Episode 6 – Debby Hartten

In this episode, we talk with Debby Hartten, Founder of Generation Wags, a program of ReLove Animals, Inc. Debby tells us about the diverse issues contributing to pet homelessness and other pet related topics in our society today. She talks about how the journey started, programs initiated through Generation Wags and how you can help. You can learn more about Generation Wags on their website at http://www.generationwags.com/

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.

Today, we’re talking with Debby Hartten. Debby is the founder of Generation Wags, which is an organization that she created as the outgrowth of a personal passion. That journey continues to expand, to unfold, and unravel the diverse issues, contributing to pet homelessness and other pet-related topics in our society today. Debby is a firm believer that you can’t fix what you don’t know. So her journey began with her learning about the issues surrounding pet homelessness in order to share these challenges and opportunities with others. Debby’s quest to connect the dots and put together the pieces of the puzzle for herself, inspired her to do the same for others.

Hi, Debby. Welcome to the program.

Hi, Chris. How are you? Thanks for having me.

Great. So tell us a little bit about you and Generation Wags.

Generation Wags has started four to five years ago, and I started it on my own. In the last few years, I’ve become the program manager for under a nonprofit called ReLove Animals. Generation Wags is really trying to educate people about the understanding the connection between pet ownership and whether you do things right or wrong, or what the issues out there that contribute to pets falling into the rescue system. It’s trying to really help people have a better understanding as to where rescues come from to begin with, and also educate them as to some measures that they can take to try to circumvent that situation from occurring. So it’s prevention.

Sure. So what made you want to do this? I mean, there’s so many rescue groups and people out there. What made you take this angle?

Actually I started it because I was doing some local donation drives for various rescues in my community. While I had always had rescue animals, my only interface with the rescue group themselves was to turn a dog in, or apply for a pet, and rescue it. My interaction went away, and I just had the pet as my own. As I interacted with the different groups and I had maybe seven or eight, I was trying to have drives for as many as I could serve during a holiday season. I got to talking to a lot of them and became much more aware of the different issues related to rescue itself and now again became educated myself as to where they came from. All of the struggles that the rescue groups go through really got a good, firm understanding as to what’s behind the scenes, basically.

My background is communications and marketing. I felt that it would be better to use my talent to try to share what I was learning. It’s been a continued journey, but to use my skills to share that with others rather than working with one particular rescue and limiting what my contribution was. I decided to start Generation Wags and it continues to grow as my knowledge has continued to grow.

So it’s a resource for other rescues and for people wanting to learn more about rescue?

Yes, it’s actually, it’s more – Well, it does have some stuff for rescues and rescue people. They all are in their own little area of expertise of what they’re doing. I think that rescue people also as knowledgeable as they are, there are other issues that they may not fully even understand of ways that sometimes the animals come into the system. It’s also for just general pet owners and people in general who really don’t fully understand or know how they can help rescues if they can’t adopt right now or, get actively involved. I do have volunteer opportunities. It’s trying to really just share awareness in general about what rescue is all about, how to get involved, and also how to help prevent the continued pets in crisis situations that fall into the rescue system.

Sure, yes, that’s a really unique angle. What are the areas that you really focus on, Debby? What can people find?

Well, I try to – I do have issues and solutions, so that can go from anywhere from breed discrimination and lost and found animals, which is one of my major focuses. Also chaining and tethering, animal abuse, owner surrenders, and puppy mills. It tries to set the stage as to lots of different challenges that are in the industry and then solutions and what’s being done. I will have some occasional articles or ought to have some basic resources in certain areas that people can get a little bit more of an understanding. I also include links to legislative information, the links in their state so they can become more knowledgeable. Specifically again for the pet owner I get into – I have a section called Get PetUcated and is trying to educate them about, from selecting their pet, to navigating the adoption process, and understanding how they care for their pet, or view their pet, interface, either setting them up to really succeed as a great relationship with their pet, or perhaps putting their pet in a situation where they may get at risk.

For example, a dog that isn’t well trained, while they may not want to have them trained per se to really a large degree but understanding that if a dog is not well-behaved in general and they don’t address that early on, then that dog could easily fall into the rescue system. If something happened to them or say it bites somebody because they’re not controlled or whatever, then it sets them up to be endangered by ending up in a shelter or possibly euthanized. So it’s really that connection to understanding where our responsibility is and what we can do to protect them and have a more fulfilling relationship with our own pets.

Yes, now that’s really interesting, and you mentioned that you’ve got a background in marketing and communications. So how did you get into animal rescue?

Actually again, I’ve always had pets, and it was really starting with this donation drive that I was doing, which was a give back that I was doing this part of one of my a couple of different jobs that I have. I have worked in a couple of different areas, and I decided to do the donation drive service to give back for the holiday season. So it was related to that. That just launched me into it because I did have the opportunity to get to know people much more. Although I felt that I was fairly well-educated about rescue animals having had them, I realized how little I did know. Again I felt like, well, as much as I thought I knew, and obviously I don’t, there are so many people like me out there. So, I’m just going to continue to learn, continue to share what I am learning with others, and hope that they will want to get involved more, understand they could donate, and they can like do donation drives.

I think that one of the things that struck me was that a lot of times people have this barrier where they say, “Oh, rescue dog or cat, I can’t really adopt” and they feel like that’s the end of the conversation. I’m like, “Well, there’s so much more you can do.” A lot of people really don’t even understand all of the ways that they can interface and give back if they care and feel frustrated that they can’t own one right now. So it gives them opportunity. That was the first start with some of the knowledge that I was gaining. It was like, well, these are other ways that you can help basically. Then it’s grown from their terms of advocacy and trying to let people know that, they can take a roll even if they can’t have a pet.

