Kristen Cardoza talks with us about a program that is changing the lives of dogs and their owners in Northern Virginia. NOVA Pets Alive’s community pack walk program, ResQ Crew, is helping reactive dogs and their owners one pack walk at a time. Welcoming all dogs and their owners, ResQ Crew has created a safe and fun environment for working on socialization, exploring local parks, and building community.
Welcome to the Professionals and Animal Rescue podcast, where goal is to introduce you two amazing people helping animals and share how you can get involved with animal rescue. This’ll 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. Kristen Cardoza is a lifelong animal lover and has been active in the rescue sheltering community in the D. C. Metro area since 2011. She’s been a volunteer and foster with Nova Pets alive since 2017 and joined. It’s a board member in 2018. She manages Nova Pets Allies Community Pack Walk program called Rescue Crew, which welcomes all dogs but specifically aims to create a friendly, judgment free space for reactive dogs and their owners. Kristen currently resides in northern Virginia and shares her home to the husband and the rescue. Pity Layla. Hey, Kristen. Thanks for coming on today. Thanks for having me Glad to be here. Well, we’re really excited to have you. And I’m so excited to talk about rescue walk, but first tell us about you. Kind of Give us your story and how you got into animal rescue. Well, I grew up in a house, Will, full of rescue pets. We always had dogs and cats all over the place. Even some fish and hermit crabs and the like s I always had a love for animals, but really, when I got started, an animal rescue was after college. Actually read the book Lost Dogs by Jim Grant. Um, and that really inspired me to look for opportunities in which I could help dogs and animals in need. Yeah, um, so kind of right after I think I finished that book, I was really pumped. Um, And I was looking for opportunities in my local area. And I started volunteering with Lucky Dog Animal Rescue, Um, and was originally a dog handler and helping the transports and eventually became an adoption coordinator. So that was Ah, really great experience. Nice. I bet you get to experience lots of different aspects of rescue with them. Yeah, Yeah, I got to kind of see it, you know, from multiple perspectives. It’s a pretty large rescue. Um, so that’s definitely been something that’s been helpful Kind of as I continued on my journey. Um, so that was around 2011. I want to say, on 2012 my husband and I adopted our own dog from Humane Rescue Alliance in D. C. Um, and shortly thereafter, I kind of took a break from volunteering to focus on her. She’s a great dog, but I just want to be able to focus on our own dog. At the time I took a short break, Um, and then I want to stay around 2014. Maybe, um, actually started volunteering at the Fairfax County animal shelter. I had since moved from D. C out to Fairfax County. Um, and I was there as a dog walker, um, working with some of the kind of behaviorally challenged dogs, you might say, um, doing some, you know, short term fostering and things like that. Um, so that was also really great expanse. A really different side of animal rescue compared Thio, Lucky dog. Ah, to see how things have things air in an animal shelter environment. So both of those experiences prepared be really well in my current position as a board member, volunteer and foster for Nova Pets alive. Very cool. So then from there, then what happened? So actually, it was a group of us who knew each other from our local rescue and shelter community hanging out on a weekend. And we just had this little idea. What if we had a way? Thio organize group walks for our dogs. Ah, hence rescue crew was born. We were literally just sitting around in a in someone’s living room and we started the Facebook group and it really took off from there. A number of us do have reactive dogs. Ah, whether it’s leisure activity, people reactivity all sorts of, you know, little issues. Ah, that we wanted to work on and have a place to do that. So we started a Facebook group and then just through word of mouth group really grew toe what it is today. Wow. So you guys were literally just sitting around, just kind of, you know, enjoying life, having a chat and saying Wouldn’t it be great if we could walk our dogs together and kind of schedule this and other people could join? Yes, absolutely. Just a little idea. So now give us an idea how big. This little idea has grown now to 22,019. Yeah, so we started. And I want to say August of 2015. And today we have about 250 active members. There was a period of time where a group actually swelled. So I think almost 700 members because Animal Farm Foundation very graciously did. An article about our group said that garnered interest kind of across the whole United States. So we had a lot of folks joining the group just to kind of see what we were about. See what we’re doing. But since then, we have kind of started a separate group just specifically to organize walks in our local area in northern Virginia. So that’s about 250 people right now. Wow. But 250 people is a lot of people to be getting together and having walks. Yeah, if you’re not, it’s