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Why help animals when so many people are in need?
When Carol Novello, president of the Humane Society of Silicon Valley (HSSV) in California, quit her high-tech job to start a second career helping animals, she heard the sentiment over and over again.
“I found that rather interesting,” she says, “because I really do believe, in fact, I am helping people.”
Novello felt inspired to change the conversation from “people or animals” to “people and animals.” Of the estimated $358 billion donated annually in the United States, only a very small percentage goes to animal-related causes, she says, but “helping animals helps people.”
“I think the next wave of innovation in marketing is really to make that connection of how animals and people are helping each other,” she says.
Novello met with David Whitman, the executive producer of the Tech Awards in San Jose, which honors technology benefiting humanity, and asked how they could make the idea “a little bit more magical.”
Whitman not only coined the term “Mutual Rescue,” but suggested putting out a call for stories of people rescuing animals and animals rescuing people—and turning those stories into short films. Novello had already been sharing the story of Eric O’Grey and Peety the dog, who had been adopted from HSSV, with positive results. Thanks to Whitman, Tech Awards’ filmmaking team was on it.
When HSSV put out the call for Mutual Rescue stories on Valentine’s Day, it did so in conjunction with a 6.5-minute film featuring O’Grey and Peety. O’Grey had been overweight, middle-aged and lonely; Peety had been overweight, middle-aged and at the shelter longest.
The two lost weight together, and with the help of Peety, O’Grey found health, happiness and a new career before Peety passed away in 2015. The film is a no-holds-barred tearjerker—impossible to watch without misty eyes—and it spoke to people to the tune of 40 million views across the world, half a million shares and 50,000 comments, says Novello. Some viewers commented that they went to their local shelters and adopted dogs because of the film.
“I think people intuitively have known that or sensed that [animals and people help each other], but it hasn’t really been articulated in such a concrete way. … It reaffirms for them what they’ve always felt in their heart,” she says. “We hope that it really will inspire people to support animal welfare at new levels, as well as help save more animals.”
HSSV has since received hundreds of Mutual Rescue stories, most with “incredibly powerful” themes of physical and emotional recovery, says Novello. A panel of judges, including director and producer Morgan Spurlock and celebrity veterinarian Marty Becker, chose four stories to be turned into films, which will be released online in September. HSSV will share some of the remaining stories in the coming months.
“These stories are happening in organizations across the country, not just ours,” Novello says. “We want the sheltering communities to embrace this initiative, as well, [and] feel like these films can help them tell the story about what’s happening in their own community. … It’s just as likely that [Peety] could have been adopted at any shelter across the country.”