homeless connect day, and they have social service is they have showers as lunch for them, and we set up a table. And like last week, we helped 39 people with pets and we gave them whatever they need it. So it’s more organized. It’s safer. We also worked very, very closely with the veterans the veterans, um, who have animals? Um, either they’re homeless or low income, and we work with the Veterans Administration to give what they need. Also, low income seniors, Um, we worked with meals on wheels and why this is happening. And churches. They’re helping the homeless, but they don’t have the pet items when they find out that the homeless or would pet so were the main supplier of of in the Los Angeles area for the for these programs. So it’s, um it’s heartwarming. And if it’s not for volunteers, because I only have myself my assistant and we hired someone to help my husband, who is the director of operations because he has a regular job as well. And finally, a year ago, we hired someone to be the driver and help pick up because it’s mainly run by volunteers, and we have rescue groups that come from two hours away because they know we’re going to give him $1000 worth of food, and that’s like a lifesaver so they can spend money on the vet bills, you know, or spay and neuter. And so it’s wonderful. Yeah, that’s just one program. We have more Well, I was gonna say, Please keep going because I think that it’s amazing to hear you talk about just one program in the impact you’re having. And yet you guys don’t stop there, right? Well, my first career was a teacher before I became a professional fundraiser and special events planner. And so I discovered they’re worth hardly at all humane education classes. Now, if you teach the young people, it’s, you know, hopefully it has been proven that will be left cruelty to animals and pet responsibility be less animals that end up in shelters. And that was lacking. So I started to learn as much as I could about about how I could get into schools. I went to all top professionals to learn about pet care when I had ginger cause, remember, my background is not animals. So anyone you don’t have to be a professional, that tin Aryan or vet tech. We’re so keeper to want to help the homeless animals. If you have a love and passion for animals, anyone could help anyone. You just have to have that labor of love. And that’s what happened with May because I became a nonprofit because I had to raise funds because we help 1000 homeless animals a month. So, um yeah, and I said, this is because we helped 60 shelters now. And, um So what happened was I started going to school with Ginger cause she’s a certified therapy dog. And I said, if if everybody, you know, listen, ginger will do her tricks. So we taught how to keep your pets healthy and happy, how to respect animals and be kind to them. But that was not enough for me, I said, In order for the kids to remember, they need a service project. So I will not go to a school or youth group unless they start collecting. We collect gently used recycled blankets and towels and any other pet items they want to do so I can go to very low economic areas, and everyone has a used clean towel or blankets, so they feel they can help on the kids, make boxes and flyers and posters and T s A. It goes up too high school for the ones that need a lot of hours for community projects. So, um, it’s it’s been amazing. We’ve taught over 12,000 kids since I started, so I’m very happy about that. Wow, What a great way to combine your passion for kids with animals. I mean, for somebody like yourself with it with a background in that. And then I’d absolutely love the way that you want them to get involved and be a part of it and be an active participant instead of just listening to a presentation. Exactly. Some Girl Scout troops. They have to have their pet bag. So if anybody’s listening and they have Girl Scout troops, um, they can’t even call me. It doesn’t matter where in the country, because I will tell them how they can get their pet badge and they can do their local, um, collection drive. And I will send them a semi pictures. And a lot of the shelters have tours. They can have a tour of the shelter, which I’ve done myself with the groups. But troop leaders conduce that or any kind of youth group Eagle Scouts or and um, it’s something very heartwarming. And, um, and it’s very important that the kids be kind to animals. I mean, I had, you know, I asked kids what kind of pet do they have besides dogs and cats and you’ll hear from a snail to a hamster to a girl Herbal. And even when you go to other errors, you say, Oh, my pets of force, you know. But, um, but it’s a wonderful, wonderful project that we’re very proud of. And I wrote a 44 page activity coloring book for young people. Yeah, so any of your listeners at the end will give information how they get in touch with me, if that’s possible, and I will send them a free booklet to for their kids. Yeah, tell us a little bit about that, because I think that was something that was really unique about what you guys were doing. And as you said, it’s also bilingual. Yes, it’s bilingual, too, Coloring workbook. But what’s great is it’s not just every day how to care for your pet. We have things like Do not walk your your dog outside when it’s hot out because it can burn their paws, they can also overheat. Don’t leave your, um, don’t leave your dog in a car, even if it’s the springtime, because, um, even if you have it three inches down. It goes on the average of 30 degrees up, so it’s 100 degrees and the animals overheat and some can actually die. And it’s and I have even something like them. I have a car seat for ginger. We put it in the back in harness. You can look in the she could look outside and, God forbid, you’re in a you have to stop short. She’s protected one. Very good one. It’s so cute when you see a dog on the passengers lack or on our or on the driver’s lap. But can you imagine if they were in an accident? That dog’s gonna be a missile or the air bag, right? But people think it’s cute and they don’t. So I have things like that. Added on to it that, and I wish it was in every vet office, and I’m trying to get into shelters. Um, we do have it in some shelters, and we wanna make sure that we can get it across the country. Um, I need corporate sponsors so we can keep printing them because it is a 44 page book and I would love to have it. Every kid’s hands um, So, um, that’s a dream. I have. Yeah. Wow. I mean, do you sound like a very busy lady? What is the What is a typical week look like for you? Well, what’s exciting is every day is different. What? My job is Thio Fundraise number one. We get calls. We now have 60 drop off spins in different places. So we get the calls and then we let our driver know to pick it up. And he’s the one that brings it back. Looks through it and in charge of all the rescues. My husband as well, When he’s not working, when the rescue groups come here, they give them out. Um, I’m in charge of the volunteers. We have 30 volunteers. Um, we have some in the office. Some