not 250 people ever on a single walk. I think most for walks Or maybe between, you know, four to up to 15 people and their dogs at a time. So yeah. So now how How do these work? I mean, You know, you’ve got a schedule walk, but I’m just trying to figure out the logistics. Right. So you said 4 to 15 people with their dogs showing up. I mean, maybe kind of walk us through. How? What do these things works? Yes, Our group is pretty flexible in the way that any group member can schedule a walk and we do everything through a Facebook group. Eso folks just go ahead and set up a walk. Ah, we do have kind of tip sheet on how to set up a walk. So, you know, picking locations that might be more ideal for dogs with reactivity, something with a wider path, maybe. Or where you can step off. Or, at the very least, this warning folks that you know there’s a high probability will encounter bikers and walkers and dogs and things like that. But really, we just set up the walk, invite the whole group and whoever conjoined conjoined our group does stand now from kind of what was our home base in Fairfax County. But we spread, you know, north into the suburbs of Maryland and south into Prince William County. SAirGroup geographically has grown a lot as well. Interesting. So now one of things I know that you mentioned is that, you know, leash a leash. Aggressive or reactive dogs are also welcome. So tell us a little bit about that. How does that work? Yeah, actually, I think that’s kind of one of the quarter stones of you know why we started. I know I was really excited for this because my own dog Ah, Leila, is a bit least reactive. Um, and, you know, I found embarrassing. You know, I was frustrated, and I understand where other people are coming from. Um, so our group definitely prides itself on having created a safe space, safe environment. Ah, where people can work on that. Because I think for my own experience, when your dog is behaving that way in public, you know, you get embarrassed, it makes you want to walk them less. But that doesn’t really help it all. What you need to do is kind of work through it. And, um, so our group is often, you know, depending on the walk. It’s usually a mix of dogs with some kind of reactivity and dogs that are what we call, you know, our com dogs are stable dogs and that Nick’s just, you know, really works. You know, even on my own dog. It’s funny. It’s like she knows that on those walks it is her job to be the stable dog. Even the neighborhood you can sell, you know, be reactive. So it’s kind of funny to see that as well. But it’s been really amazing to see how some people, you know, they join our group in there. They think that August hopeless. They’re really, you know, at the end of the rope there. And, you know, I we encourage them. You know, just come on a walk, you know, see how your dog does. And there’s really something that we call the pack walk magic. We’re usually in the beginning where we’re all gathering in. Your dogs are standing around. There’s a little anxiety, but once we get moving, most dogs do beautifully, Um, and maybe not with every dog on the walk. But, you know, they might find another calm dog that they can do really nice parallel walking with. And there’s so many people that have been really amazed and shocked at how well their dogs can do with other dogs. Yeah. No, I can totally imagine that, because the pack mentality and working together in that common bond. So obviously that seems to have a calming effect on the dogs. But I’m also curious. What is the effect on the people? I mean, are these people don’t know each other, do they? No. Um, you know, everyone’s friendly and supportive, and we start from there, but it’s interesting. I was actually just thinking about that because I think a large part of why the dogs, you know, behave better on the pack walks is because the people are calmer. I know that’s at least true for me. I feel like this is a safe space and that even if my dog does react, you know everyone the group understands. And I’m not gonna be embarrassed. I think when people relax, the dogs relax. Um, and it just kind of, you know, works really beautifully together. But yeah, I mean, it brings together people from, you know, all different backgrounds, Um, you know, with all different experiences. And you know, But we’re all here because we love our dogs, and that’s that’s a great way to start a you know, friendship in a group. Yeah, for sure. Now, I know this is a program now of Nova pets alive. So I’m curious. Is this all owned dogs? Rescue dogs? I mean, are there other people that will borrow a dog from a shelter? Yeah. So it’s all of the above. Um, So I’d seem most folks probably bring their own dogs, many of which are, you know, rescues or former shelter dogs. Ah, but we do have a lot of folks who, you know, bring either Barbara dog from a shelter for a day. Ah, to come out. Or they have their own foster dog. We even have some folks who are what we call our our dog list walkers of people who, you know, maybe they volunteered a shelter or they just love dogs. And they want to come on the walks just for the experience. Or maybe to help someone who has multiple dogs and help him walk one of their dogs. So, really, we welcome. You