Yes, that’s really cool. What’s your goal for this? What’s in Debby’s dream world? What does Generation Wags become?

Well, that’s a good question. Obviously, when you’re educating and it’s an ongoing process, it’s a hard nut to crack. I really think that just trying to get people to take a different perspective on pets and to recognize. It’s just all trying to get more information out. I guess in general, I’d like to do more videos, or come up with some other ways that I can share in a broader way, to touch people and get them to recognize, their side of the pet ownership. I think that sometimes, pets are so wonderful and we bring them into our homes. While we love them, et cetera, we often take them for granted. We don’t really take a step back and think about what we’re giving back to them. We always talk about how they are, just unconditional love but we don’t always return that fully and think about how we are contributing to their lives, in different ways. It’s really – and it’s also the education of accepting them for what, who they are. Some of them will have certain traits and not others and just – It’s all about education. So in my dream world, I would like everybody to be a better pet parent and take precautions to keep them safe. But it’s an ongoing process, obviously.

Yes, for sure. What are the biggest challenges that you face with Generation Wags?

I would say having more volunteers to help me, to get the word out and to activate some initiatives that I’ve started in different parts of the country. I do have this thing called Love, Tag, Chip challenge, which is trying to get people to understand the importance of having a visible tag and microchip on their pets. I am starting to get some people to activate and tie in with that in other parts of the country with different microchipping clinics that they’re doing et cetera. It’s really just trying to get a base of people that can take some of the information and vision that I have and sharing it in other parts of the country.  While it’s on the web, it’s a resource. I see a lot of what I’m putting out is a tool box that people can utilize to connect and just an umbrella for some activities that you are really, honestly taking place elsewhere. Somehow, by maybe pulling it together like with Love, Tag, Chip, I always say it always starts with love. Having people recognize that and pull it together makes it easier for them to share the importance of it all and just capsulizes it a little bit more.

Yes. How do you measure the impact of all of this? You’ve got so much great stuff out there. How do you keep track of how people are using it and the impact that you’re having on pets?

Well, that again is hard because, it’s basically web-based. I am in Maryland and I do some events locally. I am in touch with people around the country and I am interfacing on different things. I think in terms of – besides just traffic to the website or whatever or interaction on the Facebook page, for example, it’s, one at a time. Even when I do events and – What I do with my Love, Tag, Chip challenge when I’m in the community, is I partner with a veterinarian or a rescue group just microchipping. When I’m out in the community and I’m talking to people, it’s just really rewarding when I have somebody oftentimes will say, “Wow, I never really thought about that” or “I really appreciate the information. I’ll have to go back and do that.” The most rewarding for me is the one-on-one because I know that I’ve actually gotten through to somebody about some information that might keep that pet safer.

Yes, you put so much time and effort into this, Debby. It’s so easy to see just from looking at your website. How do you motivate yourself? How do you stay motivated to keep doing this?

Well, I think like most of us in the animal advocacy world, I feel fortunate that I really feel, after this many years, I am a part of. I think that you just have a passion and that, I think all of us who are involved as you even walk around in your  day-to-day life, you see things or you are talking to somebody, and it’s just something that you feel so strongly about that you want to help in whatever way that you can. I think it just spurs you on to keep doing better and knowing that there are so many needs out there and, just trying to share whatever you can. It’s just really the passion and things I think that keeps me going.

That’s really great. Well, we appreciate what you do, Debby. Is there anything else you wanted to share with us?

Well, I would just say that, the Lost Pets thing is a major focus for me. I did just start something called Unite 2 Reunite. There is information on generationwags.com about that as well. In terms of rescues and the shelter community and stuff, the connection with the Lost Pets is so huge because there are so many pets that go missing that are never reunited. With the Love, Tag, Chip challenge, the tag going at the end is to keep your pet safe. Safe as shelter space. So many of these pets and with shorter hold periods et cetera and rescues that pulls from shelters in short order, often because if there’s a shelter over capacity, or they’re breed-specific, rescues that are assisting shelters to reduce their intake, these pets can very quickly move from, a stray in a shelter setting. Sometimes people don’t even take them to the shelter, and just turn them over to a friend, not knowing or not thinking about the need to get to Pilsen and stuff. So, Unite 2 Reunite is really about trying to grow the community, to have people come together to recognize and to work towards getting the word out. Learning about doing your due diligence of reporting rescues. You need to make sure that they are doing their share and making sure that someone turns it over. They really get us much information as they can to make sure that it’s not an owner looking for someone or for their pet.

The other thing is that, I would just say another aspect with the whole Generation Wags and rescue is that, I think in general rescues have become much better with this because rescuers want to rescue and they see a need and they jump in. There had been – and again I think it’s a changing tide that you would see a dog that was disheveled were not taken care of or whatever. The immediate thing would be, “Oh my God, this pet has not been cared for. It’s obviously no one’s pet” or “It hasn’t been loved and we need to save it” versus “This pet could be missing and very shortly they can become disheveled” or whatever and “Somebody could be out there looking for them.”  So there’s that whole mindset I think that needs to change and to do not jump to conclusions that a pet that’s not in good shape is not loved. I do a weekly blog called Monday Microchip Miracles, and there are pets from all over the country, but there are some that have been missing a week, to months, to seven years. In that time frame, they could have traveled across the country, been taken in by somebody, even re-homed again and again. So the jump to assuming that a missing pet is not someone’s beloved pet, is something that I think, rescuers are addressing more. It’s important for the general public to understand that too, because they need to do what they can to make sure that they are doing all that they can to get the word out for a possible owner who’s looking for the pet.

Sure, that’s great information. Well, Debby, thank you so much for coming on and sharing with us. We really appreciate it.

Oh, thank you so much and thank you for all that you’re doing, because it’s very important.

Thanks, Debby.

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