Community: Meet the Motley Zoo Animal Rescue in Redmond, WA

Interviewer: Ashley Liang; April 11th, 2020

Interviewee: Jme Thomas, Executive Director @ Motley Zoo Animal Rescue

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A collection of photos from the Motley Zoo Animal Rescue (Jme Thomas).

Could you tell us a little about yourself and your occupation? How has Motley Zoo impacted the community?

Motley Zoo is an organization that helps animals, mainly dogs and cats, find homes through adoption and foster care. We are a foster-based rescue, which is like a second-wave response after shelters. A significant number of the animals we take in are those who do not fit into the shelter system.

How has COVID-19 affected the functioning of your organization?

We’re unique in that we have a facility where we also do a dog daycare, which helps us centralize our mission within our community. But structurally, nothing has changed because animals are still living with people through foster care. We did have to move some cats that were in partnering pet stores into foster care. We had to make sure that all the people in foster care know to hunker down. We are still doing adoptions by appointments. But due to COVID-19, we are focusing more on dire medical cases. For example, we could not take someone who is moving homes and wanted us to take care of their pet. However, if someone’s dog got hit by a car and they cannot take care of it anymore, we will still take it. We are trying to just take in any animals that would not have anywhere else to go, not even the animal shelter.

There is a rising concern about animals having and passing on COVID-19. Has that impacted the adoption frequency or process in any way?

That is something we are very concerned about. Organizations like ours are just waiting for the other shoe to drop: are people going to just start dumping their animals into our facilities? What if so many people get sick that they can't take care of their own pets or foster animals? All of a sudden. we have this glut of animals just in need and we don't have enough help.

So, we've been recruiting fosters for that situation. So far, it seems that although animals can get the COVID-19 virus, it is not likely that they are able to spread it back to people. The reality is that if your animal gets COVID-19, it came from you and anywhere you went, not the other way around. So far, the animals that have tested positive for COVID-19 have not experienced serious symptoms; no one has died from it and some do not even have noticeable symptoms. However, they do seem to contract it. Some people have the misunderstanding that they can get it from their pets and start fearing their pets or their friend’s pets. We are very concerned about the day-to-day changes and how that could really completely change how we’re dealing with things; today things could be great but then tomorrow we could find that we would have a huge homeless animal crisis on our hands.

"We have had Joe for almost a year. Before coming to us, he was hit by a car and left in a ditch to die. We think he sustained head injuries- and it actually left him deaf. Deaf dogs can be extremely hard as hearing is really important, more so than eyesight....These people have the time, experience, patience and capacity to work with him -- and so now, he finally found his home" (Jme).

How are you preparing for the possibility of slow adoptions or overcrowded facilities?

We've been still doing adoptions. That has been considered essential and allowed. The adoption process is appointment only where it is just one family and one representative to maintain social distancing and all that. We're still able to have adoptions, so we're really focused on getting the animals we have in care out into permanent homes. Adoption has actually been good at the moment--people are wanting to adopt now that they’re home for an extended period of time. We've had animals that we've had in care for a year, that no one has looked at, and now we're starting to get people clamoring for those animals. However, just because 10 people now want our senior cat that nobody looked at before does not mean that we're just going to give it to anybody; we want to make sure that they are going to the right home.

Motley Zoo has actually been busy lately. Getting the animals into permanent homes is only one part. We are also really focused on managing which animals are coming in (the urgent cases that have no alternative). Additionally, we have had many people looking to foster. They contact us, asking if they can foster animals immediately and that they have asked shelters and other organizations but none of them have foster-available animals at the moment. No one really has any animals to foster right now because we are all waiting for COVID-19 updates, but we need those fosters on the waiting list so that when and if things start to change dramatically, we can get those new animals into homes very quickly. If there are 15 dogs that need a home today, we need those fosters lined up waiting. Because we are unique and have a facility, we have 7,500ft2 of space where, if we had to, we could become a small shelter and care for animals that are in trouble, managing them for a short period of time until we can figure out where they need to go. We are hoping we don’t have to go there, as it is a whole other budget work and has never been done before, but these are unprecedented times so you never know.

You’ve mentioned how there have been many people wanting to adopt--has your adoption process changed in any way to maintain social distancing and other precautions?