know everyone. Yeah, that’s really cool. I was reading that on your website that, you know, even if you don’t have a dog, come out and walk with us I was like, What a great way to get some socialization for yourself and dogs and people and just come along for a nice walk. Yeah, Yeah, we do walks, like all over the region from short. You know, one a half mile walks, two more epic, you know, seven plus mile walks, maybe. Um so there’s something for everyone. Now, I know that you guys have been doing this for a number of years, and so you’ve probably kind of developed the program. If somebody is listening, this thing’s too. Hey, look, we want to start this rescue crew and are in our region and our city. Where do they begin? What would you tell him to do? You know, it’s something I’ve been thinking about. Someone recently reached out from California with that exact question. So I kind of, you know, started grabbing the information I had. Ah, I mean, really, I could just share our own story. It started with kind of a core group of, you know, 5 to 10 people who all had this vision on just got it started. And for us Ah, it just grew really organically. Um, but I’m sure there are ways that, you know, we could think about marketing and different things to get get more people. Ah, to join. But I think just getting a group of people that are all committed to this idea, um and then just kind of spreading, spreading the word by word of mouth. Um three. You know, your rescue networks and things like that was really effective for us. Now, I’m curious how this program has been helpful or effective for Nova pets alive because recognizing that certainly you do have foster dogs and people bring shelter dogs. But it’s really targeted at just people with dogs, right to go walking. How does this help the mission and spread the word of Nova pets alive? Yeah, So no pets alive. You know, our mission is to, you know, and the unnecessary, unnecessary killing of animals and shelters. And I think one of the ways that we do that is by keeping dogs in their homes by avoiding going to the shelter. Also, one thing I learned and saw a lot when I was volunteering at our own local shelter of Fairfax County Animal Shelter is that you know, oftentimes people were giving up their dogs because off things like dog reactivity. You know, my dog of aggressive. I can’t walk my dog in public things like that, um, and not saying that, You know, Rusty crew’s gonna solve every case of that, but, um, putting this out in the community has been really helpful to a lot of people who, you know, thought their dog was hopeless. Thought they couldn’t walk their dog in public. And it’s given them the confidence to continue working on that. Ah, and keep their dog is a part of their family. Yeah. No, you’re right. That’s a a really proactiv solution to something that is a problem, right? And when people are on their last resort and they don’t know what to do, that’s often when animals were being surrendered to the shelter, so proactively working with them, giving them an outlet, giving them an opportunity, I can imagine forming people bonds as well as dog bonds as well. Yeah, absolutely. I mean, you know, certainly this is for the dogs, but it’s really great for the people to I think just to have somewhere where you can, you know, sharing experience on the Facebook group and get feedback or you know you about an issue that you’d like to get advice on. Um, but we even done other soap outside of the pack walks. Ah. You know, rescue crew has been a really great opportunity. Connect people to people for things like, maybe my dog’s not ready for a big pack block, but can we do a one on one pack walk? So that’s something my dog and I did with ah, woman and her dog. You know, we did just mini pack walks for a couple of weeks, and then, you know, then she felt more comfortable than she has since joined the bigger pack walks. Or they we have a dog who is a bit people reactive in its home. So, you know, I volunteered to go to their home and kind of be a practice stranger. Ah, snow. Yeah, Beyond the pack walks. I think it’s just a great way to just connect people, um, and work on, you know, all sorts of different issues are dogs might be having Yeah. Did you guys ever think that when you came up with this idea, what, 56 years ago? That it was gonna become this big? No, Absolutely not. I think it’s it’s great that it has. Um, but yeah, it was just a little idea. We thought it’d be fun to walk our dogs. Yeah, exactly. Now I know for you. I mean, your background is a little bit different than some. I mean, you’re not a somebody that works in an animal shelter and started as a fact or anything like that. You’ve got a different background. Yeah. So, uh, in my day job, I work in, like, web development. Um, but there is a connection. There s oh, my Web development kind of work. I get to apply that to my rescue work in that I’ve kind of led some of our more creative projects and nova pets alive, whether that’s working on the website, um, working with our communications and, ah, marketing developing materials for different events and things like that. Um, So I have been able to kind of apply some of the skills and knowledge I have from my professional life