heroes of the month
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Heroes of the Month: From Arizona to Indiana to Kansas, These Pet Lovers Are Making a Difference

Everyone needs a hero sometimes, pets included—and across the country, pet lovers are stepping up to help. So, in collaboration with  Adopt-a-Pet.com, Chewy’s Hero of the Month series is shining a light on people in all 50 states who are making a difference for pets in their communities and beyond. In this month’s edition, we’re celebrating a shelter spokesperson who spends both days and nights with homeless pets; a shelter photographer whose striking photos help pets find their forever homes; and a rescue founder who traveled all the way to Egypt to save dogs in need.

Danielle Reno of Unleashed Pet REscue
Danielle Reno (second from left) and her staff traveled to Egypt to rescue neglected dogs.

Kansas: Danielle Reno Travels to Pets in Need

Danielle Reno is willing to go a long way for animals in need—6,683 miles, to be exact. That’s the distance between Unleashed Pet Rescue and Adoption, the organization she founded in Mission, Kansas, and Egypt, where she and her colleagues traveled to rescue 26 neglected dogs in dangerous conditions. Reno and her staff flew with the dogs from Egypt to Canada, then drove them back to Kansas.

 “We learned so much about the abuse of the canine species in Egypt,” she recalls, “and we hope to one day help them implement a high-volume spay, neuter and release program for their stray dogs.”

That’s just one of Reno’s dreams for improving the lives of animals—many of which she’s already realized. Since she founded Unleashed Pet Rescue in 2011, the entirely donation-driven, no-cage, no-kill rescue organization has found homes for more than 32,000 animals. Unleashed saves about 5,000 animals each year, and works with several hundred Kansas City-area households in what has become one of the largest foster networks in the U.S.

“My team never says ‘no,’” she says. “If we know we can get there somehow, we will save the animals.”

In 2018, for example, after Hurricane Florence battered North Carolina, Unleashed staff members hit the road to provide support. Ultimately, they rescued 71 dogs, making calls to find foster homes for them on the drive back to Kansas.

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An Unleashed Pet Rescue volunteer holds one of the 26 dogs the group rescued in Egypt.

“We want to be the leader and model for other shelters,” Reno says, adding that the success of Unleashed proves that every shelter can be a no-kill shelter. “At Unleashed, it’s our goal to show people there is a way.”

Find out how you can support Unleashed Pet Rescue and Adoption here.


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Tracy Ford's photos, like the one above, give shelter pets the best chance of finding a home.

Indiana: Tracy Ford Captures Shelter Pets’ Best Sides

The greatest heroes use their superpowers for good. Tracy Ford’s superpower is photography, and she uses it to help animals at Terre Haute Humane Society in western Indiana find their forever homes.

Ford captures images of adoptable pets for the shelter’s website and social media pages. When potential adopters are seeking pets online, her photos are their first introductions to pets who need a home. Ford does whatever it takes to capture the shelter pets while they’re showing off their personalities, giving them the best chance of finding a compatible family.

“When the animals come in, they’re often scared and not at their best, especially if they’ve been running the streets,” Ford says. “If you have somebody taking a picture with a cell phone and it’s blurry and the animal is behind bars, or they’re at the back of the kennel scared, it doesn’t do much for the potential adopter.”

To get the perfect shot, Ford spends time with each animal, as long as it takes for the pets to get comfortable around her. She doesn’t even take out her camera until she’s sure she’s established trust with her subject. And she uses a long-range lens so the pets “don’t feel like some big eye is coming toward them,” she says.

A lifelong animal lover who’s adopted several pets of her own, Ford’s relationship with the Terre Haute Humane Society dates back more than 20 years. She’s been a regular volunteer for the past three years, finding time outside of her work as a photographer at Indiana State University to bring out the best sides of roughly 1,200 local shelter pets.

“You want to show their personality, their beautiful eyes, or that they’re snuggly,” she says. “It’s amazing, the difference in interest from the community, if you have a photo of them running or catching a ball.”

Find out how you can support Terre Haute Humane Society here.


Melissa Gable of Foothills Animal Rescue

For Melissa Gable, cat snuggles are part of the job.

Arizona: Melissa Gable Gives Shelter Pets a Voice

Melissa Gable really gets on her shelter pets’ level— sometimes literally. She’s been known to spend the night on the floor of her bosses’ office with shelter dogs and their newborn pups.

As the chief engagement officer at Foothills Animal Rescue in Scottsdale, Arizona, Melissa Gable’s primary duties are fundraising, public relations and working with the media—all important ways of advancing the rescue’s mission. But she’s also right there cleaning kennels and scooping litter boxes with volunteers at the rescue shelter, which placed nearly 1,000 animals in homes last year.

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A Foothills Animal Rescue volunteer and a grateful pup.

“We all chip in and do the work,” Gable says. “Especially with COVID-19, we’ve closed to the public and we’re limiting the number of volunteers coming in, so it’s even more hands-on than before.”

Gable manages the rescue’s social media pages, telling the stories of both volunteers and animals, which has become increasingly important during the COVID-19 pandemic and the shelter’s decision to temporarily stop its adoption program.

“Right now, a lot of people don’t want to leave their house,” she says. “There are so many people out there who, even if they don’t want to adopt, they want to be able to see the animals. We’ve tried really hard over the past four months to make sure our message is always very positive. We want to assure the public that even though we’re closed, the animals are getting plenty of attention.”

There’s one thing the pandemic hasn’t changed, and that’s her mission to advocate for shelter pets.

“Animals can’t speak,” she says, “so we have to be their voice.

Find out how you can support Foothills Animal Rescue here.

Check in with Pet Central next month to learn about more shelter pet heroes across the U.S. Looking for more inspiring stories? Read about this ICU nurse who bonds with patients over a photo of her dog, the Kansas City 6th grader who reads to homeless animals, and the teenager who makes and donates bowties to shelter pets.

By: Howard Hardee
Howard Hardee is a writer and reporter based in Madison, Wisconsin. Raised in Fairbanks, Alaska, he loves all of earth’s creatures (all 35 species of Alaskan mosquito notwithstanding), and at 31 years old is still mourning the loss of his childhood dog, a small, white terrier mix named Pete.

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