do social media. We do 20 pet expose where we have information booth all over Southern California, and we fund raiser at the same time without volunteers. You know, anyone can if they have a heart for animals, they can volunteer at their shelter. We don’t work directly with the animals. We rescue the rescuers. So some people find it hard to work in shelters. The jury said so they know they’re helping, um, the shelter animals by by volunteering for us. Um, I also do transports where there’s a lot of dogs that are being saved from death row and we work with rescue groups will call us and say, Hey, we need this many crates. We need leashes and collars because we’re picking up 50 dogs and we’re going to transport them to no kill shelters or loving homes. So we do that as well. Um, when they had the fires here in California, boy were accepted. That was a crazy time because we drove all over, um, for the for the animals of rescue groups or family animals that were displaced temporarily. And we brought food and carriers and whatever they needed. So we were, so that so that was crazy. I mean, even the Mexico At earthquake last year, we sent three tons of food, so we helped them. Hurricane Harvey. We sent crates, unleashes and food bowls, you know, So we helping disaster. So we worked with the Red Cross locally, so it keeps growing and growing. So every day is so different. I put on special events, So it’s exciting because in the long run. The result is you’re helping the homeless animals get what they need. So it’s, uh it’s, um you feel so good at the end of the day because you know, you’re doing something to help people. And if you know, I tell people, if you have a dream and you really believe that you go for Chris, I was in my fifties. I mean, why should and I started this, you know, when it was the worst recession, people thought I was nuts. But I said, Well, let me see what I can D’oh! And if if you don’t try, you never know on dime to kind of have to I get bored very easily. So I keep inventing things. Yeah, so that’s and I’m so glad to be on your podcast. Because I know we’re going to change people’s lives and animals lives just by listening to my story. And that’s what I want. Very important. So So what’s next for you guys? What is your vision? Where you headed? Where am I headed? Okay, I’m glad you asked last week, and I think it’s in the stars. My dream has been to have a public service announcement on television like Humane Society and PCH, which has millions of dollars, which we don’t. But I think if you have it on cable or something, it could be affordable. So one of my volunteers happened to call me and say, I have someone that needs a rial for, um for because he does commercials and so forth and he wanted to something interesting and I told him about you. So last week we went to two shelters on and we were shooting to do a public service announcement, and we’re going to try to get it on the air. So this way I could really spread the inspiration. And that’s that’s my next hope to get the psycho social media. That’s my next hope. Um, also, Um, as more and more people hear about us, we can help more animals. I mean, we have people coming from Arizona to pick up dogs from Los Angeles from Canada, from Washington in the Pacific Northwest. They have a lot of big dogs, but they come down to L. A to get the smaller dogs out of death row. So, um, we want to spread that even more, and then There’s two rescues, believe it or not, Chris. They run out of small dogs in New York City because there’s so many apartments. So they’re finding Dogg’s here in law, Sanders and Riverside San Bernardino, and they’re flying on back East and you’re seeing them in new homes in apartment houses. But they’re small, so we want to grow that as well, because the more because I want people to know, um, even know that dogs could be healthy or Mama’s with toughies or pregnant. If there’s enough room, they put them down. So we really need to spread the word that adoption is the best option. 30% of the dogs are had agreed that people just drop off. There’s also tons of kitten season now, but allow the older tax need homes. Kittens are easy to get and adopt house. We want people to now go, and maybe who wants a kid running around and it drives you nuts, right? They’re important, but a three or four or five year old, you have to take care of as much because they’re they’re older. So we need your listeners toe to spread the news about. Let’s let’s get some of these animals adopted into new homes. Yeah. No, that’s amazing. And it sounds like you’re somebody that really seizes the opportunity. Says they present themselves to you. Yes. Yeah, yeah, that’s great. So, um yeah, how many animals you have, Chris, We’ve got We’ve currently got fined for cats and a dog. So about all we can handle it. But amazing. Somebody that didn’t have an animal Their whole life is literally changing the lives of thousands of animals today. So thank you for that. Well, it’s my pleasure of weak. If we could just save one cat and one dog today somewhere who’s listening, I will be very happy. I’m sure to be much more than that. Because you have a lot of listeners that love animals like you. D’oh! And I think it’s a wonderful thing you’re doing. Um um, I think it’s great. And, um, people could go toe operation blankets of love dot org’s and contact me. You can get my number from there. If they want any information how to do a blanket drive or if they want a free humane education booklet, I’d be more than happy to send that off to them. at no cost. Just keep spreading the inspiration. But if people want to make a financial donation, every dollar adds up. Um, they could do that, too, through my website as well. Excellent. Well, Eileen, thank you so much for coming on the program today and sharing all the great stuff you’re doing. Is there anything you want? T o mention before we wrap things up that you’re terrific to do this out of your heart so we can help more homeless animals and just be kind to animals. Um, you know, everyone has a busy life, and you’re taking out time in your busy schedule, and I and I applaud you for that. We need more people like you out there, and maybe one day you’ll be out here and visit me. Absolutely. I I absolutely look forward to it. So, no, your your story is very inspiring to me as well. And I think we all have that common cause of one and help animals. And what’s what’s so much fun about? This is hearing the different ways people are applying their talents. And there’s so many different things you can do Well, Thank you, Eileen, for coming on the program today. We appreciate it. Okay, everyone, have a great summer and be safe. And make sure that your animals stay nice and cool. Would like the water. Thanks for tuning into today’s podcast. If you’re not already a member, joined the Air p A. To take advantage of all the resources we have to offer. And don’t forget to sign up with do bert dot com. It’s free and helps automate the most difficult tasks in animal rescue.

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