into you. My rescue work? Yeah. That’s gonna be really rewarding to be able to do that. I mean, I am similar to you. I work a day job in order to support my nights and weekends job. Yep. Exactly. So now what’s next for you guys? I mean, I know you mentioned trying to make this kind of a repeatable program any any big plans for 2019? Um, you know, I had also mentioned that geographically, our group has expanded a lot. So the core group of us, you know, are all based on Fairfax County, and it’s since kind of girl, like north and south and East a bit. Um, So I am currently working on trying to identify maybe a few quote unquote captains for those other areas. Um, I already spend, you know, a good bit of my time doing these sort of recon missions for new places to walk, but would love, you know, some help with planning and organizing walks. Kind of in the areas that are a little bit further for me. Um, so that is you know, 11 place I’d like to You kind of expand. Uh, the group? Yeah. Now, recon mission Sounds like a lot of fun to try and find new places to go and have these walks. Yeah, and I am extremely directionally challenged so I could get some health in that area. That would probably be better for everyone. I was gonna say on your Web. Say, you guys have got a map of where some of these walks have taken place and it’s quite a large area. Yeah. I mean, like I said, we do, you know, everything from short walked. So long walks being in the D. C. Metro area, we have a lot of great opportunities. Do everything from, you know, walking around the DC monuments, which is so much fun. And the attention we get when we do those walks is just, you know, amazing in hilarious a little bit. You know, tourists stopping to ask if they can take pictures of their dogs, and then we can go, you know, all the way out west, you know, toward Shenandoah and do hikes out there a cz well, and then everything in between little neighborhood walks and things like that. Yeah, I’m curious. Have you started to really see now on impact in the community? Has this really spread? Do you see any positive effects? Communitywide? Um, you know, that would be hard to say. Think I really see it more at the individual level. Ah, when people you know individually share their stories. But I certainly think that when people have a great experience of the rescue crew, they tell the friend they tell the neighbor, um and we have a number of rescues. Ah, in the area that are also sharing information. One of the questions on our short registration form one for folks join our group is How did you hear about us? Um and it’s always interesting. A lot of times it’s, you know, from a friend, but it a number of rescues are also referring. Folks tow us, I believe, were were mentioned in some, you know, online courses on dog behavior, which is kind of cool. Yeah, that is really cool. That kind of see how this takes off and starting with just a simple idea. You guys have got a pretty active instagram and Facebook page. I love seeing all those pictures and all the happy faces of the dogs and the people is they’re taking these walks. Yeah, it’s It’s been really amazing to be part of it. So now I’m just curious what does a typical week look like for you, because you’re you’re on the no pets board, and you’re working a full time job, and you run to the rescue crew. What’s a typical week look like for you? Yeah, it’s pretty busy. Um, so, you know, working my regular 9 to 5. Ah, evenings and weekends. It’s a mix of, like, things we talked about, you know, planning walks, doing re kon, helping with creative projects. Like after after our chat right now, I’m gonna head over and do a photo shoot of a litter of puppies. We currently have, um, you know, working on event material. So yeah, my nights and weekends air pretty busy. Um, and then certainly carping out time for my own family and dog. Yeah, exactly. Somewhere in there, you’ve got a husband, and you’ve got dogs as well that you need to be taken care of. So, yeah, about time for them. Well, this has all been really exciting, Kristin and I’m really I love the rescue walk program, and I’m really excited to see if others will take the idea up and kind of take the model. You guys have done it and roll it out across the country. Is there anything else you wanted to mention before we wrap things up? No, but I would be happy to talk to anyone who’s interested. You know, I am not an expert. I am not a dog trainer. But I would be happy to share our experiences and lessons learned with anybody else who’s interested in starting something similar in their own community. Yes. Oh, somebody’s listening to this and they say, Yes, I would love to. What’s the best way for them to get a hold of you? Um, so you can email me at rescue crew at Nova Pets Alive dot or GE. You can also find that information on the Nova Pets Alive website on the rescue crew page. That’s great. Well, thank you so much, Kristen, for coming on. Thank you for for working on this program. It sounds really amazing. And we look forward to talking to you again in the future. All right, thanks so much for having me. Thanks for tuning into today’s podcast. If you’re not already a member, join 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