Normally we are pretty hands-on, so that has altered to maintain social distancing. With the current nice weather, we have been able to go outside and actually have a meeting (where we are 10ft apart) so that they can interact with the animal. We have been wearing masks and gloves, asking people to reschedule meetings if they are feeling sick in any way, and making sure to set up meetings so that only one family is inside the facility. My work partner has actually just recovered from cancer, just cleared in December, and she is still compromised. Since she is more susceptible, we have to take things like that into consideration to make sure anyone immune-compromised is not participating in these meetings.

"These two adopted a pair of blind cats, Malcom and Cole. These cats lost their eyesight due to infection as babies, but you'd never know from seeing them play. They were with us for a while because people are fearful of adopting special needs animals under normal circumstances...It is rarely a problem or obstacle (especially when they have been blind since near birth) -- they jump and climb and play just as thought they can see. It's pretty amazing!" (Jme)

If you are willing to share, how has COVID-19 affected you and your family personally?

I am very lucky that COVID-19 has not directly negatively impacted me or my family. I’m still working behind the scenes, so I am thankfully still receiving a paycheck. However, I am very worried for my work partner who just recovered from cancer as well as a friend in New York who is dying from cancer and is very susceptible to COVID-19.

It is frightening to think about how it will negatively impact Motley Zoo. We are paying rent and utility bills for the facility but there is no one there. The daycare revenue was an important part of our commission, and without it, we have to rely on donations. It is disconcerting; however, I know that Motley Zoo will fare okay and get through this. I know that there are other organizations that may not survive this financial crisis. I am grateful to know that Motley Zoo will be okay.

You’ve mentioned how donations are very important right now—are there other ways that people in our community can help Motley Zoo and other foster-based rescues?

  • Donations are especially key right now because we can no longer have people bringing in physical goods, host meetings, and frequent one-on-one meetings, which have been a big part of our support. Normally people can drop off food, but since there is no one at our facilities, physical donations cannot proceed. So now, we have to buy food that we may not have needed to buy before because people donated it. There is also vet care, which we usually spend $15,000/month on. This is not enough to cover all animal emergencies. We recently had a dog, Cher, come to Motley Zoo in the beginning of March. Her surgeries added up to $7000, which is almost half of our surgery budget. Because we are focusing on those animal cases, since no one else can do them except for a foster-based structure, it is daunting right now.

  • Signing up to foster. People need to register now so that we can get all the paperwork and training out of the way and go through some of the orientation so there are people ready when there is an animal that needs to go to a home immediately.

  • Supporting our campaigns and virtual events. We are currently doing some campaigns on our social media. We are about to launch a fundraiser for animals with heart conditions, which we have a few in our care. Following their stories, sharing their stories, helping raise awareness to what we’re doing and raising support. We are also doing some contests and raffles. For example, Cher, the dog who needed the $7000 surgery, had an obstruction in her digestive tract. We had a contest to guess what she ate that led to her intestines getting removed. She actually swallowed a baby bottle nipple, so the person that guessed a binkie won. We will keep doing fun things like that to keep people engaged and interested and helping in different ways. Especially because right now is the best time to volunteer from your couch. We have to think of new ways as we no longer have adoption events. We had to cancel a lot of events this year. Right now, we are trying to have virtual adoption events where we have zoom meetings and talk about their foster animal. Although we are having to change many things, one of the things that Motley Zoo is known for is being adaptive and innovative, so we are trying keep the pioneer spirit.

"This was taken in just after new year's when she'd given birth and the family could not keep any of them (including her). She was so skinny (the people didn't know they were not feeding her enough, especially being pregnant) and 2 babies died- but 9 survived. We got her to a good weight and the babies got adopted (except one with medical needs)- and finally she did too. This happened just about a week ago-- during this time of COVID-19" (Jme).

Is there anything else you’d like to share?

Today I posted a video about what we’re doing behind the scenes to show that though most things have not changed, it's because of the constant support from the community that we need now more than ever to maintain this. Every penny really matters now. Please just ask how you can help and keep up with social media, get signed up for fostering because it is a great experience you will never forget. I think it is a really great thing that in such a scary time, people have the opportunity to do something so amazing. Remember that when businesses are struggling, charities struggle even more, so it is important that people are cognizant to those causes that matter to them because every